It’s only two minutes, but I struggle. My fingers fidget as if my thoughts are pounding the last miles of a half-marathon. The tug of war between noise and stillness. For 120 seconds, this is what happens inside my head. I need to get milk. Be quiet, you are trying to meditate. Do I need to call the dentist to make my daughter’s appointment? Shut-up. Focus on the present. You are trying to calm your mind. Stillness, remember. When will this be over? I want to open my eyes. Does meditation even matter? With that final thought, my attempt to meditate for two minutes is over. I sigh that heavy sigh, like I’ve carried a piano on my back. In the very next minute, I breathe a little deeper, feeling a wisp of air bubble in my stomach.
Why is this hard? Why am I afraid of stillness?
My recent attempt to meditate is not an unfamiliar practice. I attended a meditation class a few years ago in a hot room that looked like a vacant parking lot. Sitting down meant taking a colored yoga mat from the corner, placing it on the floor, and crossing my legs. As soon as my body hit the floor, I noticed the bare beige walls with chipped paint as the only decorative embellishment. The goal was simple. We were required to meditate for thirty minutes. There were no indicators of time, other than the meditation leader’s cue to stop.
The idea of doing nothing in an empty room overwhelmed me. I understood that meditation meant I must embrace stillness, but my focus was centered on time and how to utilize it. As a part of my daily routine, I compose to-do lists. On any given day of the week, there are at least ten items listed that may require my attention. The all-important red line of ink that moves across my own words gives me a quiet sense of satisfaction. It means completed, finished and represents an accomplished goal. I’ve spent much of my life that way, creating tasks and working toward completing them. When I fail to accomplish a certain task, I consider it a personal failure. I judge my own to-do list and what I haven’t achieved.
Because meditation’s goal cannot be immediately realized or since there is no category to “cross-out,” I struggle with it. I dictate a time limit on my meditation, not so I can move toward stillness, but so that I can “say” I met the goal of achieving a certain time period of nothingness. In reality, my mind reeks of clutter, of noise, of words that betray the silence.
When the thirty minute meditation class ended years ago, a discussion would follow. The words of the instructor still ring in my ears—”Don’t judge the meditation.” Meditation shouldn’t have a goal because it shatters the concept of stillness. She urged everyone to accept where they were in their respective meditation practice. The ultimate focus, after all, is to create a gap of space that allows you to return to a place of complete calm and peace.
My urge now to revisit meditation comes from a desire to release the clutter that inhabits my mind. I realized that resuming a thirty-minute meditation session did not quench my restlessness, but heightened it. That’s why I’ve decided to try to capture stillness for only two minutes. When my eyes close, the to-do list pops up in my head. I squash it. I tell myself I am not there yet, but I quickly take those words back. The lesson from my earlier meditation session makes more sense:
Meditation doesn’t belong on a to-do list.
Parts of this post appeared originally on The First Day.
Image: time in Gilding Temple by ecodallaluna via Flickr