I had the good fortune to meet the spiritual teacher Cheri Huber in person. At the time, I didn’t know who she was. I just bumped into her at a book festival in San Francisco where I was a volunteer. Our chance meeting changed my life in ways I’m still discovering nearly 20 years later.
My job at the book festival was to move through the crowd and help people. Usually, all I did was tell them where the bathrooms were.
The building that housed the book festival was huge and most of the excitement was up at the front where cookbook authors were putting on cooking shows. When the crowds became too much, I slipped away to the back of the building where very few people went. That’s where the cheap booths were for authors on small budgets. And that’s where I bumped into Cheri.
Turning Off Mind Chatter.
Dressed in a simple robe, she sat at a folding card table with a few paperback books on display. There wasn’t another soul in sight.
I didn’t know it at the time, but later realized she was meditating when I disturbed her. She looked up at me with joy-filled eyes and the kindest smile. She positively radiated love. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was completely accepted.
Cheri introduced me to the beautiful simplicity of meditation. Before then, as a writer, I would sometimes find it difficult to turn my mind off. Essentially, meditation is the practice of watching the mind.
If you try meditation, you’ll quickly realize how crazy your mind can be. Some call it the “Monkey Mind” because it jumps around like a crazy monkey.
The truth is, we’re all a little mentally unstable. When you make meditation part of your daily routine, you’ll learn to let your thoughts drift through your mind like clouds across the sky. This is the beginning of accepting the present moment, a very powerful and fulfilling way to live.
Meditation has dramatically increased my ability to concentrate and focus. It has also helped me manage anxiety, depression and PTSD.
If you are not particularly religious or spiritual, meditation is a phenomenal tool for being more fully human. If you are indeed spiritual or religious, meditation can be an amazing journey to a deeper spiritual life. When I meditate, I feel complete and in the presence of a power far greater than I myself.
When a Good Imagination Goes Bad.
Through a daily practice of meditation, I learned to watch my thoughts. One of the first things I realized from watching my thoughts is that I really freak myself out.
Sometimes it was just imagining scary things, but often I would mentally fixate on past hurts or screw-ups. It’s really sick when you think about it because I was actually torturing myself with my own imagination.
Living with Zen Masters.
“I have lived with many Zen Masters, all of them cats.” Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now.
After meeting Cheri, I discovered other spiritual teachers too, including Eckhart Tolle, Steve Hartman and Tai Sheridan. They all have a more casual approach to meditation.
It was Tolle who pointed out that I was actually living with Zen masters. There is much truth to this. Cats have a natural ability to sit quietly in a relaxed and heightened state of awareness, in other words, to be in the moment. That is meditation.
There are countless ways to meditate and many videos online that explain it well. My favorite meditation technique is to close my eyes and watch my breath. Soon the rhythm of my breathing is much like a slight wave rolling onto the beach and hushing out again.
Meditation reminds me that I really don’t need much to be happy.
Keeping it Simple.
Depending on where you look or who you ask, meditation can seem like an exercise in futility, because while you’re meditating you aren’t doing anything. That’s the point.
Some teachers would have you believe that meditation takes a lifetime of practice and that you must meditate for an hour a day or longer. That’s really not the case.
For years I took my mediation practice very seriously and would formerly sit crossed-legged on a meditation cushion at the same time each day, sometimes for hours.
However, the little feline Zen master I lived with forced me to lighten up when he pissed on my meditation cushion. I got the message. That was a turning point for sure.
Now, I meditate without props or ritual. Some purists have described my meditation practice as homemade, half-ass Taoism, but it works for me.
I particularly like to start my day with meditation, but it isn’t formal, not by long shot. I just sit under a tree behind my house and sip tea. In the evening, I’ll close my eyes as I sit on the edge of my bed until my mind is quite.
This is the most important Zen practice.
It is the classroom for living a wise and kind life.
Sit anywhere and be quiet…
Excerpt from Buddha in Blue Jeans by Tai Sheridan
You Are Not Your Thoughts.
Perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve learned from my casual meditation practice is that we are not our thoughts. We are so much more…
Give a Dog a Bone.
Apparently, our minds are much like my black lab Zack. Zack chews on everything, sticks, rocks, dog bowls, even the plastic bumper of my car. It’s just his nature.
Yelling at him doesn’t help. The trick is to give Zack something benign to chew on like a toy made for big dogs. He’s happy then and will carry it around for hours.
If he loses it and starts chewing on the car, I just have to find his toy and he’s happy and well-behaved again.
Our minds are a lot like that. We have to give our mind something to fixate on or it will chatter away or fixate on past hurts and imagined fears.
Meditation is a way of giving our minds a bone to chew on.
When our mind chatters away about the same stuff it chattered about yesterday and last week and last year, Or when it worries about imagined fears or some long ago insult or loss, focus the mind on your breathing.
An Essential Skill.
Meditation is an essential skill for a writer. It’s so simple and so powerful.
When I’m stuck on a writing project, I know if I meditate I usually find the solution to move forward. The science behind this is well founded. The more tense we are, the less creative we will be.
Tension and stress trigger the fight or flight respond in our brain. All systems are then geared toward survival, not creativity or problem solving.
Likewise, when we let our mind run away we can really freak ourselves out. The truth is, most of our fears are self-generated. With a little meditation, you start to see through that ruse.
A Zen Thing.
Robert M. Persig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was an early member of the San Francisco Zen Center and Green Gulch Monastery in Marin County.
I once read that Persig was in nearly constant meditation as he wrote Motorcycle Maintenance. He would meditate until he had insight and then write until depleted and meditate some more.
The Secret of Meditation.
It’s important not to try when you are meditating. Meditation is not about achieving anything. It’s about simply existing in your body and the present moment. It’s about being.
Many schools of meditation have accumulated excessive rituals around the practice. If ritual helps you use them, but I find rituals burdensome and complex.
To meditate, all you have to do is sit quietly and watch your thoughts as if you are watching clouds drift across the sky.