I have a friend, let’s call her Alice, who had struggled for years to develop a meditation practice. In a job she knew was going no where, a marriage that was deeply unsatisfying and with two children to raise, she had no time to consider herself in any meaningful way, much less carve out the time to sit in meditation. Yet she felt it was something that could provide the quiet clarity she needed in order to see a solution to her deep dissatisfaction about her life. Whenever she thought about meditating, something in her connected to a “knowing” that if she gave it the time it was asking of her, she’d be able to see what her next steps should be. Still, life raged on around her and she never found the time to do it.
But life has a way of forcing your hand sometimes and that is what happened to Alice when she one day found herself flat on her back with such severe back pain that she could not even get to a doctor. Broke as she was, she had to get house calls from a chiropractor in a futile attempt to sit upright. While we all thought this would run it’s course in a matter of days, a week at most, Alice found herself flat on her back for two months. And in all that time she could do nothing but observe and learn. Prone and immobile, Alice began to see the insanity that was her life and began that long ago wished for meditation. Her life was never the same again.
In my experience most people see meditation in the same way they view eating well and exercising: as something they should do because it would be good for them but don’t make the time for. Yet I know of no better way to gain insight and clarity than meditation. It is the single most powerful technique to help you find your way in this often chaotic and crazy world. Whether the problem is big or small, meditation is a wonderful way to gain insight as to how best to proceed.
I get it. I am an on-again, off-again meditator myself. Great as it is and as much as it helps me every time I commit to it, I admit there are times I let it slide, sometimes because of time constraints and often because of the despair I sometimes feel at the impossibility of banishing thought from my mind. I too can get frustrated and give up on the one practice that has so often saved me. But what I have come to see is that meditation can be practiced in a multitude of ways, not just in silence struggling against the futility of emptying the mind. Whether while walking, driving or working, you have the opportunity in every single moment to connect to the intelligence inside you that knows and sees everything. That quiet center that each of us posses that can guide us to the best possible solution. All you need to do is step away from your habitual reaction of frustration, fear or anger and connect to what each moment has to teach you.
I recently learned this on my first attempt to hike with a Meet Up group. Despite the fact that I left early enough to give myself time to get lost and still get there on time, the Universe had other plans. Google map in hand, try as I might, I could not find the road that led to the meeting point. By the time I found what I thought was the meeting place, it was 25 minutes past the start time and no one was there.
My first reaction was frustration. But very quickly I remembered my theme of adventure and decided to hike alone. And here is the magic of the Universe in action; I have been wondering for weeks now if I want to do this Mont Blanc trip alone or with a group. When I say alone, I mean that during the actual hiking part I’d be walking alone and at the end of the day I’d meet up with the group for dinner and conversation.
Yet, the reasons for my hesitation are probably obvious: What if I get hurt? What if I lose my way? If something happens to me, who will I turn to for help? Yet, the idea of doing this trek largely alone keeps calling to me. I just want to do it even though it defies logic and personal limitations, like an abysmal sense of direction in the woods. And because the Universe knows what you need, I was now being offered an opportunity to test the waters.
The pace of life conditions us towards habitual responses. When things are not working out at work, our emotions may run from frustration to anger and then fear. When our relationships falter we may go through denial then anger until finding our way to sadness. While it is perfectly normal to experience these feelings when dealing with difficult issues, the problems we humans often face is that we get stuck in these emotions. By repeatedly railing against what is, we often can’t see the possibilities of what can be.
Meditation offers refuge from anxious mental chatter where answers to problems can flow. In focusing your mind on things other than the problems at hand, something amazing happens: clarity. In your soul you know what you need and what to do. It is only your mind that pushes against the truth in order to maintain the status quo, always in fear of change. But your soul knows what is best. And in my experience, when you follow the message of your spirit, things work out in the most fantastical way, well beyond any expectation that your mind could conjure on it’s own.
Unable to engage the dysfunctional dance of distractions that kept her life the same, Alice was able to experience a reluctant stillness and began to get clear about the truth of her life. Immobile, she could not gloss over her husband’s pervasive anger by distracting herself in her children’s carpool and life needs. Unable to do household chores, busy-work that had become pockets of refuge from her turbulent and unhappy mind, she had no choice to but sit with her feelings and breathe. There was nothing she could do but surrender to the moment. And while painful and scary, she had no choice. And because it took months to heal from this back problem, the truth of what she needed to do crystallized into a plan of action that could set her free.
When she was finally mobile, galvanized by a quiet knowing, Alice quit her job and started working in a gym where she was able to workout for free whenever she wanted. From there other opportunities presented themselves and over time she was making more money than before and was satisfied with the trajectory her career was finally taking. She had a frank and fearless conversation with her husband about the new arrangement that would henceforth be their marriage. Seeing her behave so boldly and resolutely for perhaps the first time in all their years together, his bravado faded quickly into acceptance. Because of financial constraints, they would co-parent their teenage kids under the same roof and when the younger one was off to college she would be gone. It was the most honest and connected they had ever been with one another and it began to lay the groundwork for an awkward co-existance that they could both live with. She was on her way to defining her own life and while still afraid, she knew in the depth of her soul that she was going to be okay and that everything would work out.
As for me, that solo hike in Bear Mountain offered a sort of climbing meditation that helped me see that while I am still unsure about whether or not to tackle Mont Blanc alone, I know now that I want to try. I have some work to do before then, like learning how to read a map and find true North, but I am excited about the process. Being in the woods that day alone helped me gain insight into several aspects of my life that I’d been mulling over in my mind, but which really needed to be guided by my spirit. If that is not the goal of meditation, then I don’t know what is.