“How the heck do you meditate 20 min. twice a day? I can’t even sit still for 20 sec.”
To say you can’t meditate is like saying you can’t stop to put gas in your car. Even in the middle of Times Square among the noise and Elmo costumes you can think, and whenever you can think, you can meditate. Here’s a little background in how I discovered this practice.
About 11 years ago, I was at a high peak in my success as a performer on Broadway. I worked my ass off consistently, did 10 Broadway shows within 10 years, but around that time, I experienced two suicides within a year of each other which left me with a mild case of PTSD and a nasty habit of rehearsing disaster. This was especially true when it came to moments of happiness or success, the linchpin that triggered my anxiety. Therapy helped, healers helped, support groups helped, but I was dependent on all of them and felt there was a part of me that felt robbed of agency as a result of the swat team of healers I employed. I had great support, including an eccentric therapist of 10 years who wore black and had a penchant for obscure metaphors, but I craved self-sufficiency. I hated that my well being depended on the invoices of others and I wanted more independence.
Around that time, I had a friend who recommended a Vedic meditation course. I resisted initially because prior attempts at meditation had left me feeling like a failed meditator- I resisted fancy yoga studios or teachers who engaged in forms of mood making, but after some convincing I attended an Intro talk, completed the four-day course and began meditating. Within a week, I noticed the quality of sleep improved drastically, I felt lighter and had more access to joy. In short, I had more frictionless activity throughout the day which lead to more present moment awareness. If the therapy was the software of the mind, meditation was hardware of the physiology. It had allowed for a certain purification process to take place so I could begin to let go of the cellular imprint of stress and trauma that had accumulated.
When I initially learned, I was a closet meditator, meaning I would literally meditate in closets rather than entertain conversations about being a meditator because not that many people were talking about it. Nowadays it seems like everyone’s doing it or knows someone who does, which is great, because to me it means that Western science is finally catching up to what a number of Indian rishis have been saying for centuries, which is you can’t separate mind from body. But I learned something back then about habits: If we look forward to it rather than feeling like we “have to” or “need to” do it, then that habit is likely to become automated. Habits must be short, repeatable, specific, daily, and produce tangible results. Otherwise, we may start out like a cannonball, with tons of enthusiasm in the beginning but a steep drop soon after if we can’t measure tangible benefits.
The ROI for learning to meditate was immediate for me. No concentration, effort, or focus, was required. In fact, mental vacations were encouraged. I didn’t have to “stop my mind from thinking,” which is one of the things that prevented me from practice before. I never realized that trying to stop the mind from thinking is like trying to tell your heart to stop beating, it’s impossible. I’d finally found a practice that not only worked but was user friendly, like giving the brain the right toy to play with.
Vedic meditation was designed for the “householder,” or people with busy minds and active lives, you don’t have to meditate for hours to experience the benefits. It’s a deceptively simple practice; as you effortlessly think a primordial sound or mantra, the body begins to rest, sometimes significantly deeper than regular sleep. As the body experiences that deep rest, it dissolves old stresses recorded in cellular memory, which is the thing that allows us to perform better, to be better, and access greater states of well-being. It also allows us to pull back the lens on all of our demands, and decide which ones are actually worthy of our time and attention, our two most valuable assets. In this respect, meditation gives us back time by helping us prioritize our time and attention, which are our two most valuable assets in a data driven world.
Recently I came across a quote from Yuval Noah Harrari from the book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century:
“We’d be wise to invest a dollar and a minute in advancing human consciousness. Unfortunately, at present we are not doing much in the way of research into human consciousness and ways to develop it. We are researching and developing human abilities mainly according to the immediate needs of the economic and political system, rather than according to our own long-term needs as conscious beings. My boss wants me to answer emails as quickly as possible, but he has little interest in my ability to taste and appreciate the food I am eating. Consequently, I check my emails even during meals, which means I lose the ability to pay attention to my own sensations. The economic system pressures me to expand and diversify my investment portfolio, but it gives me zero incentive to expand and diversify my compassion. So I strive to understand the mysteries of the stock exchange while making far less effort to understand the deep causes of suffering.”
To those who say they can’t afford the time to meditate, I ask how can you afford not to? With regular practice (and minimal effort), we begin to see that challenges are inevitable, but suffering is optional. Suffering is a projection of the mind based on the dissonance of expectation and reality. We should always have preference in any given situation, but the mark of a well adjusted human is to be able to adapt supremely. As we meditate, we are also reminded of the truth of who we are, which is unbounded potential. And with this awareness, we begin to favor that, to switch from panic to bewilderment in a rapidly changing world, which allows us to create more of what we’d like with clarity, emotional balance and moral courage.