Thursday, October 6, 2011

Learn to Be Still

The first time I took a meditation class, I spent the initial five minutes panicking. I was at a resort spa in Arizona (part of my former life as a travel writer), and the goal of this non-religious form of meditation was to become an observer of your own thoughts: try to let your mind go blank, and then note your inner dialogue as your brain fought your attempt at quietness.

My inner dialogue went something like this:

I have to sit here for twenty minutes?
Uh-oh, there's a thought.
What if my butt falls asleep?
Ack! Another thought!
Wouldn't my boss be proud of me for meditating?
Don't think about your boss! Think about nothing!
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
That's better.
Yep, there goes my butt. Definitely some tingling happening.

That first (and last) meditation experience came to mind this summer while on a camping trip with my husband and two daughters. We'd gone to Pfeifer Big Sur last year for three nights, and found it wasn't nearly long enough, so this year we booked six nights. This sounded lovely: sleeping under the redwoods with the music of the river constantly in our ears. In Big Sur we are completely unplugged: no cell service even.

But as the time approached, I began to wonder what I would do with myself for seven days in the dirt. I asked a couple of friends, "Do you think I could bring my lap top?" I didn't want to check e-mail, but when I get down time, I always am flooded with ideas and have an urge to write.

"Why don't you just bring paper and pen?" one friend suggested.

"No can do. I need my keyboard or my fingers can't keep up with my thoughts."

"Can't you just go and be?" the other friend asked. She's a new friend. She doesn't know me that well.

But her thought inspired me, so the laptop stayed home, though some embroidery projects did come along. My hands have to be busy, even if my mind cannot be. And I can still talk to the family and sew at the same time. Though the ideas did in fact flow in, until now, I have not written down a single one of them.

The first day of camping is filled with the business of setting up camp. I love it; it's like playing house as a kid. I imagine I'm Ma from the Little House on the Prairie series, an efficient and adventurous pioneer, sweeping up the dugout, gathering firewood. But about three hours in, when the last chair was set around the fire and the clothesline hung from the trees, a sensation came over me not unlike in meditation class. Camp set up? Check. Sat by the river? Check. Took a walk in the redwoods? Check. Uh oh. Now what? I have to stay here how long?

Sophia felt it too. She ran around frantically exploring all afternoon, but just as we sat down to dinner said, "Mom, I feel weird. What am I going to do for the next six days?" In fact, our family went through two days of busyness detox before we could truly relax. Then it became a wonderful experience, not just a vacation from daily life, but a life lesson. I began to like myself still, and I would chuckle on trips to the camp store when I saw groups of European tourists clustered around computers in the Wi-Fi hot spot next to the laundromat.

While I was trying to just be, I formed in my mind tomorrow's blog, "Lessons from the Campground." I've probably forgotten some of it by now. But return tomorrow, friends, and see if my inner dialogue among the redwoods was a little more productive and interesting than wondering if I was losing sensation in my derriere.

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