Written by David Templin
“The universe will do as the universe does, if only I could control it a bit better!”
This was a thought which came to me while I was meditating. It made me smile. I often smile now, when I am meditating. The practice has revealed to me some of the lighter aspects of myself and my relationship with anxiety.
I started meditating reluctantly. For quite some time, a number of my friends have been encouraging me to try it. One friend recommended a book that he found useful. It sat on my end table for weeks. Every time I sat down to watch TV, I saw it lying there unopened.
“What a waste of time meditation is!” I thought as I sipped my beer, scratched my belly and watched reruns of “Gilligan’s Island”. Something struck me odd about that thought. I finally turned off the TV and started reading.
There were several kinds of mediation described in the book. One, was a walking meditation. This one appealed to me right away. I could do two things that were supposed to be good for me at the same time! On further reflection I decided not to approach this by trying to be efficient.
So I started from the beginning with the breathing meditation.
There are a few things that surprised me. For one, meditation takes some concentration! I found it odd, that to do nothing properly, it takes effort. I know now however, that there is not necessarily a “proper” way to meditate even when you follow the techniques described in a book.
The next thing I discovered as I started to meditate was that the quieter I tried to be, the louder and more incessant my thoughts seemed to get. I haven’t quite figured this out. Is it because I am trying to be quiet that I can perceive all these thoughts that are happening all the time anyway? Or, does my brain simply abhor quiet like nature abhors a vacuum?
Right now, I am leaning towards the first explanation. I think for me, the chatter is always there, it is just that when I am occupied doing something, I don’t notice it because it tends to relate to whatever it is that is occupying me. It only seems loud when I am attempting to do nothing.
Techniques for Doing Nothing
So, in order to try to find some quiet, I used the techniques described in the book to deal with the persistent and often inane thoughts continually interrupting me. The first technique is to concentrate on breathing, slowly and naturally. This gives my brain something to do, and there is a calming effect that natural breathing brings to my body. The next is the tricky thing. I have to try not to judge what I am thinking. Think the thought and gently put it aside.
It is here that I have discovered a lighter side of me and my anxieties. In the beginning, I was irritated by the continuous cacophony of pointless thoughts crowding my brain preventing any possibility of quiet solace. By constantly letting the thoughts come and letting them go by focussing back on my breathing, I was practicing dealing with my own thoughts without judgement, much like hitting a ball against a wall hundreds of times to practice a tennis stroke.
I have come to realize, just as pauses are as important as notes in music, the thoughts can be as important as the pauses while I am meditating. The key for me is to let them go, and get back to breathing.
Who is that Person Yammering in my Head?
When I think about the constant chatter of thoughts that come up during meditation, I think of a child who is learning to like the sound of his own voice. He just can’t seem to shut up, and the perspective from which most of this chatter comes, could be coming from a seven year old boy!
That thought disturbed me at first. Am I really that 7 year old boy?
The answer I have come to is, yes! He is a huge part of who I am. By meditating regularly and letting the seven year old within me talk, I can’t help but like the little rascal. Sometimes, he can think of some of the darnedest things! I now look forward to meditating not only to experience some silence, but also to listen without judgement to some of my own childlike thoughts.
Quotations from a Childlike Mind
Here are some common topics that come up while I am meditating and some of the ridiculous ideas my inner 7 year old comes up with.
On Meditating Properly:
I am doing something wrong! Its not working. I can’t stop thinking. I can’t do anything right! Yikes! I can’t even do nothing right!
Wow! That was cool! I think I was silent for a while there! Oh, but I’m not silent now! Darn!
Have I been sitting here for 2 minutes? 5 minutes or 15 minutes? If I can be that unsure of the time, maybe its been a full day! No, that can’t be possible. I would be hungry or would have had to go to the bathroom or something! I have to look at my watch. No, that would break the calm, just breathe. Just a glance at my watch won’t hurt. Just breathe. One little glance. Breathe. 6 minutes. 6 minutes? Really? I could have sworn I’ve been quiet longer than that!
My nose is itchy. I have to scratch it. Just breathe. No really, I should scratch it. It is temporary, just breathe. But, what if it gets worse? Just breathe. I don’t think I can stand it! Breathe. But … oh never mind, it went away. Breathe. That was cool! I wonder if I could do that with a broken leg?
On Various Worries:
Something is wrong with my car’s driver side front tire. Breathe. I hate that. Breathe. I should take it in somewhere. Breathe, in and out. No, they will just tell me I need 4 new tires. I can’t afford that! Breathe. Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away, just like that itch I had! Breathe. No, I am pretty sure it doesn’t work that way. Breathe, in and out.
On Understanding the Silence:
Breathe, in and out. Ahhh. I know I’m thinking now, but just then… Breathe. I wonder if I really stopped thinking or was I just thinking about nothing? Breathe, in…out.
Meditation as a Tonic for Anxiety
So, how has this helped me deal with anxiety?
For one, meditation has become a welcome break in my day. It relaxes me, no matter how relaxed I think I am before I start. I feel my muscles start to relax in anticipation just before I begin. I remember as a 7 year old how I would look forward to recess. I look forward to meditation much the same way.
I have noticed some longer term benefits. When an anxious thought or self doubt arises throughout the day, my immediate reaction, is to take a breath. This may have always been the case, but now when I take that first breath I associate it with the calming affect of meditation. It helps me take a step back and I try not to judge either the thought or the emotions that tag along with it.
To me this is a dramatic change for the better. Before I started meditating, the initial thought I would have when I felt the first pangs of worry would be “Oh no! I am feeling anxious again. Will I never shake this feeling?” I would then start worrying about worrying!
I freely admit, I am still prone to worry about things and then worry about how much I am worrying. The difference seems to be that if I can delay that reaction for even a few seconds, I can often address the original thought independently from my fear. Depending on the situation, the fear may dissipate, much like an itch that disappears on its own!
When addressing problems, such as my financial situation, I try to use some of the same techniques of breathing and attempting to separate my fear from the problems at hand. Recently I looked at a bill that was higher than expected and start feeling anxious. I took a few breaths and realized the fear was associated with hypothetical situations that had little or nothing to do with the present. What if I never work again? What if interest rates go up? What if I need to do major repairs on my house? I imagined a seven year old boy taking care of my financial situation, and smiled. Maybe I could let the adult in me take over from the seven year old for now. Yes, I could afford to pay this bill. No, it was not going to have a long term affect on my financial situation. The anxiety immediately lifted.
Meditation has become almost a daily event for me. Although I am retired , I do take on projects from time to time. I know therefore, I cannot always take 15 minutes in the middle of a day to break away and stop everything to meditate. I would like to. I have pictured myself half way through a meeting, clearing a space on the boardroom table to sit in the lotus position. “Don’t mind me!” I would say, “ I promise not to make a sound!” I am quite sure I would not be able to get away with that. However, I can slow down a little bit and breathe, and find some peace.
If I can’t find the time during the day to meditate, I can almost always find it in the evening before I head to bed. I find it useful, what is more important to me, I fine it enjoyable!
Now when I meditate, I look forward to the cacophony. I listen carefully to find the silence that lives between the noisy thoughts, and sometimes some of those thoughts make me smile!
I am curious to hear about your experiences with meditation. What surprising benefits have you found from meditating? Have you ever let yourself appreciate some of the noise as much as the silence?
He keeps busy by volunteering to help seniors and helps organize an annual dinner to feed well over a thousand less fortunate people on Christmas Eve.
His greatest joy in life is when he successfully makes people smile and laugh.
He is a regular contributor and editor at MHT.