Me Meditate? No Time!

By Noelle Sterne

Over a casual glass of wine with a friend, I steered the conversation to one of my favorite topics, meditation. After my second eloquent sentence, she burst out, “I don’t have time to meditate!”

I started to clarify, but she changed the subject to her impossible office job. Like a good spiritual practitioner, I didn’t argue but while she complained kept repeating Namaste to myself. Later, sneaking back, I asked my friend why she didn’t have time to meditate. Slightly annoyed, she said, “Much too busy–husband/children/work/life.”

How many of us feel this way? We fervently promise to ourselves we’ll meditate every morning for 20, 15, even 5 minutes. What happens? We oversleep, just manage to corral the kids to breakfast and out the door so they won’t be late, throw last night’s laundry from the washer to the dryer, pull on passable office clothes and rush out the door for work, remember keys, glasses, phone, laptop, briefcase, shoes. 

Making Time

How do we get—or rather, make—time for meditation? Conscious rituals can help. A personal trainer I knew devoted a small corner room in his house, complete with low alter, candles, photos of mandalas on the walls, and two mats. A real estate agent friend goes out to the seashore early every morning before she opens the office, sits on a bench, and meditates. A neighbor, mother of three small children, signed up for a weekly class in chanting and meditation. It was the only way, she said, she could focus inside rather than stopping fights, soothing scrapes, and opening endless juice boxes.  

My ritual is a little different. I sit outside on the terrace with my morning coffee (is that cheating?) and practice a “writing meditation” with affirmative statements. For example: “I am whole and healthy.” “All is supplied at the right times in the right ways.”

I take a few spiritual books out too and dip into them. Always feel refreshed afterwards (or is it the caffeine?). If I don’t do this morning writing, I miss it.

But all such rituals aren’t our only admission tickets to spirituality, heaven, or enlightenment.

The True Essence of Spirituality 

The Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) tells us: “The spiritual life does not begin in an arrogant attempt at some peculiar kind of other-worldliness, a rejection of ordinary experience. It begins in the humble recognition that human things can be very holy, full of God.” 

In a similar vein, Joel Goldsmith, the mid-twentieth-century metaphysical teacher and author, says we can pray “wherever we are—in the home, on the street, in the air, under the water, in church or out.” 

Today the mainstream is fully on board (Harvard, Mayo Clinic, New York Times, Psychology Today). In just one of the many articles in print and on the Internet, in a Woman’s Day issue, Abigail L. Cuffrey wrote a piece entitled “Meditate Anywhere.” She lists how a busy mother can meditate: in the shower, washing dishes, waiting to pick up the kids, just before a meal. 

I often repeat affirmations while I’m making lunch or sorting laundry. The words stop me from thinking about all the other things I haven’t done and center me in the Now. And the practice reminds me too to be grateful for the daily, mundane things, like the refrigerator and clothes washer.

Mother or other, if you’re still too frazzled with daily duties, Zen master Lawrence Do’an Grecco suggests more excuse-proof, funny, and outrageous opportunities to meditate. His “Seven Ways to Meditate Anytime, Anywhere (Even If You’re the Busiest Person on Earth)” lists them: 

  • Smartphone Practice: Set your phone alarm several times during the day and pause for a few seconds to become aware of your breath.
  • The Lay-Away Method: Again, stop, even for a single minute, and focus on one thing.
  • Post-It Practice: Stick up post-its in different places. When one catches your eye, pause for a few seconds to connect with yourself.
  • Eating Meditation: Don’t read, text, listen to podcasts, or stare at the people at the other tables. Just concentrate on your food, each taste and texture.
  • Keyboard Practice: Now it’s OK to text, type, or punch numbers into an ATM. Center your attention on the sensations of your fingertips.   
  • Pissing Practice: Self-explanatory. At least you’re alone (choose a stall).
  • Street-Walker Meditation: Not that one, but when you’re walking, feel what it’s like to walk. Be wholly there, wherever you’re walking.

What We Need 

Whatever methods appeal to you, on your phone, in your kitchen, in a meadow or mall, near a waterfall or in a water closet, you don’t need to go anywhere or perform special rituals to meditate. Grecco says, “It’s simply about being fully aware of what your mind is doing . . . , this is something you can do at any given moment.“ Granted, it’s often not easy—my to-do lists or recent conversations whir in my head. But the more I repeat my chosen words, the less the other things intrude.

Want to Start? 

Wherever you are, stand, sit, or lie down. Close your eyes or open them. Be dirty or clean, dressed or undressed, having accomplished something or nothing. Be alone or in a crowd. 

Your mind may object with swirling thoughts (in spiritual traditions often called the “drunken monkey”). Don’t try to stop the thoughts but just watch and then go back to your method. Eventually, your mind will quiet down.

I often set a timer and choose the time:

30 seconds standing anywhere.

One minute sitting anywhere.

Three minutes lying down anywhere.

Four minutes walking anywhere. 

Choose your method:

Watch your breath.

Count to ten.

Repeat a word or phrase that feels good to you.

Meditation Recognition

I emailed my harried friend these suggestions. She phoned the next day. In a very quiet voice, she said, “Thank you. I needed this. I had all the wrong ideas about meditation.” 

I almost cried. 

Then she said, “Gotta hang up. While the kids watch their cartoons, I’m going out to the garage to meditate.”

© 2022 Noelle Sterne