So I have these cats. (And if you’ve ever talked to me for more than 5 minutes, it’s probably no surprise that this blog post is starting this way.) They’re great, they’re adorable, and it amazes me what great yogis they are. Beyond the fact that they are far more flexible than I will ever be, their capacity to concentrate for extended periods of time is remarkable. Clarence, just this morning, spent a whole 5 minutes staring at the espresso machine (evidence below). Five minutes!
In that time, I had pulled my espresso shots, steamed my almond milk, put oatmeal on the stove to cook, rinsed out the empty almond milk container, started my computer, took the picture below, chosen an appropriate Instagram filter, conjured up a witty comment for the photo, posted to Instagram, and then thought about whether or not I should add a few hashtags. Now, granted, Clarence doesn’t have the opposable thumbs to accomplish much of what I did, but he didn’t seem to care. He was perfectly content staring at that espresso machine as if there were absolutely nothing better he could be doing at that very moment.
Yesterday, Day 2 of this challenge, I sat down in the morning to do my meditation, and the cats decided they absolutely had not had enough to eat for breakfast. So, from the moment I sat down, through the 20 minutes for which I had set my timer, they meowed. Constantly. 20 minutes. Sitting, pacing, staring at me, meowing. I typically have a soft spot for their beckoning, but when you’re trying concentrate (“This is a CHALLENGE, you guys.” “I have to do this!” “Do you even know who Sharon Salzberg is?”), it’s really fucking annoying. And yet, for 20 minutes, until I finally caved and gave them more food, they had one thing on their mind. We won’t talk about how many things came up for me during that time.
I’ve struggled with maintaining a steady meditation practice for a while now, which is part of the reason I decided to participate in the challenge again this year. Even when I do sit, it seems I start out well, but then all descends into anarchy. The breath gets stuck, I can’t find the breath, I get frustrated with the breath. “I know I’m breathing, but WHY CAN’T I FOLLOW THE BREATH???” As you can see, the breath is an issue for me. It’s frustrating to say the least, but you saw what five minutes of my morning looked like. It’s really no wonder my mind is all over the place.
I usually find picking a physical point on my body to concentrate on a lot easier. The space between the eyebrows, the center of the chest. I don’t know if my neurosis about the breath comes from my background as a singer, where we’re constantly worrying about having enough air to carry us through a phrase, or how to “properly use the breath,” but the fact that I can’t follow the breath is a hard pill to swallow when there’s so much talk about the breath in meditation.
In the end, I think it’s important that we are curious and experiment with what works best for us in this process. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but there are easier ways, more productive ways, and when we can find those for ourselves, and let go of the fact that maybe they’re not exactly the same as person X, Y, or Z, then I think we’ve made some headway. So if the breath or picking a physical point doesn’t work, try staring at the espresso maker or singing about food for a few minutes. You never know.