We all need places we can retreat to. A place where we can pause, where we stop doing and, for a little bit, just be. Some people return regularly to a nearby park, or the hushed solemnness of a place of worship, or the gilded quiet of a grand old art gallery.
Given the amount of travel I do, I don’t have that luxury — because I’m on the move, there’s not a place in my day I can go back to again and again in search of solace. And so, amidst the unsettling churn of a nomadic life, I’ve had to create a place of my own I can carry with me.
This is how I do it.
I lie down, with my headphones on. My phone is on flight mode. I hit play on the recording I was given during my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. I close my eyes and listen.
Meditation. It’s the simplest and the hardest thing. It is paying attention. It is being here, now.
For about 40 minutes I lie here, and follow the prompts. To focus on the breath. To focus on bodily sensations, and on sounds. Or, in another recording, I’ll be guided through a body scan, honing in to feel my body, part by part — from the toes right to the head.
Sometimes I fall asleep for a bit and I’ll wake up suddenly, sheepish. Oftentimes my mind strays — to thinking about what happened earlier, or what lies ahead. The usual things, in other words, that much of our day is consumed by.
There are days when it’s easier to pay attention and I can be in the moment for longer. Then there are other days when it’s near-impossible: thoughts pulse and dart through me — a constant, chattering stream. It’s tempting to get frustrated at my monkey-mind, at its playful determination to avoid the present. I try not to get annoyed. Instead I bring myself back. I gently try to focus again.
The recording ends with a bell that rings three times. I open my eyes. Afterwards, always, I’m different. There has been a shifting, a softening. It’s like I’ve hit a reset button. I’m calmer. Maybe not always calm — but calmer. I feel lighter, more awake. Refreshed.
Meditation is not a cure. It doesn’t solve my problems or banish worry. But it is powerful nonetheless. It’s like gulping down a glass of cold water on a hot day. That water doesn’t make the day any cooler, but it does make the heat all the more bearable.
Breath by breath, moment by moment, paying attention — however imperfectly — is a place. It’s a port in the storm I can visit wherever I am. On stressed-out, anxiety-filled days, I arrive at it with sheer, almost heady relief. Even if the anxiety returns afterwards, the poisonous tendrils of worry wrapping around my brain are looser — there’s a spaciousness that wasn’t there when I first lay down. There’s respite — maybe not of the total, triumphant kind — but respite nonetheless. I’m very grateful for it.