MY JULY GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT:
1. Mediate every day for at least 10 minutes
2. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own
3. When I’m about to say something negative, say something positive instead.
A few years ago I spent a weekend at this crazy little ashram in middle-of-nowhere Virginia called Yogaville. It was founded by an Indian yogi guru master, Swami Satchidananda, who died only a few years ago, and whose body is on display there, if you choose to go see it. In addition to the ashram, which is located in the rolling foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Yogaville also boasts the Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (aka LOTUS), which is an interfaith temple that celebrates the unity behind all the world religions.
I went there because I had a 50% off coupon. Also because I like yoga, and I’m always sort of trying to work on my spirituality. I had a nice weekend doing yoga, hiking, and eating delicious vegetarian food. One little catch about staying at Yogaville, though? You are awakened by the monks at 5:30 every morning for an hour of pre-dawn meditation.
Now, I’d dabbled very, very lightly in meditation before going to Yogaville. I’d been impressed by what I’d read in such spiritual guides as Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl.* Every now and again, I’d try to “get into” meditation, but my attempts were usually short-lived. I could never seem to get my body to sit still for longer than a few minutes, much less make my mind be be still.
But, here I was at Yogaville. I had to do as the yogis do. And so I meditated (aka sat quietly and breathed) for an hour every morning.
When I was leaving on Sunday, I was approached by one of the female monks: a white woman in her eighties with long, gray hair who wore loose robes and a necklace with Swami Satchidananda’s face on it.
“I have something for you,” she told me. “Wait here.” She disappeared into a back room and emerged a moment later with a little baggie full of suspicious-looking white powder. She pressed it into my hand. “Sacred ash from India,” she said.
“Oh, thanks,” I told her.
“Put a little ash on your third eye,” she told me, indicating the middle of her forehead with a gnarled finger. “Then meditate. First time for forty-five minutes. Must be forty-five minutes. Then thirty minutes every night after that. Work up to an hour a day.” She smiled at me. Her blue eyes glowed inside her deeply wrinkled face. “It will change your life, I promise.”
“Okay. That sounds good.”
“Do not miss a day,” she cautioned. “Miss a day, it will set you back twenty days. Meditate one hour every day, and you will see. It will change everything. It will bring you joy.”
She pulled a slip of paper from one of the deep pockets of her robe. “You run out of ashes, let me know. I will send you more.” She handed me the slip of paper. It had her email address on it.
I thanked the old woman and, tucking the little baggie of ash into my purse, I headed to the parking lot.
I wasn’t totally convinced that meditating with sacred ash on my forehead was going to change my life or bring me joy, but, on the other hand, I thought it was worth a try. So when I got back to DC, I decided to follow the old woman’s instructions.
But It was hard. I already woke up at 5:45 for work. If I meditated before work, that would mean setting an alarm for 5:00 am, and I couldn’t bring myself to do that. So I would have to meditate at night. The problem with that was, by the time I got home, ate dinner, did chores, and answered personal emails, it was 9:30 or 10 at night, and I was tired. Still, at 9:30 the next night, I sat down on my floor, cradling the baggie of sacred ash in one hand, and set my stopwatch for forty-five minutes.
“Eva, oh my god, come look at Bowsie!” Kristin shouted. Kristin was my roommate, and Bowser was her dog, who was always doing adorable things. I realized this was going to be tricky. If I told Kristin I needed to be left alone for forty-five minutes while I meditated with ash on my forehead, she was going to think I was a weirdo. But if I didn’t tell her, she might walk in on me, which would be even more embarrassing.
I went to go see what Bowser was doing.
Back in my room a few minutes later, I sat down on the floor, pressed some ash to my forehead, and closed my eyes. I focused on my breath: in and out, in and out. When thoughts came, I tried (with little success) to gently push them aside. I tried not to be bothered when my foot went to sleep and my back started to hurt. Just keep breathing, I told myself. It was really hard! Finally, forty-five minutes was up.
After the first night, I went down to thirty minutes. I did this for six days in a row. The old woman’s caution to me about not missing a day was strong. But you know what else was strong? My desire to sleep. My desire to relax by watching Parks & Recreation. My desire to go have a few beers on Saturday night. So, less than a week in, I gave up on meditating, and the sacred ash was stowed away in a drawer.
Less than a year later, I found myself living in Cape Cod with my friend, Nikki. Nikki has been really into meditation for several years now, and while I was living with her, I was constantly amazed by her discipline and dedication. Not only did she wake up every morning for thirty minutes of meditation before breakfast, she also read books on meditation, went to meditation meetings, watched videos about meditation, and attended weekend meditation workshops where she literally meditated for eight hours straight.
Now, that is just way too much meditation for me. But I couldn’t help thinking that a little bit of daily meditation might be beneficial for me. How? I wasn’t exactly sure. Nikki sure seemed to get a lot out of it. So did other people. I was curious to see what would happen if I kept at it – twenty minutes a day, every day.
So I started waking up earlier to sit on a mat in the living room, with my stop watch set for twenty minutes. But after five or six days, I started to lose interest. I started skipping days. Then I stopped altogether. I decided I’d rather get up and eat breakfast, or go for a walk, or write a blog entry, than sit on the floor and do nothing . So, again, I gave up on mediation before I’d even really given it a chance. But I kept thinking that one day I should try to stick with it a while longer.
This month I am going to meditate every day – for real this time! No skipping days or giving up. I plan to start with 10 minutes and work my way up to 20 minutes a day by the end of the month.
I’m not sure if meditation is really for me, but it seems like it’s a good thing to try. Taking a little chunk of time each day to sit and breathe and observe my mind and body – it certainly won’t hurt me, and maybe it will benefit me. I’m hoping that after a month I’ll have a better idea of whether or not this is a practice I want to continue.
It’s not going to be easy. I am a do-er, and it’s very hard for me to sit still and try to calm my thoughts. Plus, I’m not sure where my sacred ash is. Luckily, I don’t think you need sacred ash for meditation. You can do it anywhere, and all you need is yourself.
*These are not actually meditation guides. Especially the Roald Dahl one.
About Meditation from The Shambhala Center
Eva Langston is an aspiring writer. Learn more about her here.