Saturday, November 14, 2009

Zen and the Art of Squirrel Containment

I have been trying to meditate. I say 'trying', because I am really not very good at it. Not at all. Once I even bought a guided meditation DVD entitled "Meditation: Find Inner Peace in Ten Minutes or Less". That should have been a sign that my kind of over-active mind needs a little more help than most. But I did listen to the DVD. Once. In the car. For five whole minutes.

I have always been a short-cut taker, and not just with activities, projects or work. I like emotional shortcuts, too. When I have unpleasant emotions, my mind automatically seeks the quickest possible escape route. I am not particularly fond of being alone in my head, with so many thoughts pinging around all disorganized and unresolved. My brain is like a hyperactive, hungry, immature squirrel - always flitting about, digging things up, making snarly little nests here and there and then scooting off to the next thing.

My idea of relaxing involves listening to the radio, playing on the computer and talking on the phone at the same time. The only time I seem to have any kind of focus is when I'm reading a book - and even then I often have to re-read sentences or entire paragraphs because my mental squirrel has gone running off somewhere without my permission.

My first experience with meditation was last year. I participated in a women's discussion group, and before every group meeting we would meditate. Sometimes with the aid of a guided meditation CD, but often with nothing at all - just silence. We would set a timer for ten minutes, sit in a circle, dim the lights, settle comfortably in our chairs, and meditate. Or, perhaps more accurately, the rest of them would meditate. My mind would go into overdrive, and I would spend the entire ten minutes chasing the squirrel around my brain. My internal dialogue would usually go something like this:

Okay, am I comfortable? No - my feet feel wrong. How are they supposed to be? Flat on the floor, right. Now they're on the floor. But I never sit like this. Shouldn't it be important to feel like myself if I'm meditating? Am I allowed to cross my ankles? I'm just going to peek - really quickly - see if everyone else has their feet on the floor.... damn. They do. Okay, feet on the floor. What's next... oh yes! Breathing. I can totally do this. Deep breath In...... and exhale. In...... and exhale. Wow, that's going well! In... and exhale. Oh shit I have to cough. Must. Suppress. Cough. Damn! Too late. Now everyone's probably looking at me. Where was I? Oh - breathing .... in..... exhale. In..... exhale. Crap, I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking "in" and "exhale" in my head when I do this.. I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking anything. How do you not think at all? Do I just think "ohm?" Okay... ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhmmmm. Ohm. Ohm-diddly-ohm. OHM. That sounds like "oh, I'm". As in "oh I'm so bored". Ohimsobored. Ohimsobored. Ooohhhhiimmmmsooooobooooorrrrredddd.

It goes on this way until the little 'ding' of the timer. Everyone else appears to surface from some inner pool of mental calmness. By the time it's over I'm close to panic that I haven't quieted my brain - not for one second - so I study their faces and try to imitate their look of zen-like satisfaction.

I keep practicing, though, because every now and then there are a few moments of - well, of silence. And peace. And they're nice.

What I need, really, is a Zen Squirrel Trap. Like a Have-A-Heart Trap for the mind. I don't want to kill the squirrel, not really. Just contain him for a while. Quietly.


  1. I practice something called Contemplative Prayer. I think what I love the most about it is that there isn't any self judgement involved. I have a sacred (typed scared instead of sacred at first!) word and when my mind wanders I repeat that word in my head once to remind myself to let the thoughts go. The goal isn't to not think anything, just to observe that I'm thinking and carry on. In one book I read about it there was a nun who thought she just sucked at it because she had a thousand thoughts in the 20 minutes they were meditating. The teacher said, "oh, then a thousand opportunities to return to God." So, in the end it's all good.

  2. Gorgeous post. Beautifully written.

  3. I find that I meditate best when I'm in motion in a comfortable position in a quiet area with no visual distractions, and even then I'm not not-thinking, I'm focusing on the sensations of the repetitive motion and letting my thoughts drift. I don't think meditation is one of those things where there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it; it's just about what works well for you to let yourself get out of your own way and get centered.

  4. I go to a prayer and meditation meeting once a week, and your thought process when "meditating" made me feel like you'd wire tapped my brain during it! Happy to know I'm not the only one that struggles with it. I continue to practice though... progress, not perfection:)

  5. One type of meditation that may be helpful is to repeat a chant. The idea of this is that it gives the surface of your mind something to do while the subconscious or the rest of it kind of floats on things wordlessly. The Catholic rosery is great for this, or other types of long, repetitive chants or prayers.

  6. Um, are we related? I used to go to yoga (which I enjoyed) and we would "meditate" at the end of class. I found it very difficult because I wanted to burst out laughing all the time. Very hard to stifle a giggle when you could hear a pin drop.

  7. Massage. Sleep.

    Those are my only real "zoning out" meditative-type situations. OCCASIONALLY, sitting in the sun in the garden. But that's an accident. :)