My 4 year-old son Bhaerava knows he won’t get dessert unless he eats his vegetables. So after that fact is reiterated, he looks at his plate for a second or two, and then he gets up and wanders into the other room to see his father who, at this time of day, is usually in shoulderstand. Then he asks something like,
“Which planet is bigger, Jupiter or Neptune?”
His upside down father says “Jupiter, and by the way, aren’t you supposed to be eating your vegetables?”
“Yes, but Daddy, I want to know which planet is farther, Jupiter or Neptune?”
“Bhaerava,” my inverted husband remarkably manages a sigh and then says, “Go sit down and eat your vegetables, or you won’t get any dessert.”
“Oh,” he says thoughtfully, as if that never occurred to his 4 year-old mind, “okay.”
Then Bhaerava comes back and sits down and looks at his broccoli for a minute. He knows it’s the right thing to do, he wants the reward, but often, he somehow just can’t bring himself to do that very thing that will give him the bliss of dessert. So I remind him how much he likes dessert. Generally he remembers, takes a long breath, and then eats his broccoli in a hurry, amidst lavish parental confirmation.
Please excuse my family’s tendency to eat dinner in shifts (asanas after work are essential for my husband’s mental and physical well-being!). The point is, our son’s hesitancy to do what is good for him is a pretty common human predicament. I hear my students describe their relationship with meditation or even asana practice in much the same way.
“I like the idea of meditating, but I can’t actually get myself to do it.” or the wry, “I have an ambivalent relationship with meditation.”
Why is getting ourselves to meditate as difficult as getting my son to eat vegetables? We know it’s good for us, we know it will pay off in the long run, we might even get a bliss better than whipped cream out of it, but somehow, it’s so easy to get distracted. There’s always something else to do, maybe it’s not a lot of fun, we don’t enjoy it that much.
That “enjoy it” part is interesting to me. I somehow had time and space in my life 15 years ago to get the ball rolling. My meditation teacher told me to meditate twice a day – she didn’t even say for how long, but I just did it. If I hadn’t built that foundation, I don’t think I would enjoy meditating. And because I established the habit, even when i have no desire or interest, I still drag myself to my seat. You have to remember that meditation builds on itself. You have to do the groundwork and the maintenance – but it does pay off. You start to enjoy it.
But even if all you are able to do in meditation is sit there and space out for 15 minutes – and you don’t even do it every day – isn’t that a welcome respite from 12-16 plus hours of running around! Hmmm. And what if you really started to practice.
What if you started by watching your breath for a while. What if you just enjoyed the relaxing feeling of doing nothing but breathing for 15 minutes – wouldn’t that be worth it?
What does it take to sustain a practice? That’s a question to sit with.
For me meditation is about relationship. I want to live a life worth living. I want to experience love and beauty, I want to have a relationship with the divine. But relationships require work – anyone who’s been in counseling knows that. So for me meditation is a time I can be with the deepest part of myself in relationship. Relationships take time and energy. You have to nurture them, you have to be in them, you have to have them. What relationship is more important? What is more important than spiritual serenity?