Niyama On A String

Dear friends, readers, world at large,

Stop trying to meditate. Give up. It begins.

I’ll explain.

The Chef gave me a Just Because gift last week. You know, such as when one might receive flowers without a designated occasion or associated holiday but rather “just because.” I received Just Because dragonflies. It’s a solar mobile. The solar panel in the top of the mobile collects sun energy all day and then at night the dragonflies light up. They dangle from strings in mobile style so in a breeze they fly around each other.

What we didn’t know is that the dragonflies also change colors automatically, and at random. And not all at the same time.

So last weekend I found myself outside at sunset waiting for the sky to get dark enough for the dragonflies to light up. When they unexpectedly began changing colors it was hard to look away. It was a fascination similar to the effect of watching fish swim in an aquarium, especially if the fish had color-change capabilities.

The color change is a slow glow, so the effect is meditative. And since there are six dragonflies flitting around each other, each one is glowing a different color and/or slowly transitioning to another color at any given moment.

I took these photos from underneath the mobile, looking up through their bellies. But when I stopped taking photos, that’s when the magic started.

There’s a scene in the movie Eat Pray Love in which the main character goes to live in an ashram in India for a while but becomes frustrated with traditional meditation. Try as she might, she just can’t sit still and/or still her mind. By traditional I mean seated on the floor, cross-legged, in silence, and this case, in a group. After storming out of a group meditation session during which she simply cannot quiet her mind, she plops herself down on a bench in front of a courtyard fountain to pout. After several minutes of silently watching the water flow in the fountain she realizes she’s been meditating all those minutes. Another character even comments that it’s the most quiet and relaxed he’s seen her since she arrived at the ashram. A lightbulb moment.

This was the effect of the color-changing dragonflies. Sitting in silence, in contentment, watching them change colors, doing nothing (no things, no thoughts) but observing them glow, twirl, and flow.  This is the essence of meditation. No ashram required. No right way. No wrong way. Meditating in the backyard without even trying. It highlighted the crux of classic meditation failure, which is trying to meditate.

You can meditate without trying to meditate. In fact, you have to stop trying. It doesn’t have to look a certain way. In fact, it works better with fewer rules and it often works better immediately after we think we have “failed” at it. Think of every time you’ve ever gotten frustrated after trying your hardest at something so simple you KNOW you should be able do it. The moment you drop it and walk away with a flustered, “I give up” (generally followed by a deep breath), you’ve begun meditating, even if it only lasts a moment. Stop trying to meditate and just sit there in I give up. Those moments of relief and relaxation following I give up are meditation. Extend them. Breathe deeply. Be comfortable. Repeat.

In yoga we call this act of surrender ishvara pranidhana. The ultra-simplified idea is to stop trying with your brain and let your higher intelligence take over. It already knows what to do and it will do it without you trying (if you stop trying).

— Mercy

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