Find the time for three conscious breaths
If you mention meditation most places in the USA, you will get a response as if you just suggested a root canal. There will be an immediate chorus of “too busy”. Of course it’s true we are too busy. This is part of our cultural conditioning exhorting us to be active or “productive”. As a group we Americans get restless if asked to stop doing things. The Hebrew Scriptures invite us to “be still and know that I am God”. The Christian gospels have Jesus saying “Come aside and rest awhile”. There is also the Third Commandment about keeping holy the Sabbath. For those who go to church, that’s how they keep the Sabbath holy. Often it just amounts to another thing to do.
We might as well face it that we are not going to stop being busy any time soon so is there some way we can still keep our cool and acknowledge the significance of our spiritual aspect.
Happily, yes, there is. The answer lies in creating brief little gaps in the midst of our activity in which we simply step back and literally re-mind ourselves of who we truly are and what it is that we are doing here. The September 2015 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine has an excellent article on this subject by Pema Chodron. Its title is “What Is the Most Important Thing?” and, you guessed it, creating little spaces or gaps in our day is the most important way to stay centered. (Attention Reader: if you would not be caught dead reading something with the word “Shambala” in it, this is your chance to step out of your comfort zone and risk new life. The word is actually Sanskrit and refers to a mythical kingdom in Hinduism and eventually to a place of Pure Consciousness in Buddhism. If you are Christian, think “kingdom of heaven”; if a Jew, think “age of peace”; if you eschew any religious label, think of whatever place would make you perfectly happy and for the right reasons; puppies and kittens think “happy hunting ground”)
So how does this work? You are driving on a busy highway sprinkled with reckless drivers who are progressively making you more and more annoyed. Suddenly you realize that you are angry. Anger is a feeling. Feelings pass. Make note of this fact and then turn your attention to your breath and breathe deeply two or three times. (if that’s not enough, send Loving Kindness to your road companions.)
You are at your computer getting something ready for submission. The deadline is tomorrow morning. You become aware that you are feeling pressure creeping up your neck. Stop what you are doing, sit back in the chair, and breathe a few times with your attention on your breath. Remind yourself of your larger purpose. Return to your task.
You are outside gardening, something you enjoy but today you are irked because you are doing remedial work after one of those nights when the deer have feasted on your handiwork. You notice that you are going about your task with a certain impatience, feeling resentful. Do as above, plus pause a moment to listen to the sounds of nature around you, the birdsong, the rustle of wind, the distant bark of a dog. Remind yourself that you are connected energetically with all that is and return to your garden with more serenity.
On a deeper level we all have our habitual patterns such as “I must get through my to-do list”; “I don’t just put my best effort into this, it also has to be done perfectly”. When you catch yourself in one of your patterns, step back and take in what Pema Chodron calls “the stillness, the magic, and the power” of your surroundings, of the sacred Present Moment. This moment, after all is said and done, is all we have. The past is gone, the future is not yet here.
A way I like of creating gaps is to call to mind a whale watch I experienced about 25 years ago. I think of those majestic creatures gamboling in the sea and how they are still there right now swimming in the depths and surging out of the water. Then I take three conscious breaths.
Pema Chodron’s article ends with this: “So find ways to create the gap frequently, often, continuously. In that way, allow yourself the space to connect with the sky and the ocean and the birds and the land and the blessing of the sacred world. Give yourself the chance to come out of your cocoon.”
(Bill O’Brien can be reached at email@example.com )