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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Meditation is hard work!
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Thursday, February 2,2012

Meditation is hard work!

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
Turning off the mental chatter could be an olympic event if it could be measured (and if meditation was not, in spirit, non-competitive!). I’ve been toying with meditation practice for at least the past decade and am slowly gaining resilience. Interestingly, I recently trained for a half-marathon and was able to draw many parallels between these two feats. I can honestly say that in many ways, the physical exertion of the half-marathon was easier than sitting still. The key to both running and sitting is mastery of the mind. When running, I use thinking to distract myself from the physical exertion. Distraction helps one mile turn into the next while you temporarily forget what your body is doing. In meditation, the key is to let go of thinking; to let everything go and exist in a space where being is the only action. My thoughts have become more or less exercise equipment. I can pick them up and use them as a distraction, or I can put them on the shelf when they are not useful. The latter can be challenging because thoughts are powerful and can easily occupy all of your attention as they occur. This discipline takes practice, like any other. And the parallels to running are remarkable.

Last weekend I ran ten miles with a list of premeditated subjects that I would focus on as needed to get through the distance. When I finished the run, I took to the mat to stretch and then to meditate. I had so much noise in my head it was amusing. All of the various trains of thought that I had ridden throughout the run were creating streaks of color in my mind’s eye. They were quite literally electric. As I was breathing and trying to separate myself from the thoughts, watching them occur in the third person and swishing them out of my mind, they began to look like little tickers at the bottom of the CNN screen. Perfect! I have become an expert at tuning TV out. I am not a big TV news person, but my husband is, so the news has become background noise almost constantly in my house. There is so much happening on the screen, so many “thoughts” competing for the viewer’s attention, and in that scenario I have no problem tuning it all out. On the mat, I began to relegate the thoughts in my head into tiny tickers at the bottom of the screen playing in my head. When I did, a huge empty space opened up. Of course, I have yet to learn to exist for very long in that space. I am at the beginning of a lifelong practice. I linger in and out as my focus and concentration ebb and flow. But that is what practice is all about. A funny thing happened that day. When I got up from my mat to shower I looked at the clock. It had been 13 minutes from the time I closed my eyes. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles. The coincidence of this was not lost on me. It made me smile and realize that a year ago I could not run more than three miles and now I am part of the “13.1 Club.” Furthermore, a year ago I couldn’t turn my thoughts off for more than a minute and now I can honestly say I have had a brush with enlightenment. Maybe even 13.1 minutes, who knows. As the Scottish Historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1891,) so eloquently put it, “Endurance is patience concentrated.”


 

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