Finding Calm in a New York Minute
“I have to clean the bathroom…”. “I wonder if it’s gonna rain today?”... “What should I cook for dinner…”? “What was the name of that new show on Netflix? It sounded pretty good.”…“I gotta brush my teeth…”...“Maybe some protein for breakfast, but I fancy some toast…”...“ Wait, is that a stain on my shirt?!”
Welcome to my internal monologue. Every day. Without fail.
This was just a regular Tuesday morning…
Dressed in my outfit of the day, I found myself immersed in a chaotic battle of thoughts, with only my hairbrush to arm me. I stood in front of the mirror, scrutinizing the stain on my shirt, contemplating whether I should change my outfit or use my tide to-go pen. After 5 minutes of overthinking this simple decision, I decided to change.
Amid the whirlwind of thoughts swirling in my head, I realized I should have been brushing my hair. I then spent another 5 minutes doing just that. Soon enough, a painful tangle of hair snapped me right out of that long stream of thought.
After all that, I was ready to work.
Starting work was my first mentally engaging activity of the morning and I was already exhausted. I reflected on just how chaotic my mind was, as it was every morning. The two minutes I wanted to spend brushing my hair — turned into twenty minutes of me arguing with my mind.
Instead of waking myself up and preparing for the day ahead, my morning routine resembled a fight sequence from The Karate Kid. Countless thoughts assaulting my consciousness, sucking my lifeforce away one at a time. Except I couldn't quite grasp what the winning prize was.
Every day echoed with more of the same. Groundhog day. Standing before the mirror, I gazed at my reflection, once again armed with my hairbrush, and battling my thoughts. It flooded me with a deluge of ideas, questions, thoughts, and random suggestions, creating a whirlwind of mental activity that seemed unending.
Just by sheer coincidence, I came across the Wikipedia page for Meditation. As soon as I read a small snippet of it, a wave of understanding came over me.
‘Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique — such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought or activity — to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.’ — Wikipedia
I then had a lightbulb moment.
What if I were able to channel my attention entirely for the duration of those two minutes while I brush my hair?
What if I utilized this simple activity as a meditation technique? By dedicating those two minutes to concentrated awareness on this task, I could effectively center my thoughts.
Rather than being overwhelmed by a flood of random thoughts and ideas, I could immerse myself fully in the present moment — focusing on my hairbrush of all things.
The following day, I stood in front of my vanity, hairbrush in hand, prepared for the task ahead. Let’s meditate, I thought.
And without further ado, I began the hairbrushing ritual. I started with the ends of my hair, focusing on meticulously teasing out any tangles. However, in the midst of this, a random thought emerged: "Weather is kind of meh..." Followed by another thought: "Wonder what I should eat today for dinner?" Regrettably, I found myself gradually veering off course as unrelated thoughts barged in, each succeeding the previous in a familiar stream of consciousness.
But then, something curious happened: my mind showed some resistance.
As I continued to detangle my hair, my mind wrestled for control, striving to remain focused. Nevertheless, in an almost immediate turn of events, a new thought endeavored to capture my awareness. This ongoing battle for concentration demanded a lot of mental effort. Before I knew it, my hair was tangle free.
Emerging Victorious in My Two-Minute Meditation Struggle
Ultimately, I emerged a winner in this fight against my mind. I successfully banished all other distractions, focusing intently on the task of brushing my hair in the morning. The first time I really achieved this, an air of self-satisfaction greeted me in the mirror's reflection.
Yet, this victory was fleeting, as the following day saw the return of wandering thoughts, attempting to hijack my attention and once again plunging me into a realm of disorder.
With each new dawn, I persisted in my endeavor to concentrate on this task. This pursuit revealed a heightened awareness of the haphazard nature of my thoughts, accompanied by a newfound ability to discover moments of tranquility.
Over time – the span of a couple weeks, I began to sense an increased vitality, a reduced sense of fatigue. My mind seemed to organize itself, creating a space for more controlled and structured thinking.
That was the essence of this battle I undertook. It aimed to grant me mastery over my own self. It entailed acknowledging my thoughts while recognizing my capacity to govern them for a span of a few minutes. The experience was nothing short of empowering.
Meditation might not be your thing — and that's perfectly acceptable. However, I strongly believe that it has the potential to greatly benefit so many of you who have yet to embrace it due to a lack of awareness about its advantages or apprehensions about potential failure (or simply not knowing how to begin).
The encouraging aspect is that failure isn't really a possibility in meditation, and it's something that everyone can engage in. You don’t need to be able to direct your attention for too long, and you don't need to be a meditation expert either. Much like any other skill, it's something that improves with practice over time. Just as you don't have to be an exceptional reader to enjoy a book, diving into the most challenging one on the shelf right at the start might lead to some difficulties.
You can approach meditation in the wrong way though…
The problem is that many of us want to reap immediate rewards when doing something. It’s why so many of us set a habit to go to the gym only to quit after weeks of not seeing results.
If your only focus is on the benefits that meditation can give you instead of focusing on the process of meditation itself, then you’re probably approaching it wrong. And you’ll likely make the whole experience a miserable exercise in futility.
But I offer an alternative perspective: I bet you might have accidentally meditated. Think back to a time you were so engrossed in your favorite activity that you temporarily forgot all your problems and intrusive thoughts.
Focus on this process, and see where it takes you.
These days, I keep a journal to track my progress.
I rate my meditation out of 10, and I write a short sentence or two at the end of each week if I’ve noticed any positives or negatives relating to this practice.
So far, my only regret is that I wish I started sooner! Seriously, the mental clarity and extra energy have been way more eye-opening than I could have anticipated.
The next time you brush your teeth, or your hair or any other daily ritual, I want you to try to focus on the activity alone and nothing else. You might just surprise yourself...