I’ve tried to practice meditation, really . I’ve roamed bookstores for contemplative texts. I’ve listened to CDs on self-reflection and making a peaceful heart. I’ve dressed my home in feng shui. And I’ve learned to breathe—sit, center, focus. I’ve surrounded myself and my life with opportunities to meditate…when I have the time.
Then I went to live overseas and train with the Peace Corps in Central Asia. I boxed up my Buddha, packed away my aromatherapy diffuser, and gave away my essential oils. I carefully folded my string of Tibetan prayer flags, and wrapped my moonstone, my chunk of rose quartz, and my tiger-eye pendant in a soft jewelry bag. I put away my chakra healing books, my Zen notebook, and my Dalai Lama Path to Happiness. I loaded “Meditation for Beginners” and “Lovingkindness” on my iPod.
In addition to the long plane rides ahead of me, I expected to spend all my spare time practicing meditation. It never occurred to me that there was no such thing as spare time for a Peace Corps trainee, and that any occasions with my iPod would be spent learning Turkmen language downloads.
Back in the U.S. of A.
I’m home now, after training in Turkmenistan to teach English as a Foreign Language. I’ve located the books and gemstones I had packed away, and I’ve found a place in my new home for my bottles of balancing herbal blends. I replaced my iPod earbuds, which had finally frayed after daily language listening and the interminable plane trip from Ashgabat to London to Chicago and home.
And now I have no time to meditate.
Oh, I want to meditate. Meditation seems a good way of seeking inner peace, the kind of peace we have even in times of turmoil, hard work, adversity, or disappointment…although this kind of peace generally eludes me, the deadline-driven, pressure-to-perform junkie that I am.
In Central Asia, however, I had found myself feeling unusually restored, even, calm. We worked hard with not much time to fret, not much time to do anything else, really, than just be there. Culture, language, Turkmen cooking, and hand washing our clothes were learning experiences. I walked everywhere, was home by dark, and woke up refreshed after sleeping on my Turkmen-style floor mat. I ate with my host family, finishing meals with tea and Turkmen/English conversation. I was occupied virtually every minute of every day, and being busy had never felt so…peaceful.
East Meets West
For me today, East meets West on a daily basis. I awake from a few hours sleep with a beginner’s mind, as I try to recollect my few wisps of dreams. I begin to tense as consciousness creeps in and the day’s obligations tumble from my pages of lists (and lists of lists).
I immediately forego quiet time or workout time or breakfast time for coffee-and-computer time. Morning stretches into mid-afternoon before I lift my head and look around—to make an appointment for an oil change, to get up and move my clothes from the washer to the dryer, and try to decide, once again, what to have for dinner.
Having been starved for news in Turkmenistan, I’ve also established a new ritual: taking in both the BBC and Brian Williams on “ABC Nightly News.” (I also like to see the suit-and-tie combination he’s wearing.) But these two half-hours only end up compounding my sense of urgency and responsibility. By the time I’m exhausted enough to go to bed, I’m too frenzied to sleep. So I prop up in my comfy blankets and read or write, and my thoughts float across the pages like clouds.
I’m desperate to meditate
And if I had the time, I would meditate. If I weren’t so busy, I’d be brewing chamomile tea, spraying lavender mist on my pillows, and focusing my attention on my breath. Deep deep breath: In—one two three four. Out—one two three four five. Hold the in at the top; push the out at the bottom. Sit, center, breathe.
Tomorrow, I’m putting “meditate” on my list.