On most days, my husband wakes up at about 5am and does his daily meditation. I admire his ability to sit quietly for 20-30 minutes, focus on his breathing and clear his mind. I have to admit that I have difficulty staying still and clearing my mind for 20-30 minutes. I have tried in the past to meditate early in the morning but invariably get caught up in planning the day ahead. I often wonder whether I can reach the same state of meditation by doing it in a different way. For instance, does in-depth concentration or focus on one thing, without letting any other thoughts interfere count as meditation?
Sogyal Rinpoche writes, in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, “Generally we waste our lives, distracted from our true selves, in endless activity; meditation, on the other hand, is the way to bring us back to ourselves, where we can really experience and taste our full being, beyond all habitual patterns. Our lives are lived in intense and anxious struggle, in a swirl of speed and aggression, in competing, grasping, possessing, and achieving, forever burdening ourselves with extraneous activities and preoccupations. Meditation is the exact opposite. To meditate is to make a complete break with how we “normally” operate, for it is a state free of all cares and concerns, in which there is no competition, no desire to possess or grasp at anything, no intense and anxious struggle, and no hunger to achieve: an ambitionless state where there is neither acceptance nor rejection, neither hope nor fear, a state in which we slowly begin to release all those emotions and concepts that have imprisoned us into the space of natural simplicity.”
That being said, it would seem then that one could achieve the goal of meditation without necessarily sitting quietly in a room for 20-30 minutes. Presumably, one could reach the “ambitionless state” that Sogyal Rinpoche refers to by focusing on a task when that task is being completed for its own sake. In other words, we can meditate by being mentally present in what we are doing at any given time.
I have found that I am able to achieve a quiet mind and sense of stillness while doing an exercise class, preparing a meal, or riding or massaging my horse. Sometimes, I am so focused on the task at hand that all the outer noise and the inner chatter just vanish and I am in the moment. Admittedly, these moments don’t necessarily happen every day. But when I do achieve them, I always come out feeling replenished. So, rather than beat myself up about not being able to meditate “properly”, I take these moments for what they are: brief interludes when everything just vanishes away and it’s just me enjoying that precise point in time.
It would seem to me that, just as everyone has different foods that work best for their bodies, so too do people having different ways of finding peace of mind. And, as long as we can find some way to calm our mind and minimize our stress response, then, presumably, it doesn’t matter how we get there. Nevertheless, I will spend the year ahead trying to find the ways to meditate that suit me best.
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Root Vegetable Pot Pie
This is a variation of a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I like to serve this with a simple green salad. Serves 6
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2lbs. butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
2 beets, peeled and cut into 3/4″ cubes
1 celery root, peeled and cut into 3/4″ cubes
16 shallots, peeled and halved
5 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1″ pieces on the diagonal
12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet (about 14oz.) frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 cup cream
1/2 cup chopped parsley, tarragon and thyme
1 egg, beaten
- 1. Heat oil and butter in a large sauté pan. Add butternut squash, shallots, celery root and beets. Saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
- 2. Add carrots and Brussels sprouts and continue to saute another 3 minutes. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper.
- 3. Lower heat, cover and cook until vegetables are soft but still a little firm, about 15 minutes.
- 4. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add heavy cream and herbs. Bring to a boil and let cook until heavy cream has reduced by half.
- 5. Preheat oven to 425° F. Butter a gratin dish* large enough to hold all the vegetables. Roll out the puff pastry until it is about 1/4” thick. Cut it to fit the dish. If there is extra, cut out small shapes to put on top of the pastry.
- 6. Place vegetables in the gratin dish. Mix with cream. Cover with puff pastry. Brush the puff pastry with egg. Put the dough cutouts on top and brush with egg.
- 7. Bake in oven for 12 minutes. Lower heat to 350° F and bake another 10-15 minutes, until pastry is browned and vegetables are bubbling.
* Note: for a nicer presentation, you can serve this in individual gratin dishes.
Here’s what’s on my reading and viewing list for 2015:
Novels & Memoirs
- Lizzy & Jane
by Katherine Reay
- Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
by Michael Gibney
- Flavor Flours
by Alice Medrich
- My New Roots
by Sarah Britton
- Soul of a Banquet