In a previous column, I mentioned that I was going to a spa to learn to meditate. In case you’re in any suspense about the outcome, the upshot is, I’m not good at meditating. To put it more bluntly, I am a complete failure at it. Something I should’ve known about meditating is that it involves sitting still for a very long time, and trying to think about nothing. Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? I thought meditating was when I sit at my desk and daydream about which direction to go with a story I’m writing, and without realizing it, I eat an entire box of crackers.
It turns out that meditating is not like this at all. First of all, there are no crackers. Second, there is no daydreaming. While you might think it’s like being in a meeting with your boss, and instead of listening, you’re making a mental grocery list, and as a result you inadvertently agree to do something no one who was actually listening would agree to do, like coming up with a new mission statement for your company—no, it’s not like that. When they say you are to think about nothing, they mean NOTHING.
In fact, there’s an app for this. Didn’t you know there would be? You can download a meditation app for your phone that allows you to set a timer for, say three minutes or five or 10 minutes, after which a little chime will sound—you can select the chime—to remind you that you’re supposed to be thinking about nothing.
I know what you’re thinking right now, and it’s not nothing. What you’re thinking, if you’re a multitasker like me, is, I wonder how many things I can get done while I’m sitting and thinking about nothing? You may have missed the point. I know I did. My meditation coach, who was extremely patient and earnest and was himself excellent at meditating, said that when you begin to meditate you need to let your thoughts calm down. You need to allow the “snow globe of your mind” to clear. I love this metaphor of the snow globe. Because if my mind is a snow globe, it’s winter in Albany up there.
Another concept I was unfamiliar with before this trip is something called "mindfulness." What is "mindfulness"? Mindfulness is about focusing on the moment you’re in, instead of 275 steps ahead. There is a lot to be said for the ability to be in the moment, but I have to wonder, who are these people who have the luxury of not having to think ahead to the hundred things that are supposed to happen next? Ah, of course: They’re husbands!
All kidding aside…
During the lecture on mindfulness, the speaker decided to have us practice the concept. He passed around a cup that contained raisins, and told us each to take one raisin from the cup. Then he told us to hold the raisin and stare at it, examining its contours—to try, in other words, to focus on nothing but the raisin. Then, you were supposed to close your eyes and smell the raisin, then put it in your mouth and chew it, focusing on the texture and taste, and then swallow it.
Do you know what I was thinking? I bet you do. I was thinking, how many people touched this raisin as they picked out their raisin from the cup? Do I have to put it in my mouth? In fact, I can’t eat raisins, they upset my stomach, and I should try to be mindful of my stomach, so… I surreptitiously dropped my raisin into my empty coffee cup. I looked around the room. I felt like Raskolnikov. I was sure the lecturer knew what I’d done with my raisin. Everyone else slowly and rapturously chewed their raisins. This was making me hungry. I calculated whether I could get back to my room in time to eat the PB&J sandwich in my fridge before heading to Zumba. I decided I could. Mindfulness was working for me!
Actually, there is a lot more to mindfulness than that, I just can’t tell you about it, because for the rest of the lecture, I was…meditating…
There’s apparently a Buddhist expression that says you should meditate for twenty minutes a day, and if you say you haven’t got twenty minutes, you should sit for an hour. There’s another expression, I think it was from Buddha’s mother, who said, “Get up already! The snow globe driveway needs shoveling!” Or something like that.