My New Year’s resolution this year was to create space in my life. If you read my bio, you would know that this doesn’t come easy for me. In fact, this is the fourth year in a row that I made it an intention at the start of the year.
This week, I had a friend staying with me who just came off a six-month sailing trip. On Tuesday night, I walked in from a 12-hour workday and must have looked like a tornado as I stepped in from my day and prepared for my evening yoga class. I had less than five minutes to change clothes and modes. Off came my workday, as I quickly peeled away the work clothes and mentality, and looked for my yoga clothes, mat and calm state. There was nothing graceful about these five minutes.
“I don’t know how you do it!” She said as she watched in awe. “You are just too busy.”
I felt my stomach begin to knot and my eyebrows furrow. I was really mad. I realized almost immediately that I was mad because I knew she was right. I took deep breath, and I quietly revisited my intention from just a month ago.
The next morning I was in the car on my way to work listening to one of my favorite podcast series, Centre of Gravity. Michael Stone is the guide for the group, and he introduced the word Samatan to me (pronounced Shah-mah-tahn,) a word that not only has special meaning, but I think is very beautiful when spoken. It comes from the Sanskrit word Sam (Shahm), which translates literally to “to stop” or “to calm down.” For a moment, I thought he was speaking directly to me. But I realize I’m not the only one that needs to learn this lesson in our culture.
In Buddhist traditions stopping and creating space is the first practice that is taught to people interested in learning meditation. The idea is that we must take a pause before we can develop insight into our lives. The second part of the meditation practice is called Vipasana (pronounced Vee-pah-shahna), which is where we use the space we’ve created to look clearly and deeply at our experiences.
We don’t need to practice Buddhism to learn and benefit from this practice. If we can take a few minutes at some point in our day to simply do nothing—no planning, no running, no talking—the awareness can follow.
The word Samatan has become my mantra of the week. I’ve been using it each morning in my meditations to focus on its representation. I also taught it in my yoga class this week, and it resonated with my students, so I thought it was a good way to begin this blog.
Find a consistent time each day to just sit still. My practice is in the mornings, it helps me to get grounded before I do anything. Start with just five minutes, you can set a timer so you know when the five minutes are up.
- Sit up tall and get comfortable. You can sit up against a wall if sitting up straight is difficult for you. Elevate your hips by sitting on a pillow if that’s more comfortable. If seated meditation is a new thing for you, read more about how to sit here.
- Bring consistency to your breath, in and out through your nose. Match the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale. Slow it down if you can.
- Silently, bring to the center of your mind the word “Samatan.” With every inhale, silently say to yourself the sound “Shah” and with every exhale, silently hear the sound “Matan.” Try to stay focused on just those sounds for your 2-, 5- or 10-minute period of stillness. It’s OK if you notice your mind wander, just find your way back when that happens and try to focus again.
- Enjoy your day with more presence. (or enjoy your night sleep, if you choose a night-time practice.)