I recently finished my 300 hour yoga teacher training over in Bali. Every day at 6:05 in the morning, after our personal movement practice we would meditate, usually for 30 minutes. We would sit in Shamatha, which is supposed to stand for ‘peaceful abiding’, but as far as I’m concerned it stood for my butt getting bruised on a wooden block while my leg fell asleep and my arm got eaten by three different kinds of bugs.
Every now and then there would be a relatively peaceful moment, where the blanket on top of the block wasn’t itching my legs and my neck wasn’t aching where I would sink into to the calmness of my breath. Nah, not really, it would give me a few moments to wonder how my dogs and husband were doing back home, look forward to the house renovations that were already well underway and wonder if I could make it through all the way until breakfast today.
Then if some physical malaise didn’t interrupt my thoughts, occasionally I would realize that I’m supposed to be focusing on my breath. I’d take a breath in, and on the exhale wonder if I’d already paid my credit card bill. I’d then chase a fly around my body for a few minutes while trying to look like I was sitting completely still and sneak a peak over at the person in front of me to see how they were doing. It seemed, always perfectly still and abiding in their peaceful meditation.
I’d redouble my efforts, focus on my breath, soften my eyes, sit up well into my seat of painful stone, imagine a deep Om resonating within my being and notice that it was really hot. Like hot enough for a dribble of sweat to roll it’s way out my armpit, down my arm into the crook of my elbow and onto the mat.
“How can I be sweating sitting here doing nothing?” I’d wonder to myself in a soft, almost meditative way, stealing a quick glance at whoever was umzhe-ing the session. I’m seriously the only one squirming around right now. “Okay, don’t squirm”. “Good”. “Now stop thinking about squirming.” “No not back to the credit cards again” “Breathe”
“Oh my GOD are we finished yet?”
When finally my thoughts were interrupted with the sound of the singing bowl. I swear there is no sound as sweet as the call to the conclusion of meditation about hours of torturous trying not to do or think about something.
As the last note would fade away the umzhe-er would say, “You have reached the half way point in your practice, feel free to make any physical adjustments if you need to.”
My spirit would sink in desperation, searching for a reprieve. Yesterday’s bug bites would then make themselves known and a whole new round of squirming would ensue until mercifully the final bell would ring and it was over.
Did I say meditation was easy?
When the training was over, before my flight back I stopped by the airport prayer room to give meditation another go, on my own terms.
They say if you do something for 20 days in a row you’ve built a new habit. After 26 days of meditation, it’s likely the habit drew me to my seat because it sure wasn’t any expectation of a good time.
I set my watch for 15 minutes, sat in my seat on the carpet and began counting my breath. Inhale 1, 2, 3, 4. Hold 4, 3, 2, 1. Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4. Hold 4, 3, 2, 1. Then to five, then to six.
At one point my pattern interrupted itself to remind me to sit tall and then continued.
No flies, no heat, no one telling me I had to do this.
Just me, and my breath.
And then my timer went off.
I realize now the value of practicing when everything was hard. When I no longer had to fight the heat and the flies and the props it came easier. Tomorrow may again call my mind adrift as I sit, but for the first time I think that it may be a practice I could enjoy.