Stillness, I see very little of it. Everything moves so fast. So much bait dangling from shiny hooks. A walk to the kitchen is disrupted by a ping from my phone, and my attention diverts. I am driving, and notifications appear on my car’s dashboard — urging me to respond. In the mornings, I take my dog out, and I can, if I want to, walk him while listening to the news or music or an audiobook.
Every passing minute suddenly becomes an opportunity for indulgence, and every indulgence weakens self-control which often induces guilt.
At work, virtual meetings have become synonymous with multitasking. Our connections, interrupted by messages and distracted faces, have become the norm. You talk, and you wonder — are they listening to me? And most importantly, does any of this even matter? There is no common ground — each of us arriving with our own agendas.
Novelty — there is too much of it. If we don’t keep up, we feel we fall behind. A mixture of catastrophes and entertainment spark existential crises. And in case you didn’t know, everyone and everything has an opinion. Pick a side.
This economy in which our attention is its most valuable asset, well, it sucks. Digital landscapes fight each other to win our attention — aiming to evoke desires we didn’t know we had or wanted. Nothing is ever enough. We’re running to an imaginary finish line, and for what?
Most mornings, I begin with meditation. It helps set the tone and intention for the day (and even then, I still clumsily make mistakes). Sitting still in the morning sometimes leads to epiphanies or ideas — other times, I am reminded to eat less before bed — other times, I notice my body is tense — and sometimes, absolutely nothing happens. But undoubtedly, something happens, but what that is, I’ve grown to realize is not something that I can control. The meditation happens and does its thing.
When I first started meditating, on occasion, I would have those wonderful peaceful, serene sessions that you hear about. The mind is at ease; no thoughts are racing — just bliss. In subsequent sits, I would pursue this feeling again, and the harder I tried, the less it would happen. In my mind, I had set a standard of how meditation ought to be, and anything that wasn’t that wasn’t good enough. This led to closing off to spontaneity and wonder. I was now the culprit between myself and the practice.
After a while, I realized that meditation requires that you respect it and not impose expectations upon it. We’re conditioned to extract value from situations in every facet of life. But with sitting, it is crucial not to dirty the practice with notions of good or bad. Meditation is just meditation, and that is all. It cannot be good or bad. If you are going in expecting to achieve anything, you will most likely be let down.
Suffering tends to come from expectations that things should be a certain way. When our expectations fail, we might throw a tantrum or feel sorrow. We want instant certainty and validation. Why? We might want to practice because we think it’ll eliminate the not-so-pleasant parts of ourselves but unless we travel to the root of things, we’re only fooling ourselves. Meditation will not stop anything but show us the path.
You can think of the practice as a rendezvous or inflection point — a spacious moment to come home to body and mind. During those first moments sitting still in silence, you quickly notice that a slew of things come knocking on the door: judgment, self-criticism, doubt, jealousy, fear, angst, uncertainty, you name it. Maybe you feel threatened by your own existence and want to stop. You might ask yourself: where are these things coming from? Have they been here all along? The answer is yes.
But this discomfort is the signal that tells us that we are putting down our shields, opening up, and experiencing what usually drives our behavior and habits.
Imagine someone you care about calls you and tells you about their problems. What do you do? You listen, right? Well, you can think of meditation as picking up the phone to yourself. You listen, watch, and observe without judgment — while using your breath as an anchor. Your breath is the safety net — it brings you back to the moment — it is the life raft — you are still alive.
With practice, you might begin to notice small changes. A greater sense of belonging or wellness. More resilience to stressful situations — more open and receptive to change. Maybe more creative. Or perhaps you feel sad or experience grief. Anything goes! And it’s all okay. But with each moment of practice, we strengthen our ability to be mindful of what shows up—slowly cultivating self-compassion and patience. What a brave and radical act!
Meditation won’t take away your problems or make you a better person — rather, it unveils the better person you already are. Nobody is broken, and anyone that tells you otherwise is fooling you.
The practice can orient your life — like a compass, and show you where to go and what is essential. You’ll make mistakes, fall, and stumble along the way, but you always have a home to come back to — your breath.
It helps us get more comfortable with the gaps we experience or the silence we want to avoid. Stuck in traffic, no longer in a rush. We’ll be late, sure, and that is okay. A mild inconvenience might become an opportunity for laughter at the situation's absurdity. Slowly, we turn our suffering and the suffering of others into wisdom. Opening up to the absolute silence — not expecting much. Humble in request. No bells and whistles.
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
Thích Nhất Hạnh
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
In this issue’s playlist, I include some favorite songs featured in Beginner’s Mind throughout the year.
This is great insight, Christian. I was a member of the Noom weight loss program for a while and the teach you about being mindful and being present in the moment. Just the simple act of brushing your teeth is a great time to unplug and just focus on the act of brushing your teeth. I started doing this and love that time of only focusing on that one thing.
I love this! Thank you, Christian. I was nodding and agreeing as I read it as I am very much on a similar path. The moments, every moment, allows us the opportunity to pause and savour it. Meditation itself is a journey and is different every time I close my eyes. I am finding so much more peace as embrace mindfulness ✨ joy and wonder too!