I spent a couple of fabulous weeks in India. Talk about life changing!
Many people have asked me about my trip and truly, it is hard to articulate how incredible the journey was. The first week was in and around Delhi, including Agra and the Taj Mahal and Vrindhaven, somewhat of a spiritual Disneyland filled with temples and spiritual masters and lots of devotees who gather to sing and dance. (The Hare Krishna Temple was a crazy dance party of love and joy that was a site to see!)
While in Delhi, we also had the opportunity to have dinner with the former head of India’s CBI, their version of the U.S.’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dr. Kaarthikeyan. (Dr. Kaarthikeyan also wrote a bestselling book on the investigation following the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination.) Dr. Kaarthikeyan was a fascinating man: a cross between Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, who exuded compassion, charisma, leadership, and deep intellect combined with gentle grace.
The night we had dinner at his home, an Indian television network was coming to interview him to hear his perspective on the recent bombing in Hyderabad. (Because of his stature, the TV channels come to him instead of his having to go into the station). We were invited to sit on the couch and be “flies on the wall” while he was interviewed for the network.
While we were waiting for them to set up, two other guests arrived. They worked for an American spiritual leader, Andrew Cohen, who would be speaking at the International Yoga Festival which we would also be attending the following week.
They were, like my traveling partner Janet Attwood, NYT bestselling author of The Passion Test, enamored with India and had been there numerous times. So Janet asked them to share why they loved India so much. The response was simple but profound: “everything that we in the West think is a little ‘woo woo’ is commonplace and universally accepted in India.”
They went on to share that meditation is practiced by almost everyone; people believe in karma which means they believe that their actions will come back to them, good or bad; and Indians know that happiness comes from within, not from outside of us. I thought of the contrast in the West and how many times I’ve tried to teach meditation to stressed out people back home. Despite the fact that the research on its benefits, both physically and emotionally, is vast, we still resist making meditation a habit. Even though we know that a new house or a new car or more money in our account doesn’t make us happy, we still chase “things.” And while the golden rule is ingrained upon us as children, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” we still forget that rule at times.
Their words stayed with me as we travelled through India and saw the extreme poverty: families living under a tarp strung between two trees along the side of the road as their only shelter. No food, no water, no electricity or clean clothes. But everywhere I went, people were happy. On paper, they might not seem to have any reason to be so, but the smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes remained.
It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with another NYT bestselling author, Marci Shimoff, who wrote “Happy For No Reason.” Marci interviewed the happiest people around the world and came up with a Happy 100 list. The Happy 100 had two things in common: every one of them said that they were living their passions and every one of them had some kind of meditation process they practiced daily.
The people in India had mastered at least one of these, despite their limited means, while we in the West, with much more food on our plates and money in our accounts, cannot seem to find the time or the motivation to meditate. Our meditation practice (for many, but admittedly not all) of us is not ingrained, despite the reams of evidence that meditation heals our bodies and our minds and even helps us find happiness!
Often when I talk to people about meditation, I hear two excuses: I don’t have time or I’m not good at it/I can’t do it because I can’t quiet my mind. I’m going to counter both of those objections with stories from my trip. But first, if you have read my prior article on meditation, you may remember one of the techniques I recommend for people who find too many thoughts come jumping in whenever they try to quiet the mind: tying a red balloon.
When you sit or lie still, focus on your breath slowly going in and out. As thoughts come through, take a red balloon and visualize yourself tying the string around that thought, and then release it and let it go. (I like to thank the thought for coming in but if that feels odd, you can skip that step). Watch the balloon float away and just be still, returning to your breath, until another thought comes in and then repeat the process.
People sometimes say that it’s like a traffic jam of red and they never get still because the thoughts keep coming! To which I say, that’s absolutely OK! Don’t stress about it: just keep typing balloons and letting them go. Over time, I promise, the thoughts will slow down and there will be less and less red and more and more space in between. But don’t beat yourself up, feel like you’re doing something wrong or feel that it should be happening faster than it is.
If you have not been giving your mind enough space for thoughts to come through, it’s like coming out of the desert: you’re going to be very thirsty and need to drink a lot of water. And so those thoughts are going to come rushing through because you’ve finally given them some space and room to come through! And that is totally ok and nothing to be discouraged about. (You wouldn’t be disappointed in yourself for being thirsty after you emerged from that desert, would you? You’d expect that.)
Many of the yogis I met in India said that it’s extremely difficult to completely quiet the mind and that that is not their goal. I’ve heard said that even the Dalai Lama will occasionally have thoughts wander in, even after years of practice. Whether that’s true or not, the point is we in the West expect perfection and in India, not having thoughts come through is not the goal. The key is that it’s a practice.
Meditation is something you do without passing judgment on yourself and just experience however it comes to you. Trust that whatever occurs is what you need most. It may be those thoughts just need to come through because you’ve been shutting them out too long. Maybe your mind needs to clear out all those little to- dos and details, or maybe it’s aching to release those brilliant creative thoughts and solutions at last!
It may be that you fall asleep and that is ok too because if that happens, then that is what your body needs most in that moment. (Though if it happens every time for an extended period, you are probably sleep-deprived and you may want to look into that!) You may also need to choose a different time of day or another position to be in when you meditate; if you fall asleep, lying down at the end of the day may not be the best choice!
Over time, your meditation practice will evolve and you may feel that you ‘get better’ at having more space in between your thoughts. Regardless, over time you will find deeper peace, more clarity, greater energy, improved health, and even more happiness and joy from this simple habit.
And yes, like all habits, it’s something you need to build into your life. None of this can happen unless you get started! And none of the benefits will happen if you stop yourself from continuing because you are stressed out about having too many thoughts or not doing it ‘right.’ There is no wrong way to meditate: just carve out the time and sit or lie still for the duration. Let the thoughts come as they will, release them as they do, and come back to your center to refocus on your breath going in and going out.
At the International Yoga Festival, in between every kind of yoga class imaginable, offered by the greatest teachers and masters from around the world, there were also meditations and lectures from great yogis and spiritual leaders. Many of these were held under a big tent. Rishikesh is a beautiful town along the banks of the Ganges River, at the edge of the Himalayas, and one of the things you’ll see everywhere in Rishikesh is wild monkeys. They run and scamper on the roofs, in the streets and in the fields.
While we would sit and listen to a lecture or meditation under the tent, monkeys would scamper across the top of the tent. You could hear them running and so in the interest of minimizing the disruption to the festival participants, guards would also come up onto the tarp and shake sticks at the monkeys to drive them away.
A brilliant analogy came from one of the lecturers who commented that the monkeys running across the tarp during our meditation were like our thoughts, running across our mind. The guards with the sticks were like our own judgment, thinking they were bad and chasing them away, getting angry and upset that they were infiltrating our quiet time.
We all immediately made the connection because while the monkeys were distracting, they weren’t so bad. We were aware of them on some level but they didn’t impede our journey inward. And in the end, they were a distraction that made you smile.
But the guards shaking sticks at them made more noise, were more distracting and disruptive and pulled us away from our internal journey out into the external world around us. We all realized in that moment the power of that metaphor because we don’t need to be like the guards chasing away our thoughts; the guards actually pull us out of our stillness back into the world. Instead, we can let the thoughts be and smile at their presence; we can let our monkeys run free!
For those who say they don’t have time, one of the yogis we met with was about to go into silence for five years. Yes, that’s right: five years! Two weeks after we left, he would be returning to a silent retreat and would not speak again for five years. His impassioned plea to us before then, knowing we were from the West, was to find a way to create a daily meditation practice. His solution, for those who say they have no time, was a 3-minute meditation.
Just three minutes he said would bring a myriad of benefits, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Yes, over time, you could add more than one three minute block or try to go longer than 3 minutes but to start, just try for three minutes.
And it reminded me of the research we all see about exercise. We need to get to 30- 60 minutes a day, but the benefits begin in small blocks. So ten three-minute sets can deliver comparable benefits to one thirty-minute block. No one can tell me they do not have three minutes a day!
Here’s a secret I’ve learned from my research for my upcoming new book, Effortless Lasting Change. When you want to create a new habit and you’re not sure how to establish it and make it routine, try to anchor it to something you already do. For example, could you take three minutes to meditate right after you brush your teeth? Set your timer and just sit on your bed.
Could you take three minutes when you pull your car in the garage at the end of the day? Before you get out, just sit quietly for three minutes. Could you find three minutes after you eat your lunch to sit on a bench or in a conference room with the door closed so no one bothers you?
If there isn’t a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, go into a bathroom stall, lock the door and sit on the toilet for three minutes. No one will bother you there, I promise! Just three minutes a day can start you down a path to a new habit you will not want to live without. Your body and your mind will thank you for finally letting your monkeys run free!
The yogi who spoke of the three-minute meditation gave me a three-minute meditation on a CD and if you would like to have a copy, please just email me back and I will send you a copy.
To your wellness and health: your true wealth!
Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com
Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art