Throughout human history, spring has been a time when we transitioned from our winter diet of starches and preserved foods, toward the fresh greens, fruit and vegetables that become available as temperatures rise. It was a time to clear out the cellar, start making room for the new harvests.
These days, our lives are driven by so many factors that have little — or nothing — to do with the cycles of nature. The sorts of things we want to ‘clean out’ in spring are more likely to relate to workplace stress or overloaded social media feeds than to the storage of root vegetables. So my spring cleanse offering this year is a simple meditation — a way to clear some mental space in the midst of the mania of modern life.
This beginner’s meditation practice is very simple. I promise, you can do it. And there’s really no way to get it wrong. The only secret is to actually do it. If you are doing it, you are doing it right.
So find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. You don’t need to sit cross-legged on a cushion if that isn’t comfortable. Sit on a chair, but still a little forward – if you can – so that your back is unsupported and long.
Set an alarm so that you don’t have to keep checking the time. If you have one that will sound with something melodic rather than a jarring siren, all the better. To start, try setting it for five minutes. If you’ve done this before, you might want to extend it out to ten minutes. But five is a great place to start.
You can practice with your eyes closed or with them gently open, gazing softly at the ground in front of you. Either is fine. Try both, and see which you prefer.
Take a few rounds of breath to feel your body. As you inhale feel the length and space in your spine, feel your stomach rise, feel your chest expand. As you exhale feel the weight of your body release down into the ground or the chair. Feel the support of the earth or chair beneath you. Inhaling feel space and expansion, exhaling feel release and support.
I find it really helpful to take this time to ground myself in the sensations of my body. It begins to draw my attention in towards center. Being aware of physical sensations also requires paying attention to the ‘right here and now’.
Now, let your mind rest on your breath. Pay attention to your breath. You are not trying to control your breath, not trying to make it different in any way. Simply pay attention to it.
When your mind wanders away from the breath, and you come to your attention in the middle of a blow-by-blow replay of your latest argument with your husband/wife/child, simply notice that you have drifted into thought and gently return your mind to the breath.
When you next wander from the breath, and realize that you are halfway through a thirty item mental grocery list, simply notice that you have drifted into thought and gently return your mind to the breath.
Do you see a pattern here? It really is as simple as that. Your mind will get busy, that is what thinking minds do. Your work here is simply to notice and to realize that you can choose not to go on that journey with the mind. You choose, gently and without judging yourself, to return to the object of your meditation, the breath.
When I first started meditation practice I felt like my mind was a puppy dog. As many times as I gently returned it to the breath it would race off again. Training a puppy takes extraordinary patience, gentleness and perseverance. My mind is much the same.
Once you set aside the time to sit and practice in this simple way every day you will no doubt find, as I did, many ways to worry about whether you are “doing it right” or not. Know this: If you have carved out the time and you have sat down and you are practicing some form of simple meditation then you are doing it. You are not doing it wrong. You are doing it.
You already know how to be still, you already know peace. Everything is already within you. By making this time every day you are finding your way back to what was already there. And, as with any good spring cleanse, you are making space to savor the beauty that is coming to life all around you.
Marianne Elliott is an acclaimed author, human rights advocate and yoga teacher who writes and teaches on creating, developing and sustaining real change in personal life, work and the world. She is the creator of the popular “30 Days of Yoga” courses and author of Zen Under Fire, a memoir about doing good and being well in war-torn Afghanistan.