Some of my blogging friends are pretty serious about their meditation - I'm thinking of Nick and Dan, in particular - whereas I am a complete beginner. Our office is round the corner from London's Buddhist Village and Pete, our Chief Technology Officer, has been encouraging other members of the School of Everything team to come along with him to lunchtime meditation a couple of days a week. Today was my second time - and I definitely have a long way to go.
The first time I went, I was quite nervous beforehand, but really enjoyed it. Today was harder - I struggled to focus, even for a few moments, partly because I kept thinking about something the teacher had said at the beginning of the session. The meditation we were doing was the Mindfulness of Breathing, and he was talking about avoiding thinking about one thing whilst doing another. "For example," he said, "I try not to listen to the radio while I'm washing the dishes, because then my mind would be elsewhere."
I grew up in a home where the radio was nearly always on and the habit stuck. A housemate in my early 20s, when I was less well domesticated, once famously ended a rant to another housemate about my misdeeds with "...and he listens to Radio 4 in the bath!" I even had a career as a radio journalist for a while (you can hear the evidence on the Internet Archive...). And, where I can happily live without TV, I've always thought of radio as mind-expanding.
Then I remembered a metaphor I used to use during my summers selling books door-to-door as a student. It was the toughest job most of us would ever do, not least in terms of the mental and emotional strain, and I learned a lot about mental self-discipline along the way. Training other students for their first summer knocking doors, I used to encourage them to tune in to the radio in their heads and listen to the things they were saying to themselves all day. "There are things you say to yourself," I told them, "which if anyone else said to you, you'd probably punch them."
The trouble is, I was remembering all this instead of concentrating on my breathing, which doesn't say a great deal for my mental self-discipline these days. But it did all make me more curious about developing mindfulness - and I'd be interested to hear more from those of you who have more experience of meditation. I'm so used to my mind being full of words and ideas and a constant stream of connections, much of the time very enjoyably so, that I find it a real challenge to get out of my head, as it were. Also, I'm curious about where the limits to mindfulness might lie - is it really better to wash up mindfully than to do it absent-mindedly while listening to Melvin Bragg talk about Charles Darwin?
What I do know is that I could definitely benefit from becoming more mindful, so I'll be persisting with the lunchtime sessions. And I'm looking forward to Vinay's workshop on Meditation and Magic tomorrow at the Temporary School of Thought.