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Aug 13
Dharma Teachings
Why I Meditate: “Because It Works!”

cushion, photo by Vladimir Molokovsky

by Kevin Townley, from The Under 35 Project

I remember reading somewhere that the first step in getting disentangled is experiencing entanglement. You have to be able to see what’s going on before you can have a workable relationship with it, and this is what I’ve found meditation does for me. I don’t really know how meditation works or why it works – I simply know that it works . . . and this is how.

The instruction’s pretty simple: Sit in an upright, comfortable position, your gaze six to eight feet in front of you, and place your attention on your breath. When you become aware that you’ve wandered off with a passing thought, you label it *thinking* (because that is in fact what you are doing) and gently usher your attention back to the breath.

When I first really saw how much was going on in my head I thought, “I can’t do this. I’m doing this wrong. And incidentally, I’m an insane person.” I was more than a little relieved to hear that my concerns were pretty standard; everyone is a little overwhelmed at first because we tend not to take the time to sit down with ourselves and see what’s going on. Usually my mind is so busy Tazmanian Deviling around, kicking up tornadoes of thought, that I’m not able to clearly see what’s actually going on with me.

As the old The The song says: Everybody knows what’s going on with the world/But I don’t even know what’s going on in myself.

More often than not, my attention hopscotches around from one thought to another – which is how I tend to garner my sense of self. By what I’m thinking at any given moment. God help us all.

The meditation exercise of bringing myself back to my breath from a roving thought is like a bicep curl. It strengthens my ability to stay with what is actually happening now (usually not much); it strengthens my allegiance to myself in this moment rather than to the passing fad of some thought.

Of course I’m not “turning off my mind” – my thoughts are still there, babbling away about kittens and boners and the debt ceiling and Alan Alda – but when I’m meditating they don’t have the floor. My breath does. I label it all *thinking* – not judging the thoughts, just recognizing them for what they are, the natural activity of my mind – *thinking* – and thereby neutralizing them in a way.

Kevin Townley

Just barely a year into my practice I’m already able to see the echos of meditation in my every day life. When I see some subway ad that reminds me of my ex or when I bump into someone I don’t like while running errands, rather than spinning off into a discursive misery of “What-ifs” and “I’ll show YOUs,” I find that there’s a little more space in my mind; a gap created by taking the time to let go of a thought and make the tiny pilgrimage back to my breath. The gap is the echo of my meditation practice reverberating through my daily life.

And when emotions arise in me, though sometimes unpleasant, they aren’t strangers or enemies anymore; they don’t blindside me all the time or seem as unworkable. Even when they flare up in a flash I feel like I know them well enough to see them for what they are – wild, colorful manifestations of my own brilliant mind and solid as a rainbow. I have options. I don’t need to confuse my thoughts and feelings with actual facts that need to be shared and addressed immediately. My thoughts are what’s going on, but not what’s happening.”

To read more stories, please visit the Under 35 Project.

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