I was meditating the other afternoon, practicing the technique of watching my thoughts. I watched as my thoughts perpetually strung themselves together into tightly formed stories demanding my attention. The stories were often related to the activities of the day or the “to do” list to come. They subtly willed me into the future or dragged me back into the past.
I’ve always found thoughts, especially if there is an emotional content, to be sticky, as if they were Velcroed to me. I’ve often thought that others must have an easier time of letting thoughts go. For me, it takes some persistence to keep breathing and to draw my attention away from the thought stream currently playing.
But, I’ve done it enough that I know when I do—when I really just let my thoughts drift away—a yummy present moment reveals itself that is spacious and inviting and completely fulfilling.
But, generally, when I first sit down to meditate, no matter how many years I have been doing this, most of my attention is buttoned up in compelling thoughts that feel important and usually urgent. And, as I begin to draw my attention away from them and to my breath, I feel almost panicky—like I can’t breathe properly. It seems scary to let them go. Vulnerable somehow.
Plus, by this time, late in the afternoon, the last thing my spun-up mind wants to do is let go of thoughts. Thoughts are still masquerading as important messengers with critical information demanding my attention. I must “do” something, preferably right now.
Meditation seems austere and boring.
But I continue.
I acknowledge it seems difficult to let go of thoughts, but I notice too the ease that begins to appear in the body when thoughts lose their grip. Thoughts, I’ve found, are often tied to tension held in the body. When thoughts have commandeered my attention, it’s hard to relax.
So I employ all different kinds of techniques. Some I’ve learned in meditation classes. Some I have come up with on my own.
These days I utilize one of my own little tricks. Essentially, I reframe my afternoon meditation and approach it from a completely different perspective—as if I am seducing a lover.
I ready myself for the transition to a meditation session, which are usually only twenty minutes long, by taking a few moments to create a mini-sacred space, making sure the environment is warm and inviting. I might light a candle or put on soft music and lay down for a few moments.
Before formally meditating, I invite myself to unwind. Breathing deep and with a playful coquettish inner smile, like some Hollywood Femme Fatale, I metaphorically say to my inner lover self, “do you mind if I slip into something more comfortable?”
I rest for a moment in the warmth, idly watching the wind blowing in the palm trees. The panicky feeling dissipates. I can breathe deeper and more easily. It is as if I have removed uncomfortable clothing—clothing that serves a purpose in certain situations, like a crisp business suit worn to an important meeting, but that inhibits me now from fully relaxing.
You know how that feels? When you come to the end of a long day of work and your shoes are pinching your feet, your waistband feels uncomfortably tight. You are yearning for something less restrictive—something that signals it’s the end of the busy day.
That is what I do mentally before I meditate.
I toss off the pinching shoe thoughts, the “to do” list jacket and toss on a light pretty “barely there” mind robe, acknowledging I am ready to be naked with my lover self (aka “all that is”) Open, vulnerable, inviting, and present.
Even two minutes of resting the body in such an environment changes my perspective and signals to me that I am ready to peel off the day’s thought streams—ready to be attentive to something else altogether.
After all, I meditate because in the deepest longing of my heart I am secretly hoping to be stripped of everything—to go “naked through the gate,” as my teacher puts it.
Then, in a more formal attitude of meditation, which I like to think of as intimacy with the moment—I bring my attention back to the physical sensations happening right now, intentionally relaxing the different tense spots in my body, and allowing all thoughts, all pressures, all tensions and all desires to slip away to the background.
The result? My afternoon meditation these days . . . it’s delicious.