I massage the edges of the firm pillow, pressing it until it’s nice and round, tuck it under my folded legs and settle onto the large flat pillow on the floor. I rest my hands on my thighs, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. Aaah, that feels good. Within seconds, I feel my body relax. I don’t do this often enough – I like to think I practice mindfulness in my everyday actions, but the truth is, it’s easier to do if you meditate regularly. It helps to bring you back into the present moment. And that’s all it is: an awareness of the present moment.
When I first tried meditating, it was awful and I didn’t get it. As someone who was hyperactive as a child, and a classic ADD adult, my brain was way better at hopping around than most people’s. And hop it did: “This is hard! This doesn’t work! How much longer do I have to sit here? My legs are falling asleep. Oh dangit, I forgot to put toilet paper on the grocery list, and I need to put gas in the car to get to the store and I should probably run by the post office on the way back…” and so on. With practiced meditation, I am able to first: recognize those thoughts, and second: stop them, at least for a moment. When I recognize that my mind is wandering, I usually just stop and say “BREATH” or “BREATHING.” And the noise stops, even if it’s only for a second.
Everyone’s brain hops like that. It’s commonly referred to in meditation practice as the “monkey mind.” Our minds are everywhere but in the present moment. We chew on the past, we worry about the future… whether it’s something that happened ten years ago or what we’ll be doing in ten minutes, we think constantly. But the truth is, if you just let go, notice what the mind is doing and focus back to the breath, then you’re there. For that one moment. And that’s all you really need to start. That one moment. Then the next moment comes.
And when you step away from the pillow — or chair — and walk back into the real world, that feeling stays with you. You find it’s easier to notice when your monkey mind has taken over and it’s a gentle reminder that all you have is NOW, this moment and nothing else. And everything can be handled in this moment. Meditation and mindfulness are not religious ideas; they are practical tools for coping with the daily stress in our busy lives. Studies have shown that sustained practice can lead to less stress, anxiety and better focus. So why not give it a try?
If you have never meditated before, or tried it on your own and found it didn’t go very well, then I highly recommend attending a class. It’s much easier to do, especially for beginners, when somebody is there to gently guide you. And you can talk to the teacher about how to best handle your own monkey mind; how to maintain that feeling when the real world is bearing down with its myriad problems.
There are many local resources for learning and practicing meditation in Taos and the region, with some listed below (this list is not exhaustive — if you have a favorite place where you go to practice meditation in Taos, please share in the comments!). I’ve been to a few of these organizations and found them to be very knowledgeable and helpful. Some of them offer weekly classes, while others provide more in-depth retreats. So check them out, and remember: just breathe.
A sampling of places to learn about, explore, and practice meditation in Taos
The Sage Institute
“Sage Institute is dedicated to education in the areas of creative expression, environment, and human consciousness. Our areas of concern range from creative arts and literature to contemplative, meditative, and mindfulness practices, as well as the sciences, social sciences, and environmental/ecological preservation.”
Vallecitos Mountain Ranch
“For two decades the Vallecitos Mountain ranch, a wilderness learning and retreat center, has offered unique programs grounded in the power of mindful awareness and a direct engagement with the natural world.”
Taos Mountain Sangha
“Taos Mountain Sangha hosts a full program of weekly meditation sittings and Dhamma talks, ongoing classes, including beginner – intermediate classes in meditation, and nonresidential retreats at various times throughout the year.”
The Mountain Hermitage
“The Mountain Hermitage is dedicated to the inner cultivation and outer manifestation of concentration, wisdom, lovingkindness, compassion, and peace. Many Mountain Hermitage retreats are for experienced Dharma practitioners; however, the Hermitage is now offering some week-long retreats open to both beginning and experienced students.
cover photo by Cisco Velarde, ciscovelardephotography.com