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Twice weekly, for 30 minutes in the morning, I am focused.
I am not thinking about anything else that would typically crowd my mind. I’m not thinking about how I recently uprooted my life, by quitting my job without a plan, or the details of a spontaneous intercontinental move.
I am not thinking about how the sound of my upstairs neighbor’s footsteps drives me up the wall or how earlier this year I crossed borders for romance, only to have my heart shattered by a Venezuelan bongo player.
Normally, the morning is when my mind resembles a pre-COVID subway train, during rush hour in New York City.
Not on these two mornings, however. The chatter is quiet.
During these half hours, I meet virtually with Marc. I don’t know anything about him, and he doesn’t know anything about me. We are both meeting for a mental cause, in a practical arena provided by the gift of time, space, and the internet. For me, it is very early in the morning. Much of the world is asleep and it feels like my sweet and secret ritual. I am in peace, yet I don’t realize it in the moment.
The typical image of someone who aims to be in peace is one sitting in lotus legs on a handwoven rug, thumbs and forefingers together and the scent of Palo Santo swarming around them. I am not in this position, yet I am without attachment to myself or who I believe myself to be. I can’t entertain those habitual attachments because I’m simply too focused.
Peace is met for a time without striving.
So, what is this virtual wonderland? The site is a language learning platform. The subject is Catalan, and I am new to it. Marc graciously looks at my confused face time and again, without visible judgment, and teaches me this language of false friends and many phonetic differences from the languages I am already familiar with.
There is an intensity that comes with learning something new if we are interested. And if we dedicate time to learning it, there is an opportunity to lose ourselves to the here and now.
This is an objective in meditation, and popular forms of it come with a single pointed focus that involves doing.
Walking meditation and mantra meditation are great examples of this. If we focus on saying “Om” over and over again, it is harder in those moments to think about how we promised ourselves we would start swapping coffee for water in the mornings, then didn’t. Again.
Focus is a key to feeling good. And by feeling good, I don’t mean not thinking about feeling bad.
If I were to contrast my language learning rendezvous with other parts of my day, what gets the blessing of my attention? A work email with passive-aggressive undertones that makes my jaw clench. A photo of a bongo player’s new girlfriend who makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth. The consistent symphony of footsteps over my head that bring my shoulders up to my ears with discomfort. All are fight or flight responses. Are they focused on the present? Not exactly.
They are habitual reactions.
In an ideal state, we are flowing with presence versus reacting in ways that trigger acid reflux while scrolling a social media account we muted but then looked at anyway (Who? Me?).
Since I began practicing yoga and meditation many years ago, I have learned that there is an opportunity to meditate at any point in our day.
While we are cooking, washing the dishes, commuting to work, or any other seemingly menial part of our routine. I believe this to be possible, however, I think it can be harder to achieve presence when we are starting out with these normal tasks.
We are creatures of habit, so if we think about those stressful work emails every time we fold the laundry, it is tougher to break that habit than if we try to play the ukulele or learn portrait drawing for the first time.
I have reacted to my neighbors’ footsteps with stress for years. It is a longer, harder undoing. For now, I’m sold on the approach of meditating on italki because frankly, I am not trying to meditate. However, when I come out of the language lesson, I feel how lotus legs and Palo Santo are “supposed” to feel. My mood is good. My energy is positive.
The boost comes from the time spent with a single pointed awareness.
Isn’t it worth periodically considering the last time we lost ourselves in something? Truly gave 100 percent of our attention without thinking about what happened yesterday or what’s ahead? Felt the bliss of being “in the zone”? Went for a certain amount of time without habitually reacting?
Where are we missing opportunities during the day to be present without forcing ourselves to sit on a tufted meditation pillow? Is there something we’ve been thinking about learning for awhile? Portrait drawing or learning ukulele might be great opportunities, but we can be just as present doodling on a notepad or changing pillowcases too.
Taking on something new in an already busy schedule is not mandatory, but it might be worth exploring if I’m thinking about kicking my bongo playing ex in the virtual balls every time I sweep the floor or carry out other daily chores.
It is worth looking at where we can find peace and presence in our everyday lives.
The feeling of losing ourselves (or who we believe ourselves to be) might just be the key to feeling good.
Lotus legs Palo Santo are not required.