“Use only that which works and take it from any place you can find it.” ~Bruce Lee
The meditation timer chimes, and through a small miracle of willpower you managed to sit through an excruciating ten-minute meditation session.
What you should feel is a sense of accomplishment. After all, you often skip it altogether.
But instead you feel frustrated having just spent the entire session fidgeting, lost in fantasies that involve bragging to a friend about meditating today.
Your “monkey mind” is strong. It’s like a whole jungle of monkeys in there.
I went through the same thing back in 1998 when I first came to the cushion. My mind was like an overgrown garden full of angry racoons.
Sitting on a pile of pillows, back aching, knees screaming, and mind racing, I would wonder, “Am I doing this right?” But the promise of freedom from my inner turmoil kept me coming back to the practice.
And, even though I always felt a little better afterward (if for no other reason than I was doing something good for myself), it took months to see more tangible and lasting results.
What I didn’t realize then was that I already knew how to meditate. I had been doing it for years as a young boy, but it didn’t look anything like the exotic (to me) methods I was trying to learn from my grandmother’s dusty old books.
In fact, I had completely forgotten about the temporary state of calm, clarity, and focus that settled over me like a soothing balm on those dusty summer afternoons of my childhood.
Now I meditate every day, but I’ve also returned to some of those earlier “practices” from my youth. Methods that you should know about too because I know how hard it is to adopt a consistent practice.
Our Attraction to Distraction
When it comes to focus, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Our world is a sea of distraction that you’ve been swimming in your whole life.
Bombarded with ads, alerts, and alarms, you watch films that jump from one scene to the next with dizzying frequency. Texting causes your brain to slavishly listen for the next “ping.” One-click shopping allows you to gratify any urge almost as quickly as it arises.
The mind must be trained to focus, and I think you’ll agree that we live in an environment engineered to do just the opposite.
So don’t feel bad if it’s difficult to quiet your mind and maintain steady attention.
Traditional meditation doesn’t come easily to anyone (no one I’ve met, at least). And even those who are completely sold on its many benefits often struggle to maintain a consistent practice. Yet they stay committed to the idea of it, hoping they’ll find their groove someday.
If this sounds like you, don’t despair. There is an easier and fun way to experience that meditative state, one that doesn’t require the traditional butt-on-cushion approach.
Don’t get me wrong, a formal meditation practice is wonderful and rewarding. It helps you cultivate consistency and discipline; connects you to a tradition; and lays the foundation for more advanced spiritual practices.
But, while you’re working on that, wouldn’t it be great to start enjoying some of meditation’s benefits right away?
A Balanced Approach
As a boy I suffered with intense anxiety and emotional turmoil.
Maybe it was my parents’ divorce that left me feeling scared and angry. Or possibly the bullying that terrorized my early years.
I was weaker than the other kids and would become paralyzed with fear when they took turns choking and punching me in the schoolyard. Sometimes I would lie about not feeling well so I didn’t have to go to school.
I hated that place.
Paying attention wasn’t a struggle because I didn’t even try. I learned that it was futile. Instead, I stared out the window, daydreaming about running free outdoors.
And when school let out that’s exactly what I did.
Across the street from my house were the railroad tracks, the unofficial boundary line of a special world we called the “Pipeyard.”
This piece of land was dotted with old warehouses and crisscrossed by dirt roads that provided access to the piles of steel pipes being stored until they could be sold to oil leases and other industries.
There were big fat pipes you could climb inside, and skinny pipes that flexed when you walked out to the middle of them. Sometimes they were piled ten feet high, while other racks were almost empty, allowing the pipes to roll as you climbed on them.
For an unattended eighties kid, it was the ultimate playground.
But this dangerous place wasn’t just for fun, it was my sanctuary. A place where I could spend hours alone, balancing back and forth above the dusty weeds.
And that’s when the magic happened.
All of my worries and anxiety would disappear. On those narrow pipes there was no room for the nagging fears, the unhelpful inner dialogue, and vague uneasiness that haunted me.
I would enter a kind of meditative trance, immersed in the sensory experience of my feet touching the surface of the pipe, the little wobbles in my legs, the sound of high-top sneakers scuffing against rusty steel.
There was power in the simplicity of it.
It helped that I was outdoors. Alone, quiet, and focused single-mindedly on the task at hand.
The physicality got me out of my head and into the present moment. When a yoga teacher tells me to get grounded, I know exactly what that feels like.
In balancing, every moment is novel.
Step onto any elevated surface with the intent to balance, and your mind will immediately sharpen—a protective mechanism evolution hardwired into our nervous system.
You could say it’s the ultimate meditation hack.
With even a little time balancing, you’ll find how quickly you adapt. There is constant and immediate feedback telling you to relax, bend your knees, breathe… and focus.
Do it for a little longer, and your mind becomes increasingly clear, perceptions heightened—creating a magical experience where time seems to slow down. The same things you experience after a great meditation session.
The World Is Your Playground
The beauty is that you don’t need anything (or to go anywhere) to get started.
No need to endanger your health and safety like I did as a seven-year-old!
Begin by standing on one leg. If that’s hard, stand near a wall or chair so you can catch yourself. Simply walking along a seam in the sidewalk or on a low curb will be a good starting challenge for many.
If you connect with this practice, it’s easy to set up obstacles at home.
I built a balance beam in my living room from an eight-foot-long pine beam purchased at The Home Depot. It cost less than $20, but even a simple 2” x 4” laid flat on the floor should keep you occupied for a while.
Once you catch the balance bug, something clicks and you’ll see obstacles everywhere you go: Parking curbs, low walls, railings, fences, logs, rocks.
Balancing is a blast. It adds an element of play, creativity, and adventure to your day. Remember the game “hot lava?” Whatever you do, don’t touch the ground!
Here are a few things to keep in mind for better results.
Don’t do anything reckless, please. Stay off the railroad tracks and bridge railings.
Keep in mind your physical condition and abilities.
Always test logs, rocks, or railings for strength and stability before you hop on. I’ve taken some spills, but I’m in good shape and know how to safely take a fall.
Start with simple, small, and safe.
This is about adding just enough challenge and complexity to focus the mind. And it doesn’t take much. Especially if you don’t have much experience balancing.
Here are three tips to help you maintain or regain your balance:
Breathe deeply into your abdomen by imagining you’re inflating a balloon in your gut with each inhalation. Inhale to fill the balloon, and as you exhale the balloon deflates.
Relax (especially your upper body) as much as possible on each exhalation. When you do this, relax and bend your knees until you regain your composure.
As you exhale and relax, drop your awareness down toward the object you’re balancing on. One of my qigong teachers would often say, “Where the mind goes, energy flows.”
With these safety and balance pointers in mind, you will be poised to start benefiting from your new meditation practice.
Meditation Is Back on the Menu
The benefits of regular meditation are undeniable, and now you can drop into that state of mind many times a day.
The more you do it, the better you get. Your nervous system becomes conditioned to enter an optimal state faster and more effectively with each session.
Balance evokes the memory and energy of play, often becoming a game to see how long or far you can make it without falling.
The cool thing?
Your motivation to do a more traditional practice will likely increase.
Because you’ll be in the habit of dropping into a meditative state. We enjoy doing things we’re good at, and meditation is no different.
Do your neck, back, and knees get sore during sitting practice?
Not a problem with balancing. You can alternate between standing in one place or moving. We sit too much already, it’s better for us to spend more time in mindful movement.
Think of balancing as a form of dynamic meditation practice, similar to Tai Chi, qigong, or yoga. For balancing to be more meditative, be quiet, move slowly, and bring your full awareness and attention to your body and breath.
And finally, don’t forget that balance is a fundamental physical ability, one that declines with age.
For you, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Finding Stillness in Movement
Meditation won’t always be so difficult.
Sure, there are good and bad days, but at some point you get past the struggle and mostly enjoy it.
Fortunately, there are easier ways to get most of the benefits that don’t require the superhuman discipline required to meditate consistently in today’s distracting world.
Keep it fun, make it a game, and have some adventures.
Stay safe out there.