The Best Meditation

by Amir

Last summer while teaching at The Mindful Unplug at our Feathered Pipe Ranch retreat in Montana, someone asked the perennial question, “which is the best technique for meditation?" The classic answer is, “it’s the one you will use."

The answer I actually gave was, "the best meditation technique is with your cat!”  Whenever I lie down, I inevitably end up with a cat lying on my chest, gazing softly and lovingly into my eyes. At this point, I can't help but return the gaze and my mind clears of everything except my present connection with this magnificent creature. My body stays naturally still, because I don't want to disturb our cozy posture. And internally, we both create a feeling of love and caring.


Cats are masters of meditation and can teach us everything we really need to know about it. By nature, all felines are predators. They require huge bursts of energy to capture their prey. And because they have to preserve their energy for these huge bursts, they require much time for restoration and nourishment, sleeping up to 16 hours a day. If you have a cat, you may often notice her in a resting, kind of dazed state. Not asleep, but almost. Her eyes half-open and completely still, focused, and relaxed. The cat has just enough awareness to respond to danger if alerted, while still getting the benefits of relaxation. The perfect meditation. I get it. Not everyone is a cat person. Dogs are cool too, though you may have to teach them how to sit still and meditate with you.


I also get that not everyone is an animal person. In this case, try meditating with another human. In the same way that a yawn is contagious, simply meditating with another person can be all you need to get started. It doesn’t really matter who or what is your inspiration – the same principal applies – choose your source of quiet. Put down the phone and all the other distractions. Allow yourself to get lost in the sweet presence of stillness and ease, and it will call you back again and again and again. This is meditation, the natural and easy way.

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Distinctly Indistinct

By Annie

“You were just a twinkle in your Daddy’s eye…” They way our parents described us before we were born hints at an indistinct quality of who we are—an ephemeral essence of being-ness, before we actually “became” a person. In our origins, we are conceived with in-distinction, but the moment we are born, everything changes. 

We suddenly comprise a form that’s distinct and separate from all other forms. We are given a name. Opinions about us are immediately formed: She’s so cute! His eyes are so big! Why does she cry so much? And if we’re lucky, every need is monitored and met. We’re tended and cuddled and swaddled, all within that distinction that we are “someONE.” 

 

But from an early age, we know at a subconscious level that there’s more to who we are, because we feel the largeness of our spirit. We look up wondering: How many stars are up there? Where did I come from and why am I here? What is this feeling that I know I’ve been here in this moment with these people before? Within our distinction, we sit with in-distinction.

 

At the same time, we gain self-sufficiency. We learn that skating on our knees moves us from one corner to another. We learn to hold on to the edge of the sofa and balance on our feet. We learn that if no one’s looking, we can go into the closet with scissors and cut bangs in our hair. Or at age 14, sneak out with Jamie and steal her dad’s 1972 Ford Maverick Grabber and drive around the neighborhood in the middle of the night (still so sorry, Mr. Rubbin!). And move away to college. Get a job and an apartment. Living with distinction.

 

The challenges get bigger and the wonderments expand. Is world peace attainable? Why does genocide keep happening? What deadly diseases loom in the future? And also, what is love and how to I get it and hold on to it and pass it down the line? Grappling with in-distinction. 

 

And then it gets too scary, and we have to feed our sense cravings to provide self-comfort and reassurance that we can still be swaddled. And god help us if we were among those who didn’t get swaddled sufficiently as infants or in early childhood. The trauma of neglect, no matter how small, plays out in myriad ways of self-medicating with our choice of sensory satisfactions. We tether ourselves to something—anything—that makes “sense.”  Clinging to distinction.

 

AND. Nevertheless, we persist…in asking big questions. We know there’s something more to who we are than just what we can touch, feel, hear, see, smell. We get curious and creative. We gaze with wonder and awe and amazement not just at a single grain of sand but the vast desert. Not just a drop of water but the expanse of ocean. Then we make metaphor and see snowmen in clouds, and skyscapes in snow. 


Life is a constant mediation between the distinctions of self and the in-distinctions of spirit. THIS IS YOGA. The joining of apparent opposites, with an effort to reconcile them. Yoking the distinct and the indistinct. 

 

It is precisely within that negotiation that we need each other. Seriously. When we work through grief, we need someone to sit by our side and not try to make it disappear but to witness our suffering and help us get to the next breath. When we’re hungry, it’s a beautiful thing when someone feeds us. And that feeling gets laid down in our deep psyche so that when we see someone else hungry, we feed them back.  This life cannot be done alone.

 

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The inherent conflict of being an individual and a connected soul compels us to relate as fellow humans in the same mess. And it’s via the essence of those human relations that, in its own apparent indistinct reality that we sometimes call love, we create the next distinct human to be born, and go through the whole thing all over again. 

 

May those who come after us find the path a bit easier to tread.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

By Annie Moyer

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Just before my senior year in high school my summertime friends and I carved our initials on the wooden landing by the sea at Cape Cod. We stood there, posed for a photo, and then memorialized our youth at the top of stairs leading down to the beach we’d played on and swam at every year since I was nine. I hadn’t been back to visit until this summer, the one before my daughters’ own senior year, coordinating the trip around their exploratory college visits. We arrived to find not much changed in our friends’ cottage, the warm and welcoming beachfront destination for so many of us across generations, but the big shock was the re-built landing. Our initials were gone!

After the initial disappointment, it seemed silly to give it another thought. Did I really expect that weather-beaten wood on the New England coast would have withstood 30-plus years of beach-bound children, rowdy teens, and happy-hour celebrating adults without ever being repaired? The house not having changed brought comfort, and yet the contrast with the shiny new landing, untouched by our youthful imprint, stung. The Yoga Sutras identify five causes of suffering, the last of which is fear of losing the status quo, or an imagining that things don’t or shouldn’t change. But the ability to identify the causes of suffering isn’t meant to be confused with the ability to erase it from our lives. A life fully-lived is one that encounters the full spectrum of human emotion. To be human is to be hurt. To live is to lose.

Yoga practice provides a framework to sort through the spectrum of life’s experiences and to reconcile the contrasts of presence and loss. In the midst of a pleasurable time, enjoy. If the ending is sad or painful, grieve the loss. In the midst of unpleasantness, bear its presence and rejoice its end. Through it all, examine closely and inquire what circumstances are within our power to alter if we choose to, and which ones are beyond our control. If we can reasonably extend a pleasurable time, why not? If a difficult time can be averted or mitigated, take charge! As our teacher Erich Schiffmann says, practice on the small stuff: mealtime, traffic, yoga postures – thereby building skills for the bigger and biggest stuff: navigating career changes, feeling relationships shift, moving to a new home, honoring the lives of lost loved ones.

Clearly life is a string of changes, comings, and goings. But is something gone simply because it’s no longer tangibly present? The initials may not be visible in wood any longer, but I can read them, clear as day, in my heart.