I Know That I Am…

While on the road last week, I did a pretty good job of meditating each night. I’ve found this is the best way to overcome both jetlag and the buzzing distraction of being on the road.

Most nights, I did one of the guided mediations on my Insight Timer app. Near the end of my trip I found a guided meditation by Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn.

“OK,” I thought, “this is going to be some serious meditation!”

The foundation of this meditation, in the words of Thich Nhat Hahn, is the breath, and is paying attention to it by thinking, “When you breathe in, know that you are breathing in. When you breathe out, know that you are breathing out.” He must have said that fifty times in the meditation.

Really? I’ve done lots of meditations where I count my breaths, or focus on a thought or an emotion or an object. But “I know that I am breathing in?” Something about that from the great Zen master wasn’t what I was expecting. Still, I went with it, and the meditation turned out to be quite nice in its simplicity.

I didn’t think much more about it until today. I was walking from my parked car into the supermarket, needing to grab one last-minute item quickly for some houseguests that were coming over for Memorial Day. Conscious of time, I had a moment when I thought, “I know that I am putting the parking ticket into my back left pocket.”

Now, this may not seem like a big deal unless I say out loud that the supermarket parking ticket is the bane of my existence. Between getting my kids out of the car and making sure that they’re not endangering themselves in the parking lot, half the time I seem to misplace that ticket or find it in a pocket despite having no recollection that I’d put it there.

And today, while I wasn’t trying to do anything different, I knew exactly where it was because I was fully present to what I was doing in the moment I put it into my pocket.

When we lose a parking ticket, it’s pretty clear that we weren’t paying attention to where we put it when we got out of the car. In most other situations the feedback is a lot less obvious – how often have I thought, “what went wrong in that conversation was that I wasn’t paying attention to what was being said to me while it was being said?” How often do we actually notice that what’s missing isn’t the right analysis or people being aligned to the same goals, it’s simply that we, or the people around us, aren’t present to the conversation that is happening right at that moment?

I for one almost never notice it. I also am almost never just doing the dishes when I’m doing the dishes, I’m almost never just walking down the street when I walk down the street, I almost never am just saying hello when I meet someone.

Almost never, but not never. And that’s a start.

My ask of you today isn’t that you’ll share this blog post or talk about it. It is that you, before jumping to the next post or email, stop for a second and, for five (just five!) breaths, know that you are breathing in, and know that you are breathing out.

If it helps, imagine that you are joining thousands of other people who, right about now, have also reached the end of this post.

Please, begin.

It’s Easy When the End is Near

For those of you who meditate, you’ll have noticed that it’s easy at the beginning and at the end. 

If I open my eyes and discover I only have one minute left before the timer goes off, I am SO Zen for that last minute. 

What this teaches us is that our challenge, often, isn’t that we don’t know how to do the actions we’d like to do. 

Our challenge is how easily we get distracted, how often we lose sight of our purpose or intention, how hard it is to stay grounded when we get triggered by someone’s words or actions. 

This means that the most important difference between the hacker and the expert isn’t the expert’s greater skill or technique, it is that the expert is able to practice her art regardless of the chaos and challenges of her surroundings. 

The London Meditation Project

After meeting at the DO Lectures, I was trading notes with Catherine Powell about her wonderful talk on the London Meditation Project, and she shared some wisdom that she kindly has agreed to let me share on this blog:

It is such a precious thing to be able to give, and we can all give something.

In the Buddhist tradition giving is one of the ‘Six Perfections,’ (we practice them a lot on the way towards perfection!) along with ethical conduct, patience/tolerance, energy and vigour, one-pointed concentration, and wisdom.

Giving is the first of the six.

If there is nothing else we can do (maybe we are distracted, angry, confused, struck down in any number of ways – whatever state we might be in) we can still always give something, and giving is the doorway to feeling better again as part of the world, whatever we can give – a cup of tea, some time, a material gift, the gift of the truth – even just throwing a stick for a playful dog… giving is such a massively healthy and healing thing.

We so need to feel and experience our connection with each other.

The London Meditation Project was created to help returning war veterans cope with their experiences.  They could be coping with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), they might have disabilities, or they could just looking for a safe space to share with other veterans.   It’s a powerful project and the kind of thing we should see more of to support returning soldiers.  Don’t take it from me, see this great post from a military wife who dragged her husband to one of Catherine’s sessions.

If you feel so moved, you can support soldiers here.  Better yet, since “meditation” and “military” usually aren’t in the same sentence, if you know folks in the military who might like this idea, let them know.

And thank you, Catherine, for your words of wisdom.