I'm currently reading (and highly recommending) Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It has me fantasizing just a bit about returning to running when I return to real life in May (or maybe sooner if we're ever faced with a day of less than 90% humidity and a stretch of beach longer than 100 yards). He writes so eloquently about running marathons while thinking of nothing for almost four hours at a time. Running for him is meditative. The only mantra I ever sang during my months of pounding pavement was the refrain "Keep running," which I had to focus all of my energy on in order to drown out my body's deafening chants of "THIS HURTS." Hardly zen.
I am, even more currently (as in right now, as I write this line), staring at the sunrise over the island of Koh Tao in southern Thailand. There is a small elderly Japanese man curled up in the lotus to my left; he looks at peace. I was, moments ago, sitting to his right doing a little stretching, admiring the gorgeous view and obsessively thinking about how to finish up my writing on meditation. Oh mind, will you never learn?
I have never been able to master meditation. Not to say that I've worked very hard at it but in the occasional yoga class when asked to empty my head of thoughts, to relax and let go of the troubles or pesterings that rattle around, I am never successful. Usually the best I can hope for is to reduce all brain chatter to "stop thinking, stop thinking, ooooh that girl has a cute yellow tank top! STOP. THINKING." Clearing my head is something I have always struggled with (so much so that even the promise of sleep often must be introduced via some mind numbing memory game meant to distract my brain just enough to allow the Sandman in).
But, luckily, this island is good for more than just beautiful sunrises. The water houses damsel fish and giant clams and coral like fields of deer horns and clumps of brain matter. Mere feet from the shoreline where I squatted on the sand, life stretched seemingly forever into the abyss. And somehow I find my mind easily drifting away from me while snorkeling. The weightlessness of being suspended in the water allows me to forget about my body. There is no nagging from my right hip urging me to move, there is no concern about sitting up straighter so my belly flattens out. The rhythmic shuck-shook of my own breathing and the rock of the waves and the slow motion tableaux of fish and sea cucumbers and anemones seems to calm me in a way that closed eyes and deep breaths and the occasional "om" never can.
It says much of my weakness for distraction that it is only when physically removed from chatting, from wiggling, from googling am I able to just be. When there is only water and fish and the all encompassing woosh of breath and tide then there is finally nothing.