Meditation has countless definitions and interpretations.
A few I like are: the uninterrupted flow of concentration; an internal state of relaxed awareness; the turning or revolving of a subject in the mind; a quiet, alert, powerfully concentrated state wherein new knowledge and insights are awakened from within as awareness focuses one-pointedly on an object or specific line of thought.
And my personal fave: a state of pure present moment awareness. Not dwelling in the past or dreaming of the future. Just now. This moment. And this one. And this one. And, yeah, this one, too.
Meditation is considered a practice that requires time to be quiet and reflective. Time to sit silently on my cushion and gaze at a candle flame or repeat a mantra as I finger my mala beads or observe my breath.
I lovingly prepare my altar with candles, incense, offerings. I read sacred texts. It’s my ritual to set the scene just right. And if my karma ship comes in, perhaps I’ll receive a new insight or understanding or even a defrag of my mental muck. Happy day! Wonder of wonders!
But mostly it’s the routine of lighting the candle, burning the incense, setting the offerings and reading and fingering. (For the inquiring mind, fingering the mala is the act of passing one bead over the fingertips with each repetition of the mantra. Just so you know and don’t make any unseemly assumptions. Or hey, assume away. Whatever rocks your world.)
So I’m at a meditation workshop and the teacher introduces the idea of short bursts, many times. Short bursts, many times?
It’s his theory that anytime we are stopped by something that takes our breath away or stuns us into awe or jerks us out of our sleepy mind and into present moment awareness, that’s meditation too.
Anytime we are in a state where our attention becomes consumed by an object, that’s it. That’s it? Really? Seems a little too simple. Don’t I need to set the holy scene? Burn something? Or at least sit in crossed legs and chant Sanskrit for a minimum of 30 minutes?
While rushing out the front door one day, I’m suddenly overtaken by the incredible beauty of a flock of turkey vultures flying overhead. The vast group alights in my neighbor’s tree. There are about 50 of them delicately balanced on the tips of the branches and I am spellbound. Filled with deep awe and appreciation. I’m not in the future, I’m not in the past, I’m completely present in my concentration on the birds.
For several minutes, I am fully awake and aware. Aha! That’s what the teacher is talking about. Short bursts, many times.
I’m taking the garbage out at dusk, arms fully loaded, and suddenly there’s the sunset. The tone of the sky is undeniably sacred. It practically demands my attention. And there I am, mid-yard with arms full of trash, locked eyes with the sky. I’m transformed for a few moments as I become one with the nature of the sunset. Or sunrise for that matter. Short bursts, many times.
I am struggling to load my car with stuff for an event. The stuff is heavy and awkward and my internal complainer is pretty busy. As I’m struggling out to the car, I happen to notice an ant on my driveway. She is carrying a stick that is about 10 times her size and it is heavy and awkward and she is struggling, too. I’m instantly snapped out of my monkey mind by this beautiful, determined creature. For a few moments, I am one with my struggling sister ant. Short bursts, many times.
I find these short flashes, these aha! moments, these spiritual quickies, if you will, infinitely astonishing. I don’t have to burn anything or read anything or, for that matter, finger anything.
I only need broaden my consciousness to actually see what’s in front of me. Turkey vultures, sunrise/set, tiny brave and brilliant creatures! All tools for meditation.
Of course, I have not abandoned my existing practice. I continue to sit and gaze and finger, but I’m also available for that short burst. Eyes open, heart open, mind open. Blast off.
Shanan Harrell is a fusion of Iyengar-trained asana teacher blended with a powerful streak of Buddhist warrior and seriously devoted gong player. Shanan has been practicing yoga since 1996 and teaching since 1999. Through the years she has trained with many world class instructors and traveled to Pune, India to study with the Iyengar family in 2004. Her reverent and precise instruction coupled with an irreverent sense of humor make classes safe, fun and challenging. Shanan’s column, Yoga 101, is a regular feature of The Loop newspaper. She is also a recurring contributor to Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine. Her book, Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: A Yoga 101 Collection is a compilation of her entertaining and thought-provoking columns. Her website can be found at www.tehachapiyoga.com. Buy it now. Buy it often.
Editor: Hayley Samuelson.
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