Try as I might, I just can't manage to meditate.
It's not for lack of trying. I've taken classes, talked to avid meditators hoping to get some tips, read countless articles, listened to podcasts and watched instructional videos—you name it.
But that magic Zen moment I'm hoping for never really kicks in. Once, at a class at Canyon Ranch in Arizona, I thought I was successfully meditating but realized afterward I had instead fallen asleep. (The nap was refreshing, sure; but it wasn't what I had hoped to achieve.)
Here's the thing: The harder I try to meditate, the more elusive it gets.
Learn about Meditation Tricks for Busy Bodies.
Despite knowing all the wonderful health benefits of meditating—especially some that I can really use right now because, lately, the world feels like it's spinning out of control—this is one health practice that slips right through my nimble fingers. But something akin to an "aha moment" occurred to me the other day when I found myself in my backyard, staring at my bird feeder. I realized that I had, indeed, been meditating all along. Let me explain.
Last week, I refilled the empty feeder. At various times throughout the following days, I glanced at it from my kitchen window, each time disappointed that it stood unnoticed. But on this particular day, there was action—lots of it. Birds of different sizes and colors fluttered busily around it.
When the action died down a bit, I became especially mesmerized by a very small, bright yellow bird, the type I've only seen in a cage in a pet store or while vacationing in more exotic locales (but certainly not around my part of Connecticut).
Wishing to capture the tiny beauty with a photo, I stopped what I was doing, grabbed my phone and rushed outside, tiptoeing slowly and silently toward the feeder. I stopped just short of it, not daring to breathe lest the bird fly away, waiting for the perfect moment to release the shutter. As I waited, I watched, absorbed in the quick and jerky movements of the bird, silently commanding it to stay put long enough for me to capture the moment.
In case you're wondering, I didn't get the shot. The yellow bird abruptly flew away, giving up his space for a different bird, this time red. Granted, it wasn't as brightly colored but it was photo-worthy, nonetheless.
Anyhow, when I walked back inside and glanced at the clock, I was shocked to discover that almost an hour had passed. If you had asked me how long I was out there, I would have told you it was only five, maybe 10 minutes. Once inside, I had a different feeling than before I left—I felt lighter, more clear-headed, happier.
That's meditating, after all. It's the ability to be present, to be in the here and now, fully engaged in whatever you're doing at that very moment.
All along, I was doing all those things that you do when you meditate: observing without judging, thinking, reflecting, studying, examining, considering.
And don't we all do these things every day, perhaps even multiple times each day? We do—we just don't consciously realize it.
Since then, I've counted at least five other ways I've been meditating in my everyday life without trying. I meditate when I:
Walk or sit on the beach and stare out at the water.
Eat and focus on my food, the way I'm chewing, its taste and texture.
Take a shower and listen to the sound of the water hitting my body or the shower floor.
Ride my bicycle and become aware of the recurrent circular motion of my legs.
Sit still and do … nothing.
Meditating is all about awareness and focus and letting everything outside your immediate world melt away.
What are some ways you are meditating, without meditating?
This post originally appeared on mysocalledmidlife.net.