Closed eyes meditating, my butt sitting on a yoga mat, the one I bought at Whole Foods, the one that my hands slip on when I sweat, which is usually. Class hasn’t started yet, but I can sense them, surrounding me, their mats slapping the floor, stretching in their Lululemon pants, the women. I don’t have to open my eyes to know they are there, flexible, strong, relaxed, focused. A few minutes later the teacher welcomes us, thank you for being here, for being present to yourself. I open my eyes, take a quick look around, sometimes see another me, a guy with hairy legs, but not this time. Ladies, what would you like to work on today? Ellen asks, then makes eye contact with me. Daniel, something you’d like to work on? She says with a smile. I’ve been at it for more than a year; Vinyasa, Flow, Kundalini, Restorative, each class an inner and outer adventure, a 75 minute voyage, breathing into tendons, muscles, discovering hidden recesses of my body’s stress. I make no suggestions for Ellen, soon find myself on my back, legs far apart, like I’m giving birth to twins. Downward Dog, Warrior 2, Plank, Happy Baby, Pigeon, names that sound like video games, my contorted limbs pressing into earth and air. Eyes stay closed, but occasionally I peek, we look like kids playing a sophisticated version of Simon Says. Minutes pass, life loosening its hold, I forget where I am. Shavasana, corpse pose, Ellen’s tranquil voice offers us simulated death, an ending. I hear sighs, relief, rest fills the space. My mind wanders off to the future, wonders how it will be with me, those final breaths, then namaste.
I’ve gotten lazy (not the right word). These days I meditate lying in bed. Slow inhales, exhales, 140 of them, 20 minutes, head still on my morning pillow. Sometimes my son joins the moments, his pjs nestled next to my wife. Is this meditation? I ask myself. Does it count? Before the puppy I used to go downstairs for 30-minute sits, quiet, alone. But the house is always awake now, or about to get up. I try to sneak in meditation on the couch after dinner. I close the eyes of my mind, breathe, count to 7, stare speechless, paying attention to nothing in particular. Are you meditating? My wife asks? She can always tell. No, I answer, starting my count again. Post-puppy I still meet my quota, at least 45 daily minutes (usually more), but at home I’m surrounded by the family, my family. I’ve learned to accept the interruptions, the imperfections, after all, I’m meditating for my wife, for the kids, for the benefit of all beings. Sitting, walking, standing, lying down, mindful seconds, slowly becoming my mindful life.
I had the opportunity to catch up with ABC News Anchor and Author, Dan Harris. Dan is the author of 10% Happier, a New York Times bestselling book that explores his discovery of meditation and mindfulness.
I asked Dan about the role that mindfulness can play in the lives of young people. He mentioned the clear benefits of mindful students being able to better maintain focus, while improving behavior. He stressed that mindfulness can help kids be less emotionally reactive. In particular, we spoke about the recent developments in Baltimore. He cited the Holistic Life Foundation as an organization in Baltimore doing incredible work teaching mindfulness in high risk, urban environments. He stated that there has been an economic divide within the mindfulness community, with some people feeling that mindfulness is largely an upper middle class pursuit, but that he sees diverse socioeconomic communities embracing the practice more and more. Dan went on to share the insight that practicing mindfulness can help take the bias out of decision making. With mindfulness practice one can better see how things truly are, getting past stereotypes and preconceived assumptions.
I asked Dan about how his life might have been different had he learned mindfulness meditation when he was younger. Dan said that he would have been a better student growing up and that it would have helped him focus. He also said that he probably would have been a little less obnoxious to teachers. Later as a reporter, mindfulness would have helped him make more reflective decisions before venturing into war zones. Upon return from covering conflict zones in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, he expressed how mindfulness could have helped him be more self-aware and perhaps avoid depression related to those often traumatic experiences.
Next, I asked Dan whether he thought that mindfulness could compete with drugs and alcohol on college campuses. He said that college will probably always be a time for experimentation with drugs and alcohol, but that mindfulness can play a role in reducing binge behaviors and sexual assault on college campuses, while also helping to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. We spoke in particular about his alma mater Colby College, where he recently addressed students. After concluding his talk there, a handsome, big, charismatic male student got up and made an announcement about an upcoming event for the “Colby Mindfulness Club.” Dan said that that never would have happened when he was a student there.
I went on to ask Dan about how mindfulness connected to his work reporting for ABC’s Good Morning America and Nightline. On Good Morning America he mentioned how he often tries to use his mindfulness training to be more aware. He is able to deeply listen to his co-anchors, slow down the moment, and be fully present in the now. For example, there are times when he is able to notice when someone on the show is being ignored. He went on to say that this isn’t something he is always able to achieve, but that he certainly makes the mindful effort. As a reporter in the field, mindfulness has made Dan more sensitive to others and a better listener. This sensitivity in turn, has translated into him being a more careful, accurate, and mature reporter.
My last question for Dan was focused on Global Citizenship. I asked him if he felt a sense of responsibility to parts of the world outside of our nation’s borders. He cited three levels of mindfulness practice: personal practice, interpersonal practice, and global collective consciousness. He said that he has made real strides in his personal and interpersonal practice, and that his opening up to a global interconnectedness was a work in progress. He went on to share that the third practice of global collective consciousness, if achieved by many, can contribute to improving the overall happiness of the world.
Meditation, mindfulness, yogic breathing, transcendental meditation, zazen, guided visualization, the breath, mind in the moment, in the seconds really. I’ve read about them all, but I’m absorbing Kabat-Zinn now, his words slowing me down time, as I walk through campus seeing sentences, one by one, as they arrive from colleagues and students. Usually it is a torrent, flooding phrases, mine, theirs, uncontrolled verbal ejaculations, reactive, sometimes rehearsed. How are you? Good. It hasn’t yet occurred to me, to go beyond reading, to actually sit, breathe, listen to my breath. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf, Zinn says. Intellectually I comprehend, but don’t yet know about the doing of the not doing, the complicated simplicity that is meditation. The aloneness of my own lungs, eyes closed, the stopping, no audience, no tangible reward. As I read, I like to pretend that I’m mindful all the time, that I’m a Zen monk, learned, wise. Fantasy, like when I pick up a Runner’s World in the airport and think, I’m a marathoner, or I can do that, have calves that look like that. Could be mindful all the time, could run a marathon, can’t, won’t, truth. I sell myself the same ideas that are sold to me. But meditation, just breathing, is free. It will be three more years before I begin, really breathe in, breathe out, stringing minutes together, before I learn, that you don’t think about meditation, you do it.