The Coffee Silence – or How an Antsy Person Like Me Found a Way to Meditate

the-coffee-silenceI have been “into” mindfulness and meditation for a few years now. But for me, being “into” something often means I read about it more than I practice it.

Learning to be more present in my daily tasks has been easier than finding time to do more formal meditation, and let’s be honest, sometimes it wasn’t about finding the time. It was about my aversion to doing seemingly “nothing” for any length of time. I’m a person who doesn’t like to be idle, which is fine in itself. But I am also an unhealthily reactive person. I have the Not-Very-Zen tendency to believe I need to take action RIGHT NOW on any thought or task that comes to mind. That can lead to a lot of unfinished tasks and projects and also creates stress because I can’t accept a thought as just a thought. I often allow my thoughts to morph into such a negative storyline about myself or my relationships that my body starts pumping out the stress hormones (because it perceives this ephemeral THOUGHT as a clear and present danger, like I’m being chased by the proverbial saber-toothed tiger.) I knew that meditation would help me with those things, but I had to find a practical way to fit it into my life.

In her book Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin talks about various methods that can help us create healthy habits in our lives, while still being sensitive to our own personalities and “what works for us”. The strategy I used to create my meditation habit is “pairing”. One thing I already do every day about the same time is drink my morning cafe latte, so I decided I would pair meditation with that already ingrained and pleasant habit.

Since I often suffer from paralysis by analysis, I decided that the formalities of meditation (how I sat, whether my eyes were open or closed, how I held my hands) weren’t important. All I had to do was find a comfortable place to sit (alone and in silence), set the timer for 20 minutes and do nothing but drink my coffee and return to the breath when my mind wandered. For all you laid-back people, that might not seem like a big deal. But for me, the first day I accomplished this was a real milestone.

It was a gloomy, wet day, and I was in a funk about my life. I sat there by the window and watched the sparrows flitting in the crepe myrtle trees. I felt a heaviness and silent tears ran down my cheeks. But still I breathed, and a few sparrows landed on the windowsill and seemed to look into the room. That felt like a blessing to me, I had never seen them do that before. A lot of thoughts and fleeting emotions came up during that 20 minutes, including the question “WHEN THE HECK WILL 20 MINUTES BE UP????” When I felt like I was about to cave and look at my timer, the 20 minutes ended. I had done it.

This is still a new practice for me, but it feels sustainable. My kids don’t go to school, so once or twice they ignored my command not to come in the room, but I took that as an opportunity not to be my usual reactive self (meaning I didn’t yell). Right when the timer goes off, I take my journal and write down any thoughts that seem important to remember, or ideas that will need action. Then I read the day’s entry in The Mockingbird Devotional, and then I allow myself to leave Being-Only mode (and I usually go wash the dishes).

I know that meditation isn’t about progress or achievement, so I am trying not to judge whether the 20 minutes was “a success”. The success for me is in keeping the commitment. I trust that over time the practice will shape me in some positive way.

A few questions for you:

– Do you have any long-term practices that have enriched your life?
– Do you have any strategies for developing and maintaining healthy habits?