This is One Long Meditation
Updated: Jun 1
By Melissa Zehner, LPC, Professional Psychotherapist,
and Mindfulness-Meditation Practitioner
Now is the time for us to learn how to be mindful, how to stay in this moment, how to develop self-compassion, and allow for all that arises to be here with patience, acceptance, and love. We don’t know when this will end so there is no better time to practice being in the present.
No other time can we come together as a collective whole and recognize that the future is always uncertain. This is a huge adjustment for the planners, the doers, the strivers, the achievers. The pause button has been struck, whether we like it or not. We have been addicted to stimulation, to constant activity, to business but now we are forced to stay put and slow down. How do we respond to this enforced stillness? I imagine many are struggling with this new pace of existence and the confines of their living quarters. Not having anywhere to rush off to; no planned activities or celebrations, no warm and inviting vacation spots that pull you away from here. As summer approaches, the disappointments may be mounting for all that hasn’t occurred and for what still, might not happen. We can use this crisis though, as a means to see the beauty in being still. So quick are we to want to escape quarantine, but if we have the freedom to stop and listen here, we might find we are already so full of life. Maybe even fuller than we were before.
There is a line from a T.S. Elliot poem that beckons to me as I go for my walks lately: “at the still point of the turning world…” (p15). This line keeps drifting towards me, as I bring myself back to the still point, finding the still point in this “new world order,” finding the still point in the swirling of my mind as it grasps for normalcy, finding the still point to pull me back from fearful thoughts of the future, finding the still point right where I am. Coming back to it again and again, as many times as it takes. Living from moment to moment to moment unknowing of anything that may follow. “At the still point of the turning world, there the dance is” (p15). I spent many years trying to discern the essence of this poem and at no other time in life has it offered me so much clarity.
In terms of meditation, finding the still point is a practice and like any kind of practice, it takes repetition, training the brain to come back again and again. This is why the breath is used as an anchoring point. It is simply something to come back to when the mind runs adrift. But it can be anything really that will steady the mind. It could be external noises like the wind blowing, birds chirping, and cars passing by. Concentrating on the orchestra of sounds around you without drifting too far off with any one solo. Or the focal point could be your total body experience when walking. Noticing with every step, the intricate pattern of motion as each foot is placed on the ground, one foot after the other. This is why I most enjoy walking meditation. Aligning breath and body and nature… this is where the still point is for me. Below is a walking meditation exercise. Try it out sometime when you go for your walk. Be playful and see if you too can notice the dancing in the still point.
Set out for a walk alone, with no distraction from companions or cell phones. Just you here. Begin walking at a pace that feels comfortable, whatever the mood calls for. If you need to walk quickly to burn off some steam, do as you must. Walk like this for a good five minutes or longer, if you feel the need. Then gradually begin to slow your pace down, at first by just a little, and then by a lot, to a pace you would not normally walk. Observe your body slowing down, tune into the vibrations you feel throughout your body. Begin to notice every little movement, the way your arms swing as you walk, the feeling of your feet as they make contact with the ground. Watching one step land after the other. Taking notice of your knee joints as they bend with every step, the way your ankle springs into motion as you lift your foot from the ground. Just observing the entire movement of your body, including your breath as it moves through you. This can be very peaceful. To notice and feel how the body moves in this integrated fashion. At some point along the way, come to a stop and see what you now experience. Notice where and how you feel the pulsation of blood moving through you. What is it like to stop and be still after being in motion? Feel the air on your skin, the sun beating down and warming you or perhaps a chill in the air causing goosebumps to form on your arms. How do you experience that? Notice your breath here. The inhalation and the exhalation. How do you feel the breath throughout your entire body?
Below is a poem I wrote in response to the typical distractions that call me away from the still
point. It was written long before the coronavirus pandemic but it makes me wonder if perhaps now, there may be more room for poetry.
I used to read poetry, but I can’t now.
Poetry is like sculpture. It is defined by the empty space that envelopes its form.
It’s what gets left hanging there as you move through it.
One must know how to hold this quiet,
to have the ability to stay still and allow for TIME and SPACE to move around you,
to engulf you.
We do not sit still like this anymore.
Instead we command time, manipulate it, make it work for us.
We stampede our way through space, focused, determined, impertinent.
Always pushing our way through… hurried, frenzied, panicked.
Poetry cannot work like this.
It is patient. It is stillness…
It contains the empty space that we are all desperately trying to fill.
*Elliot, T.S. (A Harvest Book), 1943. Four Quartets.