I was first introduced to mindfulness meditation when I spent the fall semester of my junior year of college living in a Buddhist monastery in Bodhgaya, India. Several months of early morning and late afternoon meditation led to a strong feeling of equanimity. At various times in my post-college life, I returned to meditation in search of mental calmness and composure. Oddly, I was most successful when my older son was quite young as he was asleep – and stayed asleep – when I got up for early morning “sits.”
This past year I have returned to mindfulness with varying degrees of success – measured both in time spent and resulting equanimity. My recent hurdle is a kindergarten son who wants to join in meditation. Cute? Yes. Good for him? Yes – I have been using the Headspace app, and they have children-specific meditations. Good for my practice and equanimity? Not so much. A month or so ago, I tried to reclaim some meditation time for myself in one of the few places Harrison will leave me alone – the shower – as he hates to get wet. Early on, I thought I had found the perfect solution. I felt that time in the shower was underutilized and now even those few minutes had a purpose.
With time, though, I realized that my mindful moments – I could imagine the meditation teacher saying “notice the smell of the shampoo” – came at a cost. The shower was my down time. It was, indeed, underutilized mental time. I came to learn that there was a benefit, though, to that down time. Whether the shower relaxes or distracts, that mental downtime – particularly in the shower – is when some of the most creative thinking happens. When I replaced spacing out with mindfulness, I felt I was missing out on something important. Indeed, I was too focused to have the aha moments that inspire my work. Meditation in the shower? Out.
As we head into summer in the weeks ahead, I think it is important that we all think about utilization and creativity. When I look at my largely empty calendar in late June, July, and early August, I quickly make a long list of projects, ways to better utilize the summer. I have to remind myself, though, that downtime can be its most effective when it is truly downtime. For that reason, I will take some time away from school and the computer on which I write this. Robin and I are also trying to strike the right balance for our boys as well. We do have a number of “camp” weeks to save them and us from going bonkers – we do love structure. We also have a few weeks to explore and spend time as a family in a far less structured way – we are preserving some “time in the shower.”
If family, work, or life in general is going to prevent you from stepping away this summer, I suggest a regular dose of showers. Don’t plan to think about anything. Don’t have high hopes. Just take a shower and see what great thinking happens.
- ANDREW DAVIS