The Simple Story that Taught Me How to Meditate
If you’ve even taken a turn down the wrong street, missed an exit ramp, or descended onto the opposing subway platform, you know how easy it is to do — and how easy it is to fix, despite the momentary frustration.
I’d been trying to meditate for what felt like a decade. In reality, it’d only been 6 months, but when something feels hard, my sense of time could get lapped by a snail. And meditation felt hard. Like causing me stress instead of relieving it, kinda hard.
I (intellectually) knew that the basic idea of meditation was to focus on the here and now and bring myself back to the center when distracted. But when the timer would ding, I’d be miles down the path without ever having turned around.
It seemed like no matter what I did, it all felt like…well, a waste of time. I wasn’t aware. I was ruminating and just winding my thoughts tighter and tighter. And I was seriously questioning whether I was constitutionally incapable of practicing one of the most popular and scientifically proven ways to re-wire your brain.
So I searched and tried harder, despite it being an approach that rarely turns out well for me.
The cushy mats.
The ideal time of day.
I bought and tried them all, looking for a solution outside of myself. Which hey, that right there is probably the main reason I need to meditate, but without detaching from our thoughts, we usually can’t see the forest through the trees.
When a friend in recovery introduced me to the concept of metaphorically sitting on a bench at the bus station during my meditation time, it finally clicked.
The Inexperienced People Watcher
Beginning what would become a simple story filled with powerful wisdom, she described my character as the inexperienced people watcher.
My desire to sit back, sip a nice dark roast, and watch the world go by was apparently all well and good, but I’d unknowingly fallen into a deeply worn rut of going to a bus station only to get outta town.
I’d get pulled into the call for the bus to St. Louis and follow the rest of the station goers as they got on. I only realized I had actually wanted to stay put on the bench once the iconic arch was in view. So I traveled the whole way back, hoping to grab a seat on my beloved bench before the station closed for the night.
Next up on the never-ending supply of distractions, the call for the bus to the Big Apple. Hell yeah, I’m getting on that bus, I’d think. Everyone else is.
I took the bait and got on — again. It’s NYC, after all. About halfway there, I realized the world was zipping by outside the window, and I’d lost my peaceful seat on the bench. I hopped off and traveled back to the station. Since it hadn’t taken as long to redirect my course on this trip, I had more time to get back and watch the curious flurry of the travelers.
That’s progress, she said.
“It took me time and practice to not only stay on the bench but also understand the most important lesson: the practice of coming and going is itself the heart of mediation, not the failure of it.”
Sitting on the bench day after day, it slowly but surely sank in that whether I boarded the bus or not, it would still take off and go down the road. Other people would get on, but I didn’t need to join them. I could enjoy their travel without moving from right where I needed, and wanted, to be. If (and when), I did find myself zipping down the road, the bench will still be there.
We All Need Different Anchors
We all need different explanations and visuals in life to get that light bulb to turn on.
Sometimes it feels like I missed the obvious when sitting on my fancy meditation mat, but I’ve learned that life isn’t about succeeding or failing — it’s about doing, learning, and growing. I’m allowed to relax into the bench and buy a return ticket when needed, no judgment on board.