Most days it’s the same humdrum routine every day. Looking at my phone. Reading. Writing. Looking at my phone. Another sixteen hours of no frills just like all the other days. Shrugging it off I got out of bed and went to make something to eat in the kitchen.
Michael was there too, “Good morning Michael.”
“Morning. Rough night?” He asked.
“Just bad sleep.”
He gave a small nod and poured hot water over his teabag. “What will you do today?” He asked.
“Well it’s freakishly warm outside. I’m thinking to lay in the garden before I do some writing. Maybe do a little meditation.”
“Sounds like a good idea. Hey I was listening to a Sam Harris podcast. He was saying people should use this time that they’re stuck at home to focus on presence. Treat it like a meditation retreat.”
“You know what, that’s a great idea.”
I let the thought marinate while I fixed myself a cheese toastie. For years I’d wanted to go spend some time at a meditation retreat and never got around to it. A week of silence alone with my thoughts, or lack thereof was just not enough of a priority for me to put the time aside. There would be financial loss, not to mention a complete halt of productivity, and what if I hated it, or got to the end and felt it was a complete waste of time. Although, I knew the latter was unlikely. I’d spoken about meditation retreats with Oscar in Sweden, and also with my Scottish friend Chris, he had no doubt it would be a positive experience. “It gave me some really clear direction in life,” were his exact words.
I sat in the garden thinking some more about it. I was imprisoned with nowhere to go. It made sense that if I were ever do it then now would be the perfect time. I could do it in the comfort of my own home too. I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or bad, but I made up my mind to do it regardless.
To begin with I figured a week would be good. After some deliberation I realised a week is actually a really long time to be alone with nothing else to occupy myself with, and in hindsight I’m pretty sure I’d never have lasted the full week. I settled on three days and even that was tough.
The first day was surprisingly the worst. Everything would be fine. I’d be all chill. Maybe a nice little thought would pop in and say hi. But god forbid it was a reminder that I had to do this for three days. Each time I let THAT thought sit I’d start talking myself out out of the whole thing with a whole range of excuses. ‘This is stupid.’ ‘May as well give up now.’ ‘What’s the point anyway.’ ‘A proper meditation retreat would be better.’
I ignored as best I could but there were times (A LOT of times) I was ready to throw in the towel on that first day. It was already feeling more like an endurance test. Keeping those thoughts away wasn’t event the hardest part. The hardest part was not falling asleep! I fell asleep FOUR times in the first day. I’d be sat there with a still mind, only a flash of a thought would drift by, ‘This is nice, this peaceful, I feel pretty great,’ would be the unspoken feeling. Then before I’d know it there’d be a Homer Simpson style string of drool hanging from the left side of my mouth and I’m in sudden need of a chiropractor.
It just kept happening, each time I’d get really present and relaxed it would happen again. I’ve always said insomniacs should be taught how to meditate. It would be the most simple and effective cure.
I managed to stay more awake on the second day, and by the end of the third there were two main things I noticed. 1) You have the best ideas pop into your mind when your present in the moment and super relaxed. 2) Birds really are simple strange creatures (not talking about female human variety although the vast majority would probably qualify). I’m talking about sparrows, magpies, seagulls. I’d sit and watch them out of the window. All they do all day is fly in circles, land, fly in circles, land, fly in circles again. Presumably they’re looking for food. In the end the nitwits find a nice branch to sit sleep and poop on then fart their chirpy chirps at you in the morning before starting their flight circles again. Dear lord if reincarnation is real and I MUST come back as a bird, then at least let it be an eagle or hawk, something with a bit of depth and range to it.
Bird watching was the second most popular distraction. Thinking was obviously the first. I’d have to admit that I spent more time sat daydreaming than I did focusing on my breath. I understand now why Chris said it helps give you direction. When all you’ve got to choose between is watching avifauna do the loop de loop, listening to the cars pass by in the distance, or deliberating your life situation, then you’re more likely to choose the latter.
It became a cross between a long meditation session and a Bill Gates style ‘think week.’ Speaking of which, you would probably get more from a ‘think week’ than you would from a week of meditation, because at least then you’d have a pen and paper to write your ideas down instead bottling them up in your brain and trying to remember them afterwards like I had to do.
Without any distractions it really did make focusing on the meditation easier. Had I had a phone or a tv in the same room it would have made it infinitely more tough. Perhaps I’d have fallen into temptation. It was a wise decision to only have a couch and a bed in there.
Overall it was
uncomfortable interesting. I didn’t feel any more ‘enlightened’ than I did before I started. I did feel a bit calmer though. But then, I was calm already, I’m naturally calm, so that didn’t make much difference either. The people who need to do these kinds of things are the ones running around in life being stressed, or obsessively thinking. I’m a go with the flow kinda guy, my lifestyle simply doesn’t cause me to feel that way. Except when I cause myself stress by taking the wrong metro to the airport (it’s happened more than once).
If somebody wanted a meditation jump-start this wouldn’t be it. This is diving in the deep end without your arm bands on.
If you’re stuck with some life altering decision you cant seem to decide on then these marathon meditations will probably help. Otherwise I’d just stick to a recommended daily twenty minutes and you’ll be fine.