The mind was quite busy during my morning meditation. One thought after another, thinking about what time it might be at each moment. I don’t get frustrated with this “lousy” meditation anymore. We are hardwired to get distracted; that’s why we practice.
It reminded me of the teaching by Frank Ostaseski, a meditation teacher and the leader in end-of-life care. He was the founding director of the Zen Hospice Project. In his recent talk at San Francisco Insight, he shared two simple instructions for meditation.
First, always begin again. Whenever you are distracted by something, just begin again.
Second, then see what else is there.
This was exactly what I did this morning; I began paying attention to my breath when a thought popped up and I asked the question — “What else is here?”. It was usually a long list of things to do (but not necessary after all). Or a flush of feeling about the difficult conversation that I need to have with my mom. ‘Ok they are here.’ Then I began paying attention to my breath.
Exactly 20 years ago in 2002, I started my first job as an assistant at a law firm in Korea. I just graduated from university and I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life. I thought I had a “plan” but things weren’t working out as I planned, as it should be for anyone in their early 20s. My mind was heavily overloaded with self-criticism and I believed all the narratives that my mind was telling me were true.
Now, 20 years later, in 2022, what remains the same is my busy mind. Like this morning, my mind is always full of thoughts, feelings and stories. What is clearly different now is that I don’t believe all the stories that my mind tells me anymore. I don’t deny them either. However ugly and horrible those stories are about myself, my mind made those stories up. They ARE part of me. I just know that they do NOT represent me, my whole being.
What enabled this change was meditation, which I started seriously 10 years ago. Mindfulness practices like meditation are very much like investing in the stock market. You don’t gain much if you keep checking where you are; you just need to buy the value stocks (“the practice that works for you” in terms of mindfulness) and just trust that it’ll bring you great return after a while (such as peace of mind or whatever your goal is), as you keep practicing.
So I sit again on my cushion. Or I listen deeply to my partner in conversation just to listen. Or I listen to myself what would serve me the best right now at this moment. A glass of water? OK.
And whenever I get worked up by something — work, conflicts, any dark memories from the past — I begin again by reorienting my attention to now and here. And ask myself; what else is here?