Meditation and the art of trying to think about nothing

  • Living
  • Monday, 23 Oct 2017

Do you see pink clouds when you meditate? Photo: Visual Hunt/HollyRose6

By the time the weekend rolls around, I often feel fatigued and a little frazzled. Nonetheless, I think I cope quite well with whatever life throws at me. I mean to say, I don’t go around beating up other people in a fit of road rage, or steal ridiculously cheap items that are completely useless to me from department stores, or gulp down large amounts of alcohol every night in a bid to blot out whatever it is that needs to be blotted out.

Despite having everything under control, I recently decided that meditation and some gentle exercise might help me become a calmer individual.

The last time I took up yoga with any sort of seriousness was more than 30 years ago. Way back then, when I was lithe and supple and had a body that defied gravity, I didn’t need anyone to instruct or motivate me when it came to the art of meditation and exercise. Way back then, I thought I knew it all. Yoga was something that I could easily pick up from a book – or at least, that’s what I thought.

When it comes to learning something new, I am probably the world’s most impatient student. I want to know it all, and I want to know it all NOW!

Learning yoga is a slow process, a process that cannot be hurried. When I was in my 20s, I did nothing in a slow or unhurried manner, and I approached yoga in much the same way as some people would a new cookbook. I would flick through my illustrated exercise book, stop at an interesting picture, read the instructions and, if that particular exercise didn’t seem too difficult, attempt to assume the position almost immediately.

One week after I’d begun my discovery of body and mind, I got stuck in the lotus position for three agonising minutes and decided that yoga wasn’t for me.

Although I’m basically the same impatient person I was way back then, I like to think I’ve learnt from my mistakes. And even if I haven’t learnt anything, my ageing body just loves to remind me via a stabbing pain or an unyielding limb that it’s not without its limitations these days.

When I arrived for my first yoga class, I’m ashamed to admit I had the tiniest bit of a “been there, done that” attitude to the whole thing. Sure, my legs had been tied in knots the last time I’d attempted this lark, but the other positions had been a breeze, I told myself.

A few minutes into the class, I found myself lying on my back with my knees clasped to my chest, while simultaneously attempting to rock backwards and forwards. I probably looked like an upturned tortoise trying to flip itself over – an upturned tortoise that grunted loudly.

I managed to struggle through the remainder of the routine with about as much grace as a hippopotamus attempting a pirouette. I wobbled, wavered, grunted some more, sniggered, and came to the sad realisation that I couldn’t even breathe in an efficient manner.

When the exercise session was over, I looked forward to a relaxing half an hour of meditation. As instructed, I tried to clear my mind. I closed my eyes and tried to think of nothing. However, trying to think of nothing is an exercise in futility. The more you try to think of nothing, the more you think about trying to think about nothing. If you see what I mean.

Focus on the flame.

In a bid to really think about nothing, I first tried to stop thinking about thinking about nothing. I tried to switch my mind to something else, like my fellow meditators. I was sure everyone else was successfully thinking about nothing at this stage. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover that some of the disciples were half way to Nirvana.

I tried to turn myself inwards. I concentrated on that space in front of my closed eyes, but all I could see was a black void with a few white blobs floating around. The road to enlightenment sure looked gloomy and overcast.

After a while, I gave up and was almost drifting off when I heard the instructor gently prompting the class to slowly sit up. She then proceeded to ask everyone in turn if they had seen anything while meditating.

The woman sitting next to me, obviously a veteran, claimed she’d seen a lamb followed by a kaleidoscope of vivid, vibrant colours. Another woman told of pink hearts and bursts of bright colours.

Was it possible that we had been doing the same exercise?

When it came to my turn, I told the class about my black-and-white visions.

“Try not to be too negative,” said the veteran next to me. “Think more positive thoughts!”

Think more positive thoughts? I thought we were supposed to think about nothing.

Next week, I hope to be able to see images of fluffy white lambs and pink hearts. However, knowing my luck, I’ll probably only see smelly old goats and black blobs.

I know, I know. Positive thoughts.

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