There’s this general narrative in the media and in society that we need to meditate so that we can quiet our mind and clear all our racing thoughts. And I think this narrative puts off a lot of people, including me. We’re overpromised and underserved.
I went to my typical meditation class today, but with a new instructor. As I sit on my mat, I notice the dark green trees and streaking orange sunset from the windows across me, and I think of what a shame it is to have to close my eyes for this practice.
My thoughts start racing, and I try the “Leaves on a Stream” exercise. I notice a thought, visualize placing it on a leaf, and allow it to float away in a stream. But the more I visualize placing a thought on a leaf, the more I am distracted by the sheer amount of new thoughts that pop up. “Let’s focus on our chakras” the instructor says, and my engagement falls flat.
What if the goal of meditation isn’t to empty our brain of all thoughts?
“Tell yourself you are safe” the instructor says next.
As I try to “let go” of my thoughts and assure that I am safe, the more the thought patterns and narratives my brain creates intensifies. It’s like replying to a child’s “Why?” question with one word, only for them to ask more, adding fuel to their curiosity.
I open my eyes, and allow myself to think. Through my periphery, I notice the person sitting next to me fidgeting, cross-legged, protruding a sense of urgency. I knew I wasn’t the only one, as we both then discreetly take a look at the time: 8:31 PM.
“Now let’s focus on our third chakra, the solar plexus” the instructor continues, and the more I feel the need to stimulate my demanding brain.
For the last 14 minutes of the class, I let myself think and create narratives, connect ideas, and ask questions — all while I let my eyes wonder at the decreasing intensity of the streaking colours in the sky as the sun sets.
What if we used our deep need to create narratives and tell stories as a tool, rather than a barrier to overcome?
We’re wired for story. We use stories to share values, connect, and build community. And we can reframe the commonly heard narrative around meditation. You don’t have to leave your meditation practice in frustration because for another time, you lost at your attempt to quiet your mind and clear your brain of racing thoughts. Meditation does not even have to be done cross-legged or eyes closed. And I believe that we would benefit by giving into our deep cultural need for story.
Storytelling is a mindfulness tool. Let your eyes wonder. Let your brain create stories. I look at the time: 8:45 PM. You may find that letting yourself be fully captivated in story will leave you inspired.
What if we used storytelling as a meditative tool to give space for those demanding thoughts, as we would for a child’s incessant questions?