Overcoming Meditation Obstacles

Clean Mind vs. Cluttered Mind

As a beginning meditator, there are a variety of factors to discuss as far as the condition of your meditation practice. Take the above photo of our clean apartment vs. our cluttered apartment to begin the context of this conversation. In the pre-cleaning photo you can see all of our big kid toys (yoga blocks, foam rollers, lacrosse balls, bike components) scattered around with freshly laundered towels and a basket of clean clothes...and a few doggie toys for good measure.  Post-cleaning, furniture has been replaced, stuff is put away and everything looks more orderly. It's a classic metaphor for a clean mind or a cluttered mind.
 
The question that I want to pose to you is: 'which of these do you relate to more?'
 
Most people that I have broached the discussion of yoga and meditation with tend to have some misconceptions about requiring ideal conditions for beginning a yoga or meditation practice.  It's way easier than that.  The next set of tools that I would like to introduce in this meditation series involves prepping yourself to meditate in an approachable way.
 
Let's take a look at this.

Clean vs. Cluttered, Loud vs. Quiet

Let's return to the cluttered room analogy.  As you can see, the second photo looks significantly more functional in many ways.  The space is organized, there's nothing to trip over, etc.  Pretty ideal to have a seat and meditate in a clutter-free environment, right? However, the first photo is full of what I would consider to be remnants of productivity. Like the classic sales allusion to 'a dirty desk is the desk of a busy, productive worker', I see a room where we had enough time to foam roll our achy yoga muscles, do some laundry and play with our lil' buddy Murphy before sitting down for a nice 15 minute day-starter meditation sesh.
 
So this begs the question: which is better?  Like all other parts of your yoga practice, this is strictly related to your preferences.  Perhaps you live in a tiny little apartment in mid-town Manhattan.   Maybe you live in a big house on a ranch somewhere in Colorado.  Regardless, there will be a wide swath of different environmental factors that will contribute to how your daily mindfulness practice will develop.  On a smaller scale, you can consider how you regard things like cleanliness or noise in relation to your meditation practice.  Perhaps you can even 'hack' them to make your living space more appealing overall.
 
For example, in a Vipassana meditation practice, many times you'll be encouraged to embrace the sounds of your surroundings as a tool to stay present.  Many of Tara Brach's meditations use this method, and it can be an incredibly potent meditation tool.  Not only is this an opportunity to try to make typically grating sounds more appealing (traffic sounds, construction noise, tweaker neighbors listening to Skrillex at peak volume), but it also coerces you effortlessly into considering your current condition rather than focusing on past or future worries. 
 
Try This:
  1. Set a timer for five minutes
  2. Take a seat and close your eyes
  3. Instead of trying to block out all the ambient noise, focus intensely on one or two sounds.  Consider their origin, what they signify, who's making them.  Then move onto another one.
The state of your surroundings is also a great way to dive into what you need to meditate appropriately.  So if you're anything like me, meditating in a cluttered room surrounded by "accomplishments" might be more appealing than spending valuable time cleaning up.  Whether you want it clean or not, one or the other can always be done afterwards.  Conversely, if you like a clean room and that's the only way you can focus, take care of it and get your meditatin' on!
 
Either way, this is an opportunity to get more in tune with yourself and your needs.  Call it a first step to getting to know your yoga-self a little bit better.

What Do You Really NEED To Meditate?

Not much beyond a chair or a blanket to sit on.  That's it.
 
Similarly, to my friends who have indicated that they don't have the right 'yoga stuff' to try a yoga class: FALSE!  Do you honestly think those little string bean yogis you see practicing in India on a dirt floor care about whether they have the sexiest yoga pants, mats etc.?  I would venture to guess that most of them don't even know how an $80 yoga mat feels on their bony butts.
 
As a side note, Andy Puddicomb is a great resource for absolute beginners, specifically if you're more into the meditation aspect rather than the yoga bit.  Check out this ten-minute clip from his TEDtalk illustrating the practical value of mindfulness meditation in modern life. He is also the creator of a fantastic app called HeadSpace that provides a solid foundation for beginning a meaningful daily meditation practice.
 

Now here are a couple of things you DON'T need:

  • Soothing New Age meditation music
  • An enchanting babbling brook, perfect weather, etc.
  • Total immersion in undisturbed nature
  • Long flowy linen garments
  • Incense
  • Total Silence

It could be argued that these things help, but more than anything you just need to be able to sit comfortably for a period of time. 

Instead of making excuses for why you can't/don't have time to meditate, try this: 
Unless you're in a burning building, STOP what you're doing and sit down, but sit up straight. Now take twenty-five deep breaths slowly counting to five as you inhale and five as you exhale.  You don't even need to be completely still.  
 
Guess what...you just meditated a little bit!  Nice work, slugger!
 
The big takeaway is this: regardless of whether you like it clean or cluttered, quiet or loud, dark or light, don't turn your "I don't haves" or "I need tos" into negligent reasons to not sit still and breathe.  Adjust to your surroundings or if you have to move a couple things around, do it.  
 
There are 1440 minutes in a day; take five of those minutes and breathe without distraction or interruption.  The results will amaze you.
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