I used to be able to think – without thinking about it. Without noticing I was thinking. My mind was always entertaining me, keeping itself occupied by telling me stories. I didn't even notice that they were the same stories over and over. The stories always centered on me so I was happy. I loved hearing stories about myself. I thought I was happy, then. I was busy, very busy. But my life and my mind were driving me absolutely, totally nuts. I hadn't noticed, but the people around me did.
I needed a better way of living in the world. I wasn't looking for a new religion, a new age, or how to get to Heaven. I just needed to calm down. Someone suggested a book on meditation. After reading 150 of the 300 pages, the book said I needed to sit quietly 45 minutes a day. Had I been capable of sitting quietly 45 minutes a day, I wouldn't have needed the book. I didn't know what to do. So, I stopped trying.
Then came a time in my life when every other woman I dated said, "You have to come to yoga class with me. You'll love it!" I went with them, but I hated it! Sitting, breathing and slow stretching did nothing for me. And by then I was practicing Aikido. Small women throwing me 15 feet across the room-that I could concentrate on.
One day, by accident, I went to yet another yoga class where I did over an hour of standing poses. Trying to keep my balance on a hardwood floor with my feet in a puddle of my own sweat got my attention. Before long I could spend two hours doing an exhausting yoga series, but I still couldn't sit quietly for 20 minutes. I decided to try for five. That was the beginning of meditation for me.
A teacher suggested I observe the chatter in my mind, the story telling and retelling. A lot of that thinking was negative thinking, "I wish I hadn't said that…," "I wonder what he meant by that?"
Then one day, trying to sit quietly during lunch, I realized
that my mind thought it was me. That was when I realized there was something there, behind my mind. It was me; the real Me. I was listening to a familiar story in my head. I recognized the same story from breakfast. And, sadly, from last night at dinner, too. Silently, I yelled, SHUT UP! I don't want to hear that story again. I went back to eating my lunch. The quiet didn't last long, but from that sudden insight, I had learned an important lesson about how my mind worked. I realized that besides myself, I had been having conversations, even arguments, with people who weren't even in the room.
Here's a beginning practice for you to try if you, too, would like to calm down. It's called "Three Deep Breaths," and can be done in a matter of seconds.
Keep your eyes open, and don't stop reading.
Exhale. Feels good, doesn't it?
Inhale again-a little deeper this time.
Now slow down your exhale. Stretch it out.
One more time-a long, slow inhale. Pay attention as your breath comes in.
Don't think about it; just watch your breath as it fills your lungs.
Now the exhale-feel it, watch it.
Slowly, exhale completely.
So, there's your answer. You now have a way to calm yourself down, even if you're absolutely, totally nuts. In fact, this breath exercise will work for you anywhere, at any time. Try doing it 10 times in the next 24 hours-at work, on the phone, in the so-called express lane at the supermarket, in traffic, in an elevator, at a restaurant when your three-minute egg hasn't arrived after 10 minutes. And don't worry; no one will know what you're doing. I still use it today. This and other relaxation techniques can lead to meditation, which can lead to a calming and quieting of the mind, with hopes of slipping between our thoughts and experiencing our true selves, our souls.
Thus, meditation ruined my mind, allowing me to find peace, quiet and a connection to my God.
Fred Miller has been teaching yoga and meditation in Los Angeles for 20 years, and is the author of How To Calm Down,