Sit Down and Shut Up

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A friend told me to shut the fuck up, so I did. For a week. 

Last March at Mount Madonna Center I meditated from 8 a.m - 9 p.m for a week straight with breaks only for meals and exercise. After having listened to dozens of podcasts with successful artists, entrepreneurs, and athletes who talk about meditation like it’s the ark of the covenant, I figured it would be worth a try. 

Much like a bee keeper who becomes allergic to bees later in life, growing up in the miasma of charged crystals, reiki healers, unhygienic yogis (aka Santa Cruz) I have developed an auto-immune disorder to anything that seems like magical thinking. Admittedly, this tendency is unwise because my skepticism can easily become close-mindedness and I risk writing-off legit stuff like turmeric and breath-work.

Luckily, about a year ago I found a very un-wooey app called Waking Up and have used it to meditate most mornings for 10 minutes before I start my day. Within the first 20 seconds of attempting to meditate I usually have the insight that my mind is completely out of control. Like a dog chasing cars, my mind becomes possessed by the next thought that captures my attention, and it’s not until the teacher’s voice comes through my headphones that I am reminded that I am supposed to be meditating. The ark of the covenant that so many meditators allude to is the ability to train your dog to watch the cars drive by without leaving the porch.

It has always struck me as odd that so few of us will spend even one full day of our life in silence. When I removed all stimuli from my life for a while areas of my mind that typically remain dormant become available. Most notably, the ability to pay attention. Sam Harris, the meditation teacher in the Waking Up app, repeatedly says that boredom is just the inability to pay attention. I can attest that given the right amount of concentration, a task as simple as following your breath can become as captivating as bungee jumping. After all, bungee jumping and following your breath are both just experiences that focus your mind. 

I could get all holier-than-thou and tell you about my spiritual journey and the insights I had on retreat (translation: I’m better than you) but then I would be no more enlightened than the magical thinkers I love to poke fun at. So I’ll close with this somewhat depressing thought instead: I have missed most of my life. For the majority of my waking hours, my attention has been hijacked by events that have happened or I believe are bound to happen. These thoughts include people who have wronged me, fantasies about women, the upcoming swell, and arbitrary comparisons to others. The most pernicious aspect of these stories is that I am generally unaware that they are robbing me of the present moment. Experienced meditators like Yoda and Adayashanti can cut through these stories and pay attention to the now, and if the act of sitting down and shutting up can help me miss less of my life, then sign me up.