Have you ever been totally engaged in a movie?
I mean, just lost in it and unaware of your surroundings?
And then someone coughs, or their cell phone rings (grrr), or a garbage truck comes out of nowhere and squashes a supporting character and you look over at your date and say, "WTF??"
When that happens to me, I'm pulled straight out of the movie and become very aware that I am sitting in a theater watching a movie on a screen with a bunch of other people.
Sometimes, it can take me a minute to re-engage in the film: for the screen to dissolve into a fictional world that I can fully immerse myself in.
Now you may be asking, "What on Earth does this have to do with meditation, Casey?"
And I thank you for your inquiry. Allow me to explain.
If we think of "the movie" as the noise, the story in our mind - we are pretty much always at the movies, right?
There is always STORY happening in our head. When anything happens, we tell ourselves a story about it.
It can be simple...
my stomach growls, and I am telling a story about what I'm going to have for lunch, and then I think about what I need to shop for at the store, and how nice it will be when they build my favorite grocery store down the block so that I don't have to drive as far to shop there, and how I might walk to that store, walking is good for me, let's be real - you're not going to walk to the grocery store, you're not that motivated to move, and you should be, it would be good for you, but you still won't, and what does that say about you?
Phew! How's that for a story? Story with a side of shame (because: Human).
It's all very real to me as it's happening. I'm wrapped up in it (just like a really good movie). In the moment I am not aware that it's just a movie playing in my head. I am IN that movie. I am the STAR of the show. It is ALL about me.
I'm not watching it; I am living it.
For many years I thought that meditation was "just" putting a STOP to the movie and somehow sitting silently in a well lit theater with NOTHING playing on the screen.
At all. Ever.
And until I could do that, I was stuck telling myself the story that I was a really bad meditator.
What I've come to realize is that the movie plays (and plays and plays and plays).
The trick is learning to be in the theater, not in the movie itself.
Just watch the movie.
Don't get so wrapped up in it that you forget where you are (on a meditation cushion/theater seat).
Focusing on the breath (i.e. trying to stay in that well lit theater with no film rolling) is great. But even for the most practiced, those lights start to dim, you get real comfy and the movie starts playing.
Eventually, as you meditate, someone is going to cough, or get hit by a virtual garbage truck in your mind, and you will realize that you are not in that movie in your head; you're back on the cushion.
HOORAY!! You're the observer. You did it! Victory!
You're the one watching the movie again. You're not in it anymore.
You breathe (return to the quiet, well lit theater). You've got this.
Next thing you know... darkness falls, and ACTION PACKED DRAMA on the screen.
Pull yourself back into your seat.
See how this works?
Every time that we remember that we're breathing on the cushion we are the observer.
And that is ONE goal of meditation, to be present. Here. Now. On the cushion.
The LARGER goal of meditation is to take that skill off the cushion.
Take that skill - that practice - with you so that, as life whirrs by and you find yourself suddenly the star of a production that you're not directing...
You can pull yourself back into your seat.
The more you are able to find yourself a part of the production during meditation, the better, really.
You become more practiced at creating awareness that you are the observer and that the STORY is just that. Story.
A meditation practice is just that: practice. It is practice at becoming the observer.
If during your meditation, the only time that you realize that you were "at the movies" is when your meditation ends, well that's once more than you would have realized if you hadn't meditated. And that's a good thing.
So there is no such thing as a bad meditation practice.
You're an amazing human being!
Too busy, too squirmy, too busy taking care of squirmy people?
Mindfulness - paying attention - being the observer - is something that we can, and ideally would, practice off the cushion.
You can walk mindfully.
When the story starts - come back to your breath. Come back to awareness of your muscles, your foot strike, your mechanics.
You can do the dishes mindfully.
When the story starts - come back to your breath. Come back to the water, the dishes, the bubbles.
You can play Go Fish! mindfully.
When the story starts - come back to the breath. Come back to the game, come back to the smile on your opponents face, come back to the cards in your hand.
Rock climbing is still the best meditation I've ever experienced. There's nothing like gravity to keep your mind in the here and now.
What is your favorite type of meditation off of the cushion?
Where do you want to try it?
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