Is Your Mind Worried About Becoming Jobless and Homeless (or What is Meditation?)

A few mornings ago I didn’t feel like meditating. So I went to Youtube, where I get some of my favorite meditation videos, and typed in ‘Meditation when you don’t feel like meditating.’

What came back were a series of videos about what meditation is. A few of them were created by monks, and were quite interesting. I always love when people talk about what meditation is and is not, because I sometimes get asked this question and I can’t think of the answer exactly- not off the top of my head .

Anyway, this Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche, had a 5 minute video that really clarified a lot of things for me about meditation. I’ll summarize his video here.

First, the problem most of us have with meditation is that there are a ton of thoughts racing through our heads as we’re meditating, and we feel like we’ve ‘failed’ if we can’t quiet them.

But, as Mingyur Rinpoche says, and as many of the best meditation teachers say, meditation isn’t about forcing your ‘monkey mind’ to stop.

We are trying to block all thoughts and emotions and to think of absolutely nothing.

But meditation actually isn’t about blocking thoughts and thinking of nothing.

Or can meditation just about blissing out and being peaceful and open? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I bliss out and be peaceful and open, dammit? What is wrong with me?!

But meditation actually isn’t about doing that anyway, so relax.

Another problem many of us have with meditating is that our minds will start telling us stuff to do during a meditation, such as “I have to call Zach, I have to buy detergent, I can’t be wasting this time- I have to put my expense report together” etc.

But meditation isn’t about following each and every demand of your monkey mind.

So what the heck IS meditation all about then? If meditation isn’t about saying ‘hey GET OUT!’ to your mind and your thoughts… And it’s not about saying ‘okay, yes sir!’ to your mind.. then..?

Meditation is about making friends with your monkey mind.

So what does your mind like and want? AND what do YOU want? These questions need to have the same answer…Because you don’t want to just give your mind what it wants while you miserably follow (i.e I have to miserably think the same depressing thoughts over and over beccause I have NO CHOICE BECAUSE THAT’S JUST WHAT HAPPENS UGHHHHHHH WHYYYYYYYY.)

But screaming at your mind to STOP THINKING STUPID THOUGHTS GODDAMMIT  JUST STOP IT STOP IT RIGHT NOW doesn’t work either. Your mind doesn’t like being yelled at or told to go away or to stop thinking- and it will sometimes royally disobey and do the exact opposite of what you’re screaming at it about.

So what does your mind like? It likes to have a job. “Without a job your monkey mind thinks it’s jobless and will soon become homeless” -Mingyur Rinpoche

Your mind is always active and wants a job. So when you give a job to your monkey mind, it’s a win-win situation. Your monkey mind is happy because it has a job, and you’re happy because you’re the boss. Your mind is your employee and you are the employer-not the other way around. And in this way, you’re free. You liberate yourself from the monkey mind.

So what does this mean????!!!

Meditation is giving your monkey mind a part- time job.

Just tell your monkey mind, “okay mind, we’re going to meditate, let’s do a job right now, let’s watch our breath.” or “let’s repeat these mantra words.” Don’t give your mind a full-time job…a few minutes a day of meditation is enough.

Also, don’t “punish” your mind if it doesn’t follow the ‘job’ all the time…just simply bring it back to it’s job. Your brain isn’t going to stop thinking just because you’re meditating, but when you give your mind a job and step back, you’ll be able to see those thoughts clearly and let them pass by. Mingyur Rinpoche says it best: In muddy water you can’t see anything, but in still water you can see all the fish swimming around.

So get still. And slowly, slowly, your mind WILL become more peaceful and pliable. And meditation really will bring you to a place where YOU are in charge and are friends with your mind…plus you may start to see some added benefits of newfound love, compassion, and clarity.

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First Thing in the Morning in Your Thirties

For most of my life, I never really had a morning ritual. Well- I never had a morning ritual that went much beyond putting on my makeup and getting my hair into some sort of acceptable outside-world style.

Then, as I went through my twenties, I started adding new parts to my morning ritual. I got into making green juices in the morning, and then- even better- I got into making green smoothies. I purchased a french press and started making my own coffee every day as well. Lots of liquids. And then I figured out a way to style my hair even quicker than before (by forsaking straightening my crazy waves into heat-damaging oblivion every single day).

Yet even when I had a handle on my morning routine, it always felt like a means to an end. I got nothing super important done in the morning. I usually saved that stuff until the afternoon, when something more pressing usually came up and interrupted it anyway (like lunchtime. Or drinks out. Or a new bunch of emails to return. You know, the important stuff…)

This summer, I hit a wall. I was sick of the days passing me by while some of the most important things I wanted to do daily remained undone. So I started a ‘most important things on my list are the first ones’ habit. And it really started to work.

I’d get up, start some coffee, eat an apple, and meditate (which is very important to me). Then I’d put on my gym clothes and go running or to the gym (also very important). Then I’d come back, make a smoothie, and tackle my to do list or go to work. In this way, I was meditating daily and also getting to the gym before interruptions took over. The first thing in the morning habit really worked. Even though I’m a night owl.

The hardest part has been expanding my morning ritual into other important tasks. It was easy to meditate and run and then get through a to-do list of smaller items like ‘wash dishes. email so-and-so. send invoice.’ It was much harder to meditate and run and   then tackle larger and more important to dos like ‘rewrite resume. practice presentations. watch videos and research new job prospects.’ I was just talking to my friend Janna about this; For whatever reason, the reallly important tasks that could further our lives and careers have been getting pushed by the wayside and out of our days entirely. And this has been happening for a while… kind of sort of like always. Especially on work days where there’s not much time left in the day to tackle tasks other than getting to work.

Our new idea has been to start using the ‘first thing in the morning’ ritual to include these big important tasks right away…and I think it’s best to only focus on one Very Important Task daily.

So to recap, instead of trying to kill a whole to-do list, I’m going to prioritize one big important task a day and only try to do that, starting in the morning. First, I’m still going to start my coffee and have an apple and meditate. Then I’m going to work on the chosen task for an allotted period of time. Only THEN will I tackle the other items.

I think choosing only one large item a day to work on first thing in the morning is helpful. When there’s only one thing to think about, it’s easier to stay focused and not accomplish absolutely zero big important tasks in a day.

What do you think? Do morning rituals help you? How do you accomplish the really big important tasks and not let the days pass you by?

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The Stones Are Talking To Me (or What The Heck Are Those Things??) in My Thirties

The other day my theater company, Mission to (dit)Mars, ran a meditative writing workshop called Poetry in Stone. We do Meditative Writing workshops every summer with a wonderful mindfulness meditation guide named Emily Herzlin. She’s fantastic and always extremely calming.

Now, I meditate, and really like it- but I’m pretty new to meditation– I’ve only been practicing for about a year. The way I usually practice is at home alone with a guided meditation and/or or some music. It’s fairly rare that I practice in the outside world (read: not in my bedroom), but our meditation workshop got me doing just that.

One issue that arises while in a meditation workshop that’s both outdoors and with other people -plus involves writing -is that there are a lot of distractions. I was even distracted walking to the workshop. Thoughts kept crossing my mind like “I don’t know how to do this. I’m really scattered today. Where am I? I don’t feel peaceful. Oh no, I don’t feel peaceful! It’s ok! It’s not ok! No, feel how you feel! No, feel peaceful, goddammit!!” Those were all thoughts I had before I even got to the workshop.

This particular workshop was at the Noguchi Museum in Astoria, Queens. I’d never been there before and amazingly, neither had anyone else attending our workshop, other than Emily herself.

The Noguchi Museum is kind of like being inside one of those rock gardens where you scrape around sand with a tiny rake. Only there was no sand. There were only rocks. And us. And trees. And stairs. Stairs that led up to many rooms… of more rocks.  Huge rocks seemed to grow out of the ground.

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After all of us introduced ourselves, we spent some time in the outside (yet inside) part of the museum. Emily told us to put our phones away and attempt to not look at them throughout the 3 hour duration of the workshop. I felt both relieved and afraid.

We did a standing meditation. I rarely meditate standing up (by rarely I mean never). I became very aware of how much my feet ached. I became very aware of how my necklace kept hitting my collarbone. Then we finished our standing meditation and walked through the museum in silence, guided by Emily.

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The museum is puzzling because some of it is outside, some is inside, and part of it seems to float completely in an in-between world of inside out. There’s a room that is walled-off yet open ceiling. There’s a room that’s simply an outside garden. There’s a room that seems like a concrete garage. There are rooms that are very hot. There’s a room that is very cold. And then there are middle rooms…dare I say they’re more like ‘typical’ museum rooms…whatever that means.

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The stones confused me. They’re everywhere. I went into the museum with no preconceived notions about what the stone sculptures meant or why there were big abstract rocks all over the place. I didn’t know who Noguchi was or even that he was a person (he’s a person. But I thought Noguchi might be a place that birthed a collection of different sculptures). My mind wandered. I brought it back. My mind wandered. I brought it back. I felt myself walking. I felt myself breathing. I looked at the stones. They reminded me of people. They reminded me of old memories. They reminded me of nothing.

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We went off on our own. I sat for awhile, in the very cold room, by one medium size stone…the only one I found recognizable. It was in the shape of a foot. I stared. People took dumb selfies with the foot stone. My mind wandered. I brought it back. My mind wandered. I brought it back.

I wrote. Stream of consciousness.

Spaceship stone
Foot Stone
Surface of Mars
Music
Tin
Rhinestone
Granite
Music
Metal
Lead
Cold
Music
Whispers
Metal pieces in my hair
Tin in my ear.
Breath. Air. Foootsteps. Nerves.

photo 3I stared out the window behind the foot stone. My mind wandered. I felt proud of myself for coming to the workshop. I was amazed at my meditative skills. I felt mad at myself for thinking about meditation instead of being meditative. I brought my thoughts back. People took more dumb selfies with the foot rock. I became aware of a yearning to check my phone. I didn’t. Instead I wrote.

I don’t want to move
I want to rest my stone feet
Still with the air
Frozen over with warmth inside
There’s a foot rock
Bandaged over
Stopped
Dead
But behind the glass in front of it
and me
The warm tree world waves outside

Everyone loves the foot rock
After it worked so hard
and is now dead
It’s a funny corpse
Huge and lolling

I lost my inner battle and checked my phone. There were no important messages and I felt angry at myself for lack of willpower. I stalked to a different part of the museum and sat in a warm corner by an abstract desk sculpture. I stared. The desk sculpture was the only other sculpture in the museum that had a recognizable shape. People took photos of the desk and kept asking me to move my outstretched legs. I shifted and fumed at them..then I fumed at myself. I felt like I’d lost the peacefulness I had gained during the hour without my phone. I brought my thoughts back. I felt my breath go in and out. I wrote.

My warm living skin against the preserved wood floor
I am only a small corner
The desk just a piece
Sparkled metal, dusty
I am not home
Nobody’s home
The desk is empty
And I watch- close from afar
How it stands without me

I feel better here
Open space
Square window
Living flesh against wood

Phone’s warmth disappears
As my eyes open
A sickness comes from my bag
In my corner
Others come and go
Bending, filling, waving, capturing

By the end of the workshop I felt calm and in my body. I felt this way for a long time afterwards…even now I feel the calming sensation of that workshop. Of course, my phone still distracts me. My feet still ache. I still feel tense. I still chide myself for texting while walking.

But overall, the stones stay with me. Their solid masses remain mysterious, yet somehow familiar. I feel the strange relaxation of stones growing out of the earth. I feel the strange relaxation of writing about stones growing out of the earth. I bring myself back. I feel their presence. And then I feel my own presence once again.

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