I had no idea how many things could go through your mind in ten minutes.
In the time I was supposed to be concentrating on my breathing at my beginners meditation class, my phone bill, John Kerry, these French-singing cats and how I really, really wanted a Diet Coke all crept into my mind instead.
But David and Heather, our two instructors at The Interdependence Project on Bowery, assured us that thinking about other things during meditation isn’t bad – you just need to realise you’re doing it so that you can bring your concentration back.
I went along to the (free!) class this afternoon – with my friend Rachel in tow – simply because I knew nothing about meditation. I’m not a spiritual person and it’s something I’ve probably unfairly rolled my eyes at in the past, so I welcomed the chance to size it up for myself.
What I learned was that it is ridiculously tough.
To start, David and Heather helped us find the correct posture – sitting on a cushion so our hips were higher than our knees – and told us to look at the floor around four feet ahead of us. They said to concentrate on our breathing and then they set the timer for ten minutes.
Trying to focus while I had my eyes open was the hardest thing. (There are obviously meditations where you close your eyes, but David and Heather had chosen this open-eyed one for us.) Every time another member of the group flinched, my mind was thrown elsewhere. And those in the class who said they wanted to escape the noise of New York soon learned it was impossible, with blaring sirens and honking horns repeatedly throwing our concentration.
As I wondered when I was going to do my laundry, the timer went off.
Afterwards we had the chance to ask questions and I realised that everyone had had the same struggles. But our teachers told us that even if we’d brought ourselves ‘back’ once, it was something to be proud of. I realised that concentration is just like a muscle that needs to be worked and that it takes amazing strength to be able to focus.
David and Heather also pointed out that if the same thoughts were resurfacing again and again during meditations, it could be a good thing as thoughts are obviously issues that should be addressed.
So as I waved farewell to the ecclectic group who’d shared the meditation practice, I addressed one of mine – and nipped to a bodega for that Diet Coke.