Matt winked an eye open and looked around him. Everyone had their eyes closed and seemed totally immersed. He closed his eye again quickly, with the reassurance that he had not been the only one with his eyes closed and that everyone was pointing and laughing at him. What a ridiculous notion and measure of his child-like paranoia! Back to stillness, feeling a little self-conscious, but strangely calm. The meditation teacher spoke up after a few moments of silence. His voice penetrated the air but with a soft resonance, more like a gentle bell than a morning alarm clock. It felt
instantly calming, instructing the students to once again focus their attention on one aspect of their breath - the nostrils, the chest, the belly - and if their minds had indeed gone off on a walkabout, then that was to be celebrated as an awakening, rather than another reason for self-chastisement. In fact, Matt was chastising himself, with a metaphorical flogging rope on his own back. Why can't you just bloody concentrate?! How hard can this be? But the teacher had been kind enough to explain, before their meditation had started, that sitting still and focusing on something as mundane as the breath was anathema to our over-active human minds. We are programmed to seek out danger, negativity, something more interesting to worry about and prepare for. It is the ceaseless stirrings of the monkey mind, agitating us, making us ready for stress - burning us out. Do not give in to it, the teacher said, with a calm ferocity. They are just thoughts; they are not part of you. They happen to you. The more you can bring yourself to the present moment and reset yourself, the easier it will be to manage this monkey mind (you will never eliminate it). Matt sat still and enjoyed the rest of the meditation. His mind would wander again and again, but he always picked it up and brought it back to here and now, and his own breathing. He felt calm inside, not smug or pleased with himself - just curious. When it ended, he opened his eyes and did not move for a few seconds, prolonging the serenity. For the rest of the day, he had a sharpness, a clarity of focus, and an inner sense of peace.