“It seems we all agree that training the body through exercise, diet, and relaxation is a good idea, but why don’t we think about training our mind?”~ Sakyong Mipham
I sat down on the cushion, crossed my legs and did my best to straighten my back, hopelessly warped from a lifetime of slouching. Without any distractions at its disposal, my mind immediately went on the offensive. Thoughts came pouring in like a twitter feed with too many subscriptions.
“Is the thing I’m sitting on called a gomden or a gomdon? Regardless, why did it need to cost $90? Should I really have paid $2.99 for a meditation timer app on my phone? How much longer until I achieve enlightenment? Did I leave the stove on? When will the timer run out so I can do something productive?”
I glanced over at my phone. Less than a minute had elapsed.
“Oh no! I wasn’t supposed to do that! I screwed up! I’m supposed to be still and focus on my breath! I’m terrible at this. My back hurts. My nose itches. Susie doesn’t like me as much as I like her. I’m too whiny.”
By this point, I’m slouched over again, scratching my nose. It’s a while longer until I can even focus enough to attempt to turn my attention to my breathing.
Before I began practicing meditation, I wouldn’t have even entertained the thought that my mind needed training. I had graduated from a good college and knew a lot of fancy words. I was pretty good at math. I was good at thinking. But I had no discipline for my mind. I had become like the parent at the supermarket so terrified of their child throwing a tantrum in public that the kid got whatever candy he wanted. My mind had become a spoiled little brat.
After perhaps ten minutes, I’m able to absorb my focus with the rhythmic quality of my breathing. As a musician, I’m reminded of playing a instrument, finally finding the tempo of the song. My back aches, my feet are asleep, but that’s not where my mind is pointed; it’s on my breath, and I’m keeping it there! I’m doing it! I’m meditating!
Oh, no, I’m thinking again!
One of the hardest things I’ve encountered in meditation is forgiving and being patient with myself. I learned an old Buddhist metaphor from a meditation instructor. Meditating is like tuning a sitar string — it’s important that it not be too tight or too lose. To use the analogy of working out the mind, my attention wandering is like lowering the weight, and turning it back to my breath is like lifting it again.
I’m surprised when the bell on my phone rings to signal the end of the 15 minutes. At the beginning, I couldn’t wait for it to be over, but now I find myself almost wanting to continue. For a while after the meditation, I feel calm, focused, refreshed. My mind is on what I’m doing, when I’m doing it.
My first real exposure to meditation was at a Shambhala Buddhist meditation retreat I went on a few months ago. We spent almost the entire weekend in meditation. It was exacerbating, but I couldn’t remember the last time my mind felt so clear.
Meditation hasn’t been the cosmic, psychedelic voyage I was expecting it to be. Instead, like Sakyong Mipham said, it’s like getting my mind into shape. It’s like having that spoiled child do some chores and grow up into a functioning, independent adult instead of a drug addict. I’m glad to have discovered meditation and, although sometimes that gom-thingy is as intimidating as the gym, I hope to continue. After all, I did spend $90 on it.
Greg Eckard is an editorial intern at elephant journal. He studied History at Occidental College. He plays keyboards for Shiftybox, a local band, and has been a music enthusiast from a young age. Also an aquarist and amateur magician, he has lived in Boulder for three years. Friend him on Facebook, follow him on twitter, or view his fledgling blog.