From “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.
The following morning, I arrive right on time for the 4:00 AM meditation session which always starts the day here. We are meant to sit for an hour in silence, but I log the minutes as if they are miles—sixty brutal miles that I have to endure. By mile/minute fourteen, my nerves have started to go, my knees are breaking down and I’m overcome with exasperation. Which is understandable, given that the conversations between me and my mind during meditation go something like this:
Me: OK, we’re going to meditate now. Let’s draw our attention to our breath and focus on the mantra. Om Namah Shivaya. Om Namah Siv—
Mind: I can help you out with this, you know!
Me: OK good, because I need your help. Let’s go. Om Namah Shivaya. Om Namah Shi—
Mind: I can help you think of nice meditative images. Like—hey, here’s a good one. Imagine you are temple. A temple on an island! And the island is in the ocean!
Me: Oh, that is a nice image.
Mind: Thanks. I thought of it myself.
Me: But what ocean are we picturing here?
Mind: The Mediterranean. Imagine you’re one of those Greek islands, with an old Greek temple on it. No, never mind, that’s too touristy. You know what? Forget the ocean. Oceans are too dangerous. Here’s a better idea—imagine you’re an island in lake, instead.
Me: Can we meditate now, please? Om Namah Shiv—
Mind: Yes! Definitely! But try not to picture that the lake is covered with…what are those things called—
Me: Jet Skis?
Mind: Yes! Jet Skis! Those things consume so much fuel! They’re really a menace to the environment. Do you know what else uses a lot of fuel? Leaf blowers. You wouldn’t think so, but—
Me: OK, but let’s MEDITATE now, please? Om Namah—
Mind: Right! I definitely want to help you meditate! And that’s why we’re going to skip the image of an island on a lake or an ocean, because that’s obviously not working. So let’s imagine that you’re an island in…a river!
Me: Oh, you mean like Bannerman Island, in the Hudson River?
Mind: Yes! Exactly! Perfect. Therefore, in conclusion, let’s meditate on this image—envision that you are an island in a river. All the thoughts that float by as you’re meditating, these are just the river’s natural currents and you can ignore them because you are an island.
Me: Wait, I thought you said I was a temple.
Mind: That’s right, sorry. You’re a temple on an island. In fact, you are both the temple and the island.
Me: Am I also the river?
Mind: No, the river is just the thoughts.
Me: Stop! Please stop! YOU’RE MAKING ME CRAZY!!!!
Mind (wounded): Sorry. I was only trying to help.
Me: Om Namah Shivaya…Om Namay Shivaya…Om Namah Shivaya.
Here there is a promise eight-second pause in thoughts. But then—
Mind: Are you mad at me now?
–and then with a big gasp, like I am coming up for air, my mind wins, my eyes fly open and I quit. In tears. An ashram is supposed to be a place where you come to deepen your meditation, but this is a disaster. The pressure is too much for me. I can’t do it. But what should I do? Run out of the temple crying after fourteen minutes, every day?