When you are stuck in traffic, where does your mind go? Are you angry, annoyed, or just bored? Do you avoid the situation and daydream, or do you physically and verbally respond in not so pleasant ways? It’s human nature to let the mind wander when you’re stuck and to react to unpleasant situations. Training in being still and non-reactionary takes diligence, a sense of humor, and A LOT of gentle reminders.
Staying present for even a few seconds can be a challenge. Whether at work, in a traffic jam, in a yoga pose, or meditating, staying put physically and mentally, no matter how crummy it feels, takes a lifetime of practice. Pema Chodron, Buddhist teacher and author says, “All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. There are times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down”. So why even bother being present when the going gets tough? There are a multitude of answers, but for me it boils down to a quest to find contentment in my life.
Restless energy manifests itself in all forms of emotions including anxiety, depression, and fear. And when that energy presents itself, it’s human nature to try to run away from it, muffle it, or anguish over it. Staying with the unwanted energy and becoming aware of how it presents itself in the mind and body leads to a deeper level of acceptance and ease with oneself. Practice takes practice. I try to meditate for a few minutes every day. Some days it feels impossible. I’m agitated or restless, I have a headache, or I tell myself there’s not enough time. But when I make time I come to understand how clear, easy, and expansive the present moment really is. When I practice being present I notice a physical and mental change. Physically, I feel better. I can breathe easier, the tension in my muscles releases, and I sit taller. Mentally, it’s the equivalent of a taking a long sigh or swinging in a hammock on a sunny day. My brain relaxes and It. Is. Wonderful.
For me, nervous energy builds in the pit of my stomach, like a ball of yarn wound too tightly. When I meditate I try to connect to that feeling—the mess of tangled threads. I allow myself to stay with the energy instead of struggling against it. The longer I breathe with the energy, the more it starts to loosen and dissolve. After a few minutes it fades completely and the easiness of the moment opens up. Nothing is permanent. The nervousness returns again and again, and I revisit the energy on a regular basis. The more I allow myself to stay with it and practice non-avoidance, the easier it gets.
If you are new to meditation, let go of any preconceived notions about it. Meditation doesn’t require any special skills. Think of it as a break from planning, worrying, and thinking. There’s no right or wrong way. Try sitting for just a few minutes the first time. Close your eyes if you are distracted by your surroundings. Focus on your breath and notice what you are feeling, physically and emotionally. Get familiar with whatever you are experiencing, be it good or bad. Stay with any emotions or sensations that arise. When your mind starts to go down a bunny trail, gently guide it back to the breath, the sensations, and the energy. Give up any struggle, be gentle with yourself, and smile when you catch yourself thinking.