How to meditate through the unpleasant

A meditation class at a Buddhist monastery has me thinking about dog poop.

Hmmm, let me try that again.

A meditation class at a Buddhist monastery has me thinking about picking up dog poop in our yard again.

Nope, not any better.

Let’s start with the “again” part, because thinking about dog poop in the first place is admittedly strange. A couple of years ago the parallels between cleaning the yard and cleaning the dojo after class struck me—the goal for full focus on the task at hand, the love that goes into cleaning both because both are sacred ground, the metaphor of cleaning up sweat or poop for washing away old judgments.

Then I attended a meditation class at this lovely Buddhist monastery nestled in the heart of one of Virginia’s hidden valleys. The instructor, a senior student of the resident rinpoche (Tibetan title for a highly respected religious teacher), challenged us to sit with our eyes lowered to a single spot on the floor —something I’m not used to. Even though we meditate, she explained, that doesn’t mean we shut out the rest of the world. She instructed us to remain aware of our peripheral surroundings, but direct our attention on each exhale.

It was really hard. Whenever we caught ourselves thinking, she said to acknowledge “OK, this is thinking” and move back to the breath. Too often, she explained, we jump at each thought without stopping to assess the thought. For example, we think, “I need chapstick” and suddenly we’re walking away from a blog post we need to finish.

Acknowledging thoughts and coming back to the breath instead of acting on those thoughts gives us strength to wrestle back control over ourselves.

Sound like a bunch of doo-doo?

Well, consider how many times you ate an entire bag of cookies without realizing it until it was too late. Or you weren’t able to finish a project because other things kept tugging at your mind. (Ahem, guilty.) See the value now?

But not everyone has time to sit for 20 minutes or more a day. There are other opportunities to practice, though. Enter dog poop.

Cleaning up the yard after the dogs is like sitting in meditation. Instead of sitting, you’re walking. And instead of focusing on the breath, you focus on the ground. The punishment for a wandering mind is a tiny, stinky dollop smashed into your shoe. Or it’s watching one of your dogs eat the leftovers. (Ugh!) Better keep your mind on that single task, right?

When you look at it this way, anything can (and probably should) become a meditation practice. Maybe that’s one meaning behind the famous saying, “After enlightenment, the laundry.”

Give it a try. Pick one task today and every time an unrelated thought arises, acknowledge it, and decide to stay with what you’re working on anyway. I’d love to hear how it goes, so tell me about it in the comments section.

Good luck! And thanks for stopping by today.

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About Christie Green

A student of martial arts since 1995, a writer since 1999, and an animal-lover for all of time
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