While in college, I maintained a daily meditation practice. The air was clean and fresh every morning, no matter the season, where I lived in Vermont at the time. Upon waking, I was inspired me to clean up my mind and heart, so that my inner landscape would match the Green Mountains, the fog floating up from the creek, the outer landscape. I had fewer commitments at that time. I was not commuting two hours a day. I was not taking care of an apartment or a cat. And I didn’t have a partner who would wake up wanting my attention and convincing me to have coffee with him around the corner every morning. As my life changed and I moved away from my quiet and majestic corner of New England, I fell out of the practice and instead fell into other ways of considering my life and the mysteries of this world, through writing, conversation, and my graduate work.
These days, most mornings, I do not feel I can face the quiet because the quiet would ask too much of me. My outer landscape, now Manhattan, is chaotic, messy, extreme, and yet confined. To become quiet would mean to become soft and vulnerable to crazy and unpredictable urban realities. To become quiet would mean I’d have to consider my path, my work, and the condition of my heart with even more precision. The quiet might ask me to reconsider graduate school or move away from New York. The quiet might reveal a truer, deeper sensitivity that would prove inconvenient while on the treadmill of my life, running from our apartment to Grand Central on a Monday morning.
It is easier to avoid the quiet, to avoid silence that brings insight to the sensitive heart, than it is to be still, but I know, too, that I need as much quiet and as much stillness as I can get in this busy season, in this chaotic, terrible, wonderful city. I need stillness like medicine, medicine that tastes bitter in your mouth at first but then warms and lingers in your throat. Facing the quiet is scary and wonderful, for in the quiet, there is space for important things to be revealed, space that would otherwise be filled busyness and chaos and distraction.
I cannot return to the meditation practice I maintained in college. It is not fitting for this time. It is too rigid and requires too much of my perpetually sleep-deprived self. I don’t want to align my spine with the upright back of a chair or repeat a Sanskrit mantra, at this time in my life, which is already weighted down by deep spiritual inquiry. But I can do this: I can make tea in the morning, put my feet on the earth (or the carpet when I am in New York), and just breathe as I watch the tea vapor escape from my mug and feel the heat against my dry throat.
I can watch the turning world, my heart and mind growing, and see what comes up. It is a gentler way of turning toward life, toward a new day, without the armor of my socialized self and without the pressure to meditate correctly in the midst of the complications of the mid-twenties. In my nightgown and bare feet, I can listen and wait for wisdom to bubble and rise or just wait until the rest of the city begins to stir and make noise again. For now, that is mindfulness to me, and for now, that is enough.