As I’ve mentioned before, I am participating in the Fall session of the book blogging group, The Next Chapter, led by the lovely and inspiring Jamie Ridler. We are working our way through Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, and this past week was dedicated the diving into the experience of the first ingredient for joy: Nothing.
First, a quote on Nothing:
“Nothing, nothing at all is the first ingredient you must add to your life when you go on the Joy Diet…What I mean is that the best way to break through any barrier is to access a point of perfect stillness at the center of your being, a self deeper than your senses or your mind. We modern, scientific thinkers are rarely taught that such a thing exists, much less how to connect with it. But every ancient tradition holds that from this still core of the self, this infinitely fertile emptiness, springs all that is authentic about you: your identity, your ability to recognize truth, the real operating instructions for your life.” — Martha Beck, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, pp. 7-8
Essentially, the Joy Diet prescribes at least 15 minutes of meditation daily, wherein you are unavailable to everyone, and you focus on the breath and on stillness. If thoughts arise, the chapter makes several suggestions on how to deal with them, such as imaginining them as a waterfall (if you mind is going particularly nuts), or watching them go by like news headlines on a ticker.
This is much more difficult than it sounds.
First of all, you have to take the time. This past Tuesday, I wasn’t able to take an entire fifteen minutes at once to do Nothing. I don’t live alone, I don’t work alone, and Tuesday everyone refused to leave me alone, so I took three sessions of five minutes sprinkled through the day. The rest of the week, I had no problem taking the time. I found the best time to do it was a bit before bed, as all but one of the other occupants of the house are in bed by then, and the one left awake actually does respect me enough to leave me alone.
Then, there is the difficulty of dealing with the thoughts and restlessness that come with sitting still for 15 minutes and just breathing. No thinking about the fifty things you have to do, or the things you want to do. No hopping up and going off on a tangent. Beck does allow for walking meditation if you find you can’t sit still, or, if it helps focus, to meditate out in nature, but the goal is still to empty the mind.
This is not my first go at developing a meditation practice.
I began an off and on meditation practice in November 2007. My favored method was using a Sanskrit mantra–I felt most at home with “Ham Sa” and “Om Namah Shivaya”–and, later, I added a japa mala to that mix so I wouldn’t hop up too quickly and wouldn’t have to have a timer of some sort to keep me from checking the clock to see if it was over yet. One complete circuit of the mala, 108 repetitions of the mantra, put me at about 20 minutes of meditation daily, and the mantra kept my monkey mind occupied enough that it wouldn’t go nuts. I went along that way for months, but around the summer of 2008, it became an off and on thing. I wasn’t taking the time. I was much happier when I was taking that time, but sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.
Since the end of that solid block of daily meditation, up until I started the Joy Diet, meditation has been one of those things I do now and again. In the interim, I experimented with several styles: walking meditation, basic mindfulness, guided meditations of various lineages. I always found the sort prescribed by the Joy Diet to be the most difficult: to just breathe and watch the thoughts come and go without getting lost in them.
In practicing Nothing over the past week, I found myself flipping between moments of perfect stillness, using the ticker suggestion to watch my thoughts (songs that I like cropped up a lot, oddly, and things to say in this post), and the mantra snuck in now and again as well. There were times when the fifteen minutes felt like they were over far too early, and times when I would think, “How much longer?” Sometimes I would peek at the kitchen timer I was using to keep track of my time, but go back immediately.
Still, it was nice. The past week has been quite stressful at work, and, whether anyone else can tell or not, doing Nothing everyday did help…Some days more than others, but still. Baby steps.
I’ve been wanting to get back to a regular meditation practice, and I plan to keep it up, though I may go back to using mala and mantra again if I’m having a particularly difficult time focusing rather than the strictly prescribed form on the diet. I think it’s easier to get back into the habit with a support system–my fellow participants–behind me, given that there’s a bit of an accountability factor and I know I’m not the only one.
It’s not quite second nature just yet, doing Nothing daily, but I hope one day it becomes second nature.