Above the Clouds

One of the most powerful visuals I remember learning when I was first learning how to meditate was the idea of your thoughts being like passing clouds. Usually you hear this when you’re learning Buddhist-based meditations, which I probably was. But the truth is, so many good meditation teachers this same idea (and I’ve always been pretty voracious about learning so I like to learn multiple styles at once…so who knows where I first heard this).

It’s often been repeated to me. I’ve always loved it. I’ve loved the idea that if you allow a thought or feeling to enter, you can simply observe it as it passes through your mind, letting it pass as easily out as it did in.

I’ve always found a calmness in looking up at the sky and the clouds. Even when the earth itself seems dirty or chaotic, there’s a calmness to the clouds. In their meanest form  (like thunderstorms or hurricanes or lightning) they’re still incredibly beautiful.

I’ve been back at traveling season for me lately (hence the belated post today). Traveling is not easy on the body. It’s not easy to find good nutrition. It’s a lot of weird hours and time spent in cars. It’s a lot of negotiating with your travel companions and attempting to find balance when and where you can. I didn’t get any (any!) yoga classes in this year. (I did a couple small sessions on my own in my hotel room, so I did something but stillllll) I didn’t get too much sightseeing in the beauty of nature. I got a few adventures and stolen moments away. But I’ve got a lot of projects on my plate and a lot of personal ambition to satiate. So I often felt frustrated, even if it was just an undercurrent.

When I travel, I have to be in a lot of airplanes. I’m a decent flyer. I’m not great, but I’m not terrible. I can handle it. I’m usually the first one to jump at the slightest turbulence and like to grab my seats to help the pilot concentrate to get us through it… but otherwise I’m alright. I have my methods for getting through it.

But as I was flying this time and letting my brain wander while staring out my window seat (my preferred seat so I can see we’re still in the air during turbulence), I had a thought that connected my love for meditation and my frustrations on the road. I remembered that every small frustration is something that can simply be observed, learned from, and let go. I realized that the frustrations are often a result of my own expectations or something happening in my own personal life or from my own personal perspective. They have nothing to do with anyone being “out to get me.” They just exist. And if I see them, allow them to come in, and let them go, I’m giving them as much power as the thought I treat like a temporary cloud during meditation.

And…get this.

When you fly, you’re often relatively smooth after you get up above the clouds. Even if you’re escaping rough weather, it’s typically close to where the cloud cover is. And some of the roughest parts of even smooth flights are when you’re getting just above the clouds.

Because… you guys the clouds are what keep us from seeing clearly.

Sure, I’ve been in intense thunderstorms where I saw our big plane hit by lightning on the wing several times and have often prayed to whatever god was listening for a second chance at life even when my plane was above the clouds. But typically the meanest weather and the roughest air is when you’re at or below them.

So I’ve been forcing myself to see every frustration as a passing cloud, even outside of my meditations. When I’m really in a good headspace, I become genuinely curious about the frustration. I wonder where it’s coming from. What underlying belief is it bringing out in me? Do I really believe that or is that something I’ve been programmed to believe? And do I want to keep thinking that? What does this emotion feel like in my body? Where does it live? Have I ignored it before and there’s a lot of residual emotions in that particular location? And so on…

Once I had the cloud realization about flying, I’ve been able to approach it with a lot more patience and surrender. The air will be whatever it wants to be. I can’t control it. I can simply experience and learn from it. And I can wait for the moment we clear the clouds and enjoy the “cruising altitude” for however long it lasts.

It’s a Workout For Your Brain

meditationWhen I was in high school, a classmate of mine was really into Buddhism and meditation. Like, really into it. Especially for a high schooler. He practiced for hours daily, led meditation and discussion groups, and quietly ate healthy, vegetarian lunches by himself most days. He was a delightful and fun guy to be around and I always enjoyed asking him about his practice. Especially since I enjoyed meditation and spirituality as well, but didn’t have the discipline he did to follow through with the hours of practice.

One day after school, I was talking to him about his meditation specifically. I asked him how much time he takes out of his day to meditate. He responded, “It actually puts more time into my day.”

If that were a basketball game, that answer was the equivalent of a badass alley-oop. Except the person setting up the alley-oop had no idea they had set the dunker up perfectly.

I immediately understood his point. And he’s right. Every time I’m disciplined in my own meditation practice, I never notice how much time it takes “out of” my day. I always notice how much more it puts in. I’m much more present. I’m able to cultivate more compassion more easily because I’m in touch with my breath. I notice how much more efficiently I work. I notice that my brain feels sharper and I’m more in touch with my own emotions and those around me. And I also notice that I’m more at peace with whatever external things happen around me. I’m not always in response to them, letting my emotions fly off the handle no matter what’s happening. I’m more centered. Every day is more productive and positive.

I approach meditation like a workout for my brain. When you go to the gym, you can just wander around and do barely anything helpful. Or you can go, be very concentrated in your movements, aware of your surroundings and your body, and be really efficient. If you’re more present and aware, it adds time to your day. So better to do ten minutes of meditation before 45 good minutes at the gym than spend 2 hours sitting on the bike pretending you’re helping yourself while having an excuse to watch Sex in the City marathons.

Like my own workouts, I’m not always perfect in my practice. I don’t make time to meditate every day. The funny part is, the more I meditate, the more I’m OK with the days I don’t get to practice. Because I’m more OK with everything in general. So it makes me want to meditate even more. It’s a great cycle to be caught up in.

I have a couple apps I use right now. Mindfulness and Simply Being. I also have a Pocket Zen app that sends me reminders to be more aware of different elements of life throughout my day. It sounds annoying, but is actually wonderful.

Do you meditate? Does it help you? Do you have a specific time or style you use? I’d love to hear about it.

And if you don’t yet make time to meditate, try it. I always think about what my friend said to me when I was 16. It doesn’t take time out of your day- it actually adds to it.