When we’re stressed, even the thought of meditating can be stressful. We are in such a hurry to get rid of the things that we believe are causing our stress that taking time out to meditate is the last thing we can imagine doing. How could I possibly meditate now??!! But I have come to believe that when we’re stressed, meditating for a moment is one of the best things we can do. The challenge is to realize that we don’t need special equipment, a peaceful place, or even a lot of time in order to meditate. We can do it wherever we are, and it only takes a moment. No one even has to know that we’re doing it.
I learned a lot about this one night during a battle with insomnia. It was four in the morning, and I was agitated, lying in bed, still wide awake. The possibility of having a good night sleep was long gone. By this point, it was just a matter of grabbing what little sleep I could. But the more distress I felt about not being asleep, the farther I was from falling asleep. The more I worried about how I would cope in the morning, having had so little sleep, the less sleepy I felt.
My mind, as if with a mind of its own, was seeking out each one of my worries and amplifying it. It occurred to me that if only I had meditated more in my life, I wouldn’t have insomnia. If only I had meditated better, I wouldn’t have insomnia.
I knew that I should get up and go to the cushion and altar where I normally meditate, but the house was cold and I just couldn’t imagine getting out of bed, as tired as I was. I promised the universe that if only I could fall asleep now, I would definitely go on a long meditation retreat soon.
Then suddenly I saw what I was doing. In deferring the moment of meditation to another time and place, my mind had launched another great journey—far, far away from the present. What I actually needed was to meditate then and there—in bed, lying down, right in the middle of my distress. I realized that the formal structure that I associated with meditation—sitting on my black cushion for thirty minutes each morning, going on a long retreat once or twice a year—had become an obstacle to, well, just meditating.
It took some considerable determination for me to slow down my racing thoughts sufficiently to find even the tiniest bit of attention to connect with my breathing. But I kept trying, again and again, getting a little bit closer each time, one moment at a time. And gradually, one breath at a time, I calmed down. I made peace with myself. Eventually, I was quiet enough to fall asleep.
What I learned on that night, and on many other occasions, is how our minds can defer anything, even peacefulness, and this deferring creates even more stress. What we need to learn is not just to meditate more, or to meditate better, but to meditate here and now, wherever we are.
In other words, meditation is not something that you do only somewhere else—on a meditation retreat, on top of a mountain, or on your cushion—but something that you can do anywhere, and something that you can do quickly. We need to learn to meditate in the moment, right in the middle of the stress, wherever we are.