A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless. — Yoda
Have you ever seen a weight lifter get upset because the weights won’t stay in the air? “I push the damned things up but they keep coming back down! I’ve been doing this for years and nothing works. I’m obviously doing something wrong.”
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Have you ever talked to someone who just couldn’t ‘do meditation’? “I’ve tried staying focused, but my mind just wanders all around. I’m obviously doing something wrong.”
Sound familiar? The goal of weight lifting is not put weights in the air. It is to build the strength to put weights in the air. And the goal of meditation is not to think exclusively on one topic. It is to build the ability to think on topic. Every time you gently say ‘Back to now, please’ you are building mental muscle. (Not just metaphorically. As pointed out by Rick Hanson in Buddha’s Brain, our thoughts actually change the structure of the neural pathways in our brain.)
Meditation is the latest fad du jour. You know it’s a fad when it gets new labels; meditation is now called mindfulness. Being a confirmed contrarian I typically avoid fads with as much energy as I avoid door-to-door religious fanatics. But, in this case, my efforts predate fad-dom by at least a few decades.
Like James Altucher, I’ve tried meditation off and on since I was a young pup. (In dog years, I’m dead.) Altucher’s article “Naked girls, astral projection, and achieving Nirvana in 60 seconds or less” pretty well sums up my early approaches to enlightenment, although I took a decidedly more pragmatic approach to the naked girls problem. I remember, later in life, reading a book on meditation that carried the dire warning never to attempt meditation while driving. I had this image of a dude in robes, sitting cross-legged behind the steering wheel of his car, eyes closed, chanting ‘Ohm’ while his car careened down the interstate. The world’s full of loonies, I thought, if you have to issue warnings like that.
Now, even later in life, I’ve joined the looney brigade. I’ve turned my two, hour-long daily commutes into meditation sessions. (I’m saving up for the robes.) As I’ve noted elsewhere, driving is one of the most dangerous things most of us will ever do and deserves our full attention. Which is what meditation is all about. When driving, I try to focus all my attention on my driving task and the behavior of the jackasses about me. When I gently say ‘Back to now, please’ I am building mental muscle that I can call on when needed. (Best example to date–when I fought back the demons of panic at two in the morning four weeks into a bout of shingles.)
Meditation doesn’t require robes, incense or Tibetan gongs. It simply requires paying attention, even in small ways. For example, Altucher’s article provides a list of 60 second meditations that can be done anywhere. You don’t have to admit you are part of the latest fad. Just tell folks you are looking for naked girls.