What are you doing?

Last week I was on a 6-day Silent Meditation retreat with my teachers Sarah and Ty Powers. I love being silent for an extended period of time. It clears my mind and reconnects me with myself. During one of my meditations my 7-year old nephew suddenly stood in front of me. Well, not literally of course. I saw him in my mind’s eye. He asked: “What are you doing?” “Meditating”, I said. “Why?” he asked. “Because it trains me to see things as they really are.” “So why then do you have your eyes closed?!” I almost laughed out loud. What an excellent question!

Indeed, what it the point of sitting still with your eyes closed, since this practice is intended to give you an unconditioned, unbiased, open look at reality? It sounds so simple, but in practice it is not. Tinted by all our life’s experiences we do not see reality as it really it. We always impose our own interpretation upon what we see, whether we know it or not. Ask two people to describe an event they both witnessed, and you’ll get two different narratives. This is something I already learned when I was a junior attorney and was learning how to question witnesses: don’t rely on everything they tell you they saw! What we thinkwe see is not necessarily what actually happened. If you are interested in fostering the ability to see things as they really are, you’ll have to start with yourself. You’ll have to become very clear on what is present in your mind. When you sit still in meditation and close your eyes to stop external input from entering your mind, you have the opportunity to practice awareness of your thinking. First of all the fact that you are thinking, and secondly what you are thinking.

Your meditation may go something like this (I’m speaking from experience): Breathe in, breathe out. What shall we have for dinner? Pizza sounds good! Well, pizza is not that good for you. But they eat a lot of pizza in Italy. And I haven’t seen a lot of obese and unhealthy Italians when we were in Italy. That vacation was so great! I wonder when we could go back there? Oh right, I was meditating. Breathe in, breathe out. Wow, I’m really not very good at meditating.

As you read this, you can see how none of these thoughts have anything to do with reality. They are either a reflection of the past or anticipation on the future. The reality, however, is that you are sitting with your eyes closed doing your best to focus on your breath. The reality is that your mind keeps moving back and forth and has a hard time staying with the awareness of the present moment. You are probably so used to your mind doing this, that you don’t even realize this is what’s happening during your day while you have your eyes open: Sh*t, a red light. I am running late. I don’t want to be late. I was late last week too. My boss wasn’t very happy. Now that I think of if, he’s never happy. I wonder if he is just a naturally grumpy person? Maybe I should quit my job, move to Bali and start teaching yoga? The car behind you is honking as you missed the light turning green. Instead of being where you were, in your car waiting for a red light (and perhaps taking the opportunity to practice meditation for a few minutes and breathe deeply a couple of times), you were in the office, in your boss’s mind and moved to Bali.

The more you are able to relate to the moment as it is, rather than interpreting or resisting it, the more spacious life will become. When you have a choice to experience the spaciousness of awareness (the knowing of the moment) instead of the confinement of your mind (the thinking about the moment), life offers so many more choices and opportunities. You can decide each and every time what to say, how to act, or change your thinking. This will give you a sense of empowerment that is rooted within. You will no longer be a slave to your mind, but be a master of your own being. For this, I think it is worth closing your eyes to meditate every now and then.