"To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him." – Shunryu Suzuki
I have been working diligently over the last month to incorporate more meditation into each day, focusing more on the simple act of turning my attention inward than what the practice looks like outwardly. As a mom of two little ones my daily schedule is unpredictable. Some mornings I find myself with an hour or more to do as I please as my son and daughter peacefully snooze in their bedrooms. But, more often, the case is that I am woken up by cries, questions about cereal, and diapers needing to be changed. I feel lucky most days to drink my coffee while it's hot and take a shower, so the idea of carving out specific "meditation time", where I'm propped up on my zabuton in front of an altar with a serene environment can feel crazy. If I have the extra time I'm putting on deodorant and folding laundry, damn it!
But then reality strikes. After a day or two of not meditating, of not processing my thoughts and actions and taking time to sit with all of this, it begins to catch up with me. I'm short with my children. My husband tells me I'm acting anxious. I find myself feeling lost and overwhelmed, like one of those videos of the poor little dog trying to swim its way to shore that everyone else finds adorable but gives me a panic attack. When life gets crazy (and let's admit it – when is it not?), I need meditation even more.
There's that old saying I'm sure most people have heard – "Everyone should meditate for 20 minutes each day. If you don't have time, meditate for an hour."
But where does this magical extra hour come from?
The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. So, yes, I admit that I need to meditate more. Definitely. I think that as a culture we all do. Meditating is processing and considering the massive amount of information we receive every day, whether from news and work, family, or just simple experiences like driving and getting on the computer, information bombards us constantly. So much, in fact, that it has become unnoticeable. It's like we have been getting rained on for so long that we forget what it feels like to not be soaked.
A teacher of mine recommended I read the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. In this book (which I suggest you read with a pen, paper, and the mindset that confusion is always part of the learning process), Suzuki writes about needing to lose the desire to be in control and instead learning what it feels like to accept things just as they are. He says that, in the greatest sense, "control" can only come through freedom, through the act of allowing yourself and others to be mischievous.
One must be free in order to have control.
This goes for your thoughts as well as your actions. If you try to control your thoughts or actions then you are giving them attention and telling them what to do. There is no freedom here. On the other hand, if you learn to simply observe, to allow your thoughts to have freedom without judgment, only then can you really begin to experience any kind of real control.
Thinking about this, I realized that my desire to meditate in a certain way, with my legs crossed and my incense burning in a quiet room, was really my need to control the situation. In the end, even though I may look like a perfect student of meditation to the outside observer, really my practice would be lacking. My thoughts, just like my actions, being controlled until the set time was up.
I have discovered in the last few weeks that the real work of meditation happens when life is happening. When my son breaks a coffee mug on the floor, when my daughter wakes up the moment I lay down at night, when my computer doesn't work, or that jerk cut me off while driving — THIS is when I need meditation to happen. This is when I need to practice – to return my awareness to my breath, to process what is happening from a larger perspective outside of myself, to allow things to happen without feeling like I need to control every bit and piece.
And this is where that extra hour of meditation comes from. Right here, in our day to day lives. Minute by minute, second by second.
Does this mean we should never find a quiet moment to sit? That we should never unroll our mats and practice? Or set up a special time and place just for ourselves? Absolutely not. It does mean that those days when you don't find it, when your practice doesn't look like practice, you can still be mindful; you can always find time for meditation. And, if you're like me, you really could use it.