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Meditation for the rest of us

I’ve returned from a brief experience of monastic life and realize it’s not for me.

It came as a surprise.

I expected to step into the rhythm of the Buddhist monastery responding effortlessly to the intermittent periods of noble silence – over meals, during clean up, whenever the gong sounded, and of course, during the multiple daily sitting and walking meditations.

And I did savor the vegan food, respected the openhearted, albeit quiet, acceptance of visitors and experienced that magical stillness that comes from meditating in community. At least I did feel that lovely sense of presence until my back began to ache, my legs started to cramp, and I became a little wobbly.

Many of the guests were half my age; most came from the hustle of New York City; all of us were seeking. But what I came to realize is that I already lead a quiet life with my husband, largely bucolic, living by a small river, surrounded by the sounds of nature. This weekend experience of slowing down was not one I needed. In fact, I wanted more stimulation, a less interior experience, maybe even a craft cocktail in Manhattan! As a yoga and meditation teacher I feel a little sheepish saying this.

Does not being all in mean we can’t be in at all? Of course not ‘though my inner voice may cast doubt.

How many times have I reassured others that mindful yoga is for everyone? Many. How often have I said that meditation is a practice based on the simple act of showing up? …for ten minutes, for example, in a quiet place, doesn’t need to be fancy, at a fixed time? If we only practice what we can make perfect, something I’ve mulled over in an earlier blog, then we’ve defeated ourselves from the get go. I was in the company of champion meditators who have essentially withdrawn from the world…from the cares of rearing the young, paying the bills, caring for aging parents.

So what does meditation look like for the rest of us?

It’s imperfect changing from day to day with the busyness of our lives. Sometimes when we sit – in a chair, for me, feet firmly on the ground, spine long, eyes soft and unfocused – and follow the natural breath we can stay present. Other times we can’t. And when we can’t, accept that the mind is a fickle creature and the demands of daily living intrude and call loudly for our attention. Remember that saying, she has a mind of her own? Our mind can stray, stir up trouble, cause self-doubt and recrimination. Our mind also can steady, stay the course, befriend us. Taking time to cultivate that steadiness within is a lifelong practice and undoubtedly will have its fits and starts just as my trip to the monastery made clear to me.


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