Getting Quiet

Do you know what it feels like to be really, really quiet? I’m not just talking about no external noise, but no internal noise either. It’s a strange and powerful feeling – and one we don’t often have without a concerted effort.

Over the years, I’ve dallied with meditation to quiet my mind, but on a recent road trip I had hours and hours to practice. I drove from Portland to Los Angeles and back with a number of stops in between. All told I spent 30+ hours in the car by myself over the course of about 11 days. Most of that came in the form of two 12 hour days at the beginning and end of the trip. Let me tell you, when you spend that much time in a small space all by yourself you either get a little crazy or a little clear. And in my case, maybe a little of both.

The hypnotic nature of driving allowed me to go to a quiet place easily, with a deep relaxing breath, softening of my gaze and just letting the thoughts tumble out of my mind until there weren’t any left. Just noticing, and remembering to turn off the narrator in my head (and the radio in the car).

On the trip I listened to the book, The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. In it, she outlines ten steps to a happier life. The first one, and the one that must be mastered before moving onto any other is, getting quiet. She’s not alone. Many self-development gurus expound on the virtues of getting quiet, meditating, learning that you are not your thoughts. The message was also championed in a book I read on the trip, Eat Pray Love by Elizabet Gilbert. In her book, the middle section, Pray, is about her experience at a yogic ashram in India, where the primary focus was on meditation.

Can you sit for 15 minutes and focus only on your breathing, letting your thoughts float away from you, simply noticing them and letting them go? If the idea makes you nervous, what are afraid might happen if you did?

Somehow I think that if I stopped believing in all those thoughts, then how would I know who I am? When deep inside me, I know that all those thoughts are clouding who I really am. It’s a paradox! And, with practice, just a few minutes a day, the real answer will become clear.

Here’s an interesting story from the New York Times on teaching mindfulness meditation in schools.

This story, also from the NYT, says that research shows that meditation can help train attention.

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