As humans we naturally want to make changes in our lives, yet we often fail in manifesting those changes because we simply haven’t created the necessary holding space wherein those changes can occur. It’s useless, for example, to try to learn to play the piano unless we give ourselves the time and space to practice. Likewise, it’s difficult to give more back to our communities when our lives are being tugged this way and that by too many other obligations. I recently took an aim to meditate at least once each day for a month, a change which I thought might help me learn to be more independent from the mercurial moods of my life. I’ve learned a lot through this process, although not so much about meditation and overcoming the demands of my moods as about the importance of making space in order to effectuate personal change.
When I started this period, I was notorious in my own judicial mind for being an inconsistent meditator at best. I rarely found the time, and often found it difficult to sit quietly for a period of time, not physically difficult, but psychically challenging. In addition to my aim to sit daily, I also decided to not take any electronic devices to bed when going to sleep at night. At the time, it seemed simply like another behavior I had hoped to change. As with quitting smoking or overcoming some other addiction, the best way is often to do our best to simply make the change and stick with it through the pain of withdrawal until the new behavior becomes the new status quo.
After the 30 days of my experiment, I’ll report that I succeeded in completing my aims. While completing them may have been important to me, what I didn’t expect was how surprisingly easy it was. The key to that ease lies in not taking any eletronics to bed. By leaving that space open at night, I’ve had more time to read and simply lie there being more thoughtful. The most striking change, however, has been in the mornings. In the past, with my phone or iPad there on the nightstand, I’d awaken, an idea would run through my head, and without hardly a conscious intention, I would power up and quickly follow that idea and continue moving like falling dominoes from thought to thought, news story to news story, email message to Facebook update. By the time I would get out of bed, I was relatively wired and not in much of a state to sit and meditate. My mind, already three steps ahead of me, had no intention to sit still when there were so many other sirens more temptingly calling for attention.
Waking now without so easily falling into the trap of following my thoughts into the on-line world, I find that there is a generous period of time in the morning before getting out of bed to simply be with my own thoughts, set intentions for the day, or think my way through a challenging situation or complex creative project. When I do get out of bed, well before the sun rises these days, there is a noticeable ease in my being, which brings me to the tea kettle where I start my day with a simple cup of tea. Doing a little yoga and getting on the meditation cushion now doesn’t feel like much of a struggle at all. It is a place I more naturally and easefully want to be.
I used to think that meditation itself was the difficult part, but in reality, I’ve learned that my mind is the culprit and if I don’t feed it too much fuel, it is happy to sit and simply be still for a while.
Without the spaciousness provided by removing technology from my late night and early morning routines, I may have been able to complete my aim of meditating, but it would not have been quite so easy, and I would be much less likely to continue. Technology, while wonderfully engaging and informative, has an unfortunate side effect of training our minds to constantly be on the prowl for stimuli to which we can react. We forget in a very practical way that we don’t have to follow our thoughts or external stimuli as they appear. We live our lives like we are playing “Whack-a-Mole,” rarely stopping to attend to our breath or our experience, instead knocking ceaselessly about at our thoughts and impulses as they pop up.
If we are going to grow and change in a significant way, it is my firm belief that we need to make more space in our lives, untether our technological tendrils, cut back on our commitments and stop filling nearly all of our space with a constant barrage of external stimuli. We need to give our minds and spirits an opportunity to slow down a little and to gradually teach them to not react impulsively to whatever stimulus may arise in front of us. We have been granted the very precious gift of our singularly unique lives, and it seems to me appropriate to honor these gifts by doing our best to slow down, make space, and support ourselves to grow and change for the better.