I meditate because otherwise I’d overlook the small things that are practice for the big things.
Waking up in the morning, my mind rushes to worrying about my to-do list, protesters hurt by police, the ache in my knee, coronavirus cases spiking, the countless Zoom calls on my calendar, the absurd cost of rent in D.C.
But then I sit on the edge of the bed, set my phone’s timer, and close my eyes.
I notice the movement of my breath, from my rising chest to the cool air at the tip of my nose.
I notice the tension in my shoulders, inside my stomach, and around my eyes.
I notice the tight grip of my hands.
I notice that I’m thinking about my to-do list — so I find my breath again. As the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Our breathing is a stable solid ground that is always there for us to take refuge in.”
I notice an urge to try to manage my experience, an impulse to get this right.
I notice my watch ticking and a spoon clanking the sides of a bowl downstairs.
I notice birds singing outside the walls.
I notice that I’m imagining what someone looks like naked — so I check my body again for tension.
I notice pain in my lower back, so I straighten my posture.
I notice that my mind has drifted to what the next year might be like, to stressing about when things will get back to normal — so I listen to the birds again.
Then, for a few seconds, I notice all of it, the sounds and sensations, the movement, the aliveness, nothing standing out more than anything else, my thoughts drifting by like clouds, uninteresting, annoying even, compared to the richness of experience. Some part of me, deep inside, smiles and says, this is it.
The reason I do this — sit and do almost nothing for 40 minutes every morning — is because later in the day, out of nowhere, that aliveness will come find me again. It might come in the most trivial of moments, when I’m scrolling through Facebook. It might even come when I’m standing in front of the toilet.
But it might come right when I need it. When a friend calls and they’re afraid because their mom just got sick. When I’m blindsided by loneliness, anger, or fear. When thoughts about how things should or shouldn’t be, how I should or shouldn’t be, are pointless. When the only thing to do is to show up fully for this life.