Meditation and Mindfulness: The Leslie Version

Image credit:

Image credit:

Sure, sometimes I need rest days. Here and there. Once a week, at most.

Yet even when I don’t want to do it and even when I struggle through the doing, I always feel better once I’ve gotten it done.

For some people, this would describe reading the morning paper over coffee. Or brushing their teeth. Or gardening and mowing the lawn.

For me, the above describes exercising. And writing.

When I don’t exercise, I feel sluggish. I know this, but many days, I don’t want to hit the pavement or the heavy bag at the gym. I force myself into the activity through routine or guilt or tough love. And even when I do, sometimes the effort feels awful. My limbs feel like lead pipes. My motivation never arrives. I just get it done.

Yet after I’ve gotten it done, I my entire system—brain and body—works better.

When I don’t write, I feel unmoored. I’ve learned this more recently, as I’ve exercised regularly for longer than I’ve written regularly. (Acknowledging this makes me sad, not because I should have sacrificed exercise for writing, but because I should have gotten back into writing earlier.)

Yet many days, I don’t want to sit with my laptop, stare at the white page, and type. Sometimes I force myself to the open computer and press out one painstaking word after another; writing even a meager hundred words takes half an hour or longer. (The next time you plow through one hundred pages of text in a couple hours, stop to think about how long it took the writer to pen them and marvel a moment.)

Yet, after I’ve written, I feel so much more psychologically settled. I’ve worked through something. I’ve created. Playing with words soothes me.

The last few years have brought intense mainstream interest in mindfulness and meditation. Executives and celebrities—Oprah, Jeff Weiner from LinkedIn, Steve Jobs—have touted both as keys to their success. Mindfulness means relaxing, focusing on the activity at hand, fully existing “in the moment,” unplugging, eliminating distractions, simplifying. Meditation has a similar bent, though it leans a bit more on either emptying the mind or concentrating it on one concept.

During the part of yoga when the instructor tells you to focus on your breath or a concept, my mind wanders to my to-do list. I have the same problem in Zen-like spaces intended for meditation. I’ve tried, but they don’t make me feel grounded and centered and peaceful. Instead, they make me think of things should do that this “meditation” keeps me from doing.

With exercise, I think about nothing but the activity. My mind clears completely. With writing, I focus intently on one concept, I approach it from many angles, I think about it deeply. Writing induces deep contemplation.

For me, writing and exercise mean meditation and mindfulness.

Without writing and exercise, I don’t feel “right.” I feel slightly off kilter physically and emotionally. I can take an occasional day off—but taking more than one rest day here and there makes for a less optimal Leslie.

What count as your daily meditation?