I’ve been trying to get more regular with a simple mindfulness meditation. Simply observing breaths and not trying too hard to clear the mind, etc. Just sitting and breathing. The advice I follow says you need to do about 20 minutes minimum because it takes ten minutes or so for your mind to calm down a bit. So, sit, breathe and somewhere around ten minutes in things get a little different. And it turns out that they do.
It gets a little easier to stay focused on the breathing at that point. In the first ten minutes, because I’m sitting still, my mind seems to think this is a great time to cook up new ideas, think of stuff I could be doing, etc. It’s using creativity as a distraction! But if I last through this storm of interesting distractions for those ten minutes, I do seem to be able to let them go. Which is interesting.
After doing this for a relatively brief number of times I find it is useful for something I did not expect. A lot of my negative behavior is based on impatience. That feeling that things are either not moving fast enough or that I don’t have the control to make them move faster. As Siddhartha noted in Herman Hesse’s book of the same name, his three skills were fasting, thinking and waiting. When I first read this as a kid I thought fasting and thinking were obviously more important. After all, if you could fast you wouldn’t be driven to spend all your time looking for food. And if you can think, you can solve problems and move forward. But waiting? What’s so great about that?
Now, in some ways, waiting seems equally or possibly more important as a skill, perhaps because our society is so impatient. We need to get there or get it done now. What’s the hold-up? Step on the gas dammit. Where is that bus?
It was at a bus stop a few nights ago that I realized I could deal with impatience with a little mindfulness. It was a beautiful mild evening and I was at the end of the St.Paul line where the river meets the lake, a lovely spot at night with the lights on the water. I was waiting for the bus to take me back to the city. I was early and I was tired and I was very impatient. I just wanted the damn thing to get here. This is where the mindfulness thing clicked. I thought why not sit and breathe for a few minutes instead of getting all worked up over a few minutes of waiting in a nice place? So I sat and breathed.
Ten minutes went by in a flash and the bus was sitting there ready to go. I felt relaxed and got on and went home.
The change in my state of mind from antsy and impatient to calm and observing was a pretty cool thing considering how little it took to accomplish. Since then I’ve been watching myself get impatient and realize it creates a lot more tension than I’d ever considered. And some habits of mine often were the result of doing something to deal with that impatience. But now I have a new tool to help with that.
Simple? Yes. Important? Yes too, I think.