This is Week 0 of 5 in Shana Lebowitz’s #zensperiment series. Skip ahead to Week 1 (meditating in real life), Week 2 (meditation and the self), Week 3 (meditating with friends), or Week 4 (finding a community).
In the weeks leading up to my meditation project, I've started to panic. Several nights in a row I've found myself awake at 4 am, trying to figure out which meditation centers I need to visit and when. On a walk to the bank one afternoon, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn't nearly interesting enough to warrant a series of stories on my experiences sitting still in a room.
This past Saturday I started the #zensperiment, 40 days of learning different styles of meditation and documenting my experiences on the site. The idea was inspired by the #absperiment, a rather different series in which Greatist CEO and founder Derek took six weeks to develop six-pack abs that he shared with the world in a final photoshoot. The zensperiment will be slightly mellower: There will be less baby oil, fewer complaints about starvation, and I won’t be posting any half-nude photos. (Email my personal account for those.)
As for the reasons behind the #zensperiment, stress relief is a big one. Me, I don’t worry about anything, ever, at all. But my goal is to see whether, hypothetically, meditating might help lower someone’s stress levels. Every week or so, I’ll try a different style of meditation, including Zen, mindfulness, Transcendental, and loving kindness.
To be honest, I’m not really sure what “meditating” means. The best answer I’ve gotten so far was from Julie DiFebo, a yoga instructor in Frederick, Md.: “Don’t move or think about anything.”
It sounds more spiritual than scientific, and the next 37 days will be anything but a structured experiment. Among the yogis and mindful consciences I spoke with, nearly all advised me not to set any specific goals.
After a long Skype chat with Leo Babauta, blogger at Zen Habits, he emailed me again just to emphasize the point: “You don’t need to set a goal. You just need to do it now, and then do it again in the next moment.” (Guess what, Greatist editorial team? For the next month I’m not adhering to deadlines; they’re antithetical to my practice.) Instead Leo talked about the importance of forming the habit of meditating, or as he put it, just “get[ting] your butt on the cushion.” So I’m giving myself 40 days to see if I can make a decent butt-print on a comfortable pillow. (The 40-day-rule isn’t a Josh Hartnett reference, by the way — DiFebo told me there’s an idea in the Kripalu school of yoga that it takes 40 days to make any kind of change.)
For the most part I’ll be meditating on my own, even if that just means taking one minute before leaving for work and sitting silently while trying to focus on my breath.
Saturday morning I kicked off the zensperiment by sitting with eyes closed on a lounge chair in my backyard and waiting patiently through three urges to get up and check for snickering snoopers. Under a canopy of tree leaves that rustled in a gentle breeze, it wasn’t hard to feel peaceful; but I’m curious to see what happens on the hard, cold floor of a meditation center. The next day I tried meditating at night, on a carpeted floor surrounded by novels, file folders, and a basket of wrapping paper. Whether because of the relative clutter or the timing, it was considerably harder to quiet my thoughts, and to be honest I spent most of the time thinking about how best to convey my experience in 140 characters. So Monday morning it was back to my backyard idyll. But it’s the start of the school year after all and I hope to attend a class at least once a week.
This week I'm attending a beginner's Zen meditation lesson so if you see a girl floating down the street in a robe chanting “Om,” it’s probably me.
I spoke with Greatist Expert Rebecca Pacheco, a yoga instructor in Boston, Mass. and my feelings of panic started to subside. We talked about learning to be in the moment, about watching your own mind as if from the outside and seeing what thoughts pop up.
There’s no right or wrong way to meditate, she told me finally. “The only wrong way is not doing it.” Stay tuned for another update next Tuesday and follow my spiritual adventures on Twitter at @ShanaDLebowitz! Namaste, Shana
Have you tried meditating? Any advice for beginners? Let me know in the comments below!