It’s been several years now since my interaction with a customs officer that changed my meditation practice.
Years ago, on a trip to Seattle, I was crossing through customs, and the officer asked me a host of what seemed like routine questions, one of them being my occupation. When I told him “yoga instructor” he proceeded to ask in the same monotone and slightly stern voice, “Is it true that to be a yoga Zen master you have to meditate for five hours a day?”
Slightly taken aback by his unexpected raw humor, I answered as honestly and straightforward as possible, “Um, I don’t really know.” He finally cracked a small smile and passed me through.
Looking back, that was definitely the funniest question a customs officer ever asked me, yet he got me thinking, “Oh yeah, a meditation practice—the thing I’ve been avoiding. Maybe this is a message to really start up again!”
And so I made a commitment to myself then and there that I would embark on a meditation practice once again. With my Type-A personality, the thought of meditating for an hour scared me. Starting small, I decided a five minute daily meditation was surely manageable.
The next morning I woke up with my alarm chimes and took a go at it. I sat down on my mat in a seated position and started to follow my breath. Right away, all these thoughts came to me, pouring in, like all the things I needed to do that day. So what was I doing sitting there on the floor?! I was feeling frustrated and impatient to just get on with my day, and I must have glanced up at the clock a hundred times in those five excruciating minutes.
I decided to stick with it and as the days went on, I got a bit smarter and set my alarm so that I wouldn’t have to glance at the clock every few seconds to see when my five minutes was over. You have to understand that I am a stickler for time; I always feel there is not enough of it and it seems to run out much too quickly! As the days went on those five minutes turned into 10 and then 20 minutes; my mind was beginning to quiet down and began to crave the peace it was cultivating.
It seems that this sacred time out of my day has given me more time because my mind feels clearer. I know exactly what I need to do, and I don’t waste time running around following a meaningless list of busy-work.
As I begin to quiet down, listen to the silence and see more clearly, I am able to focus in on the things that are important.
It’s helpful to look at meditation as an exercise. Just like any exercise or new skill we take on, it makes more sense and gets easier the more we practice it. Merely by sitting there, meditation happens. We can use our breath or a mantra to anchor the mind to help let go of the habit of incessantly thinking. With time, we will find ourselves able to sit still and move into a place of stillness without having to control anything.
As we get quiet and relinquish control in meditation, we are able to open to the world of intuitive guidance.
A favorite teacher of mine, Erich Schiffmann, a world renowned teacher based in Los Angeles, once said in a class that before you begin to meditate, it is like looking out a window that has never really been cleaned, and so you look outside and see the same picture day after day. When you look out of an unclean window, no matter how beautiful the scenery is, it cannot look as stunning as it actually is. You may not even realize that the window was full of dust and debris. But as you begin to clean it, you see all the magnificence you missed before it was cleaned. Like any window, it takes time to clean, and daily maintenance to keep it clear.
Tova Payne has a background in Psychology, with a Bachelors of Science from McGill University. She is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), and Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT). She has been involved in wellness for over a decade, and teaching yoga for the last 7 years. Tova finds meditation to be a key tool to enhancing clarity, focus, creating a balanced and peaceful life. She has authored “Learn To Meditate”, available on Amazon. Her next book to be released is an integrative comprehensive approach to living an empowered healthy life through nourishing our body, mind and spirit. Updates for the release of her book are available on her website www.tovapayne.com.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Ed: Josie H.