I opened my eyes and there was a gargantuan whale laying on the beach. How would we keep it alive? How would push this behemoth creature back into the water? How would we keep ourselves from getting knocked by one of her fins?

The creature was nearly 50 feet long and horizontal to the horizon. I began walking around her just to understand the scope of the challenge. I saw her struggling to breathe; I passed her eye and saw the look of fear in her eyes; I saw her yearning for help.

We began our plight to keep this beautiful creature alive and get her back into deep waters. I split everyone into groups: one group to keep her hydrated, another to prevent her from being scorched by the sun; and, another for getting the equipment in place to tug her back to ocean…

***

I opened my eyes, shook my head and laughed to myself. The elaborate tale about the whale I helped save was simply a story I dreamt up during a morning meditation by the beach during my yoga teacher training. Here is how I got to the point of saving whale:

What Happened Elaborate Story In My Head
I was sitting by the ocean. I can’t believe I am sitting by the ocean meditating…
I was sitting by the ocean. I wonder if there are any whales in these waters…
I was sitting by the ocean. I wonder what we would do if a a whale got beached….
I was sitting by the ocean. Lights, cameras, action: My elaborate story about how I saved a whale begins….

During my yoga teacher training, we would meditate for 30 minutes at 6AM and 6PM. 99% of the time, here are some of my reflections:

We wake up in the morning and start writing the movie of me: we write the movie, we direct the movie, we write reviews on the movie…and then get depressed about it. ~ Krishna Das

Mind = Storyteller: Whether I was meditating or not, the mind will do its job: think. The more I resist thinking, the more thoughts persist (i.e. the more I tried not to think about saving this whale, the more I thought about it). Everything in our heads is our interpretation of some events. I was simply sitting by the ocean, but somehow in 30 minutes a whale got beached and I led a bunch of friends to save the whale!

Whether we are working, meditating, hanging out with friends or anything else, our minds are on autopilot and interpreting events by whatever has grabbed its attention at that moment. The more we notice the stories — the more we can create the story we actually want.

 Don’t worry that you can’t concentrate… no one can concentrate. ~ Buddhist Lama

Concentration/Focus: Phew, when I first heard the above quote — I breathed a sigh of relief. Despite my best efforts — meditation, mindfulness practices, yoga and more — my mind still jumps around. Often when I was sitting to meditate during my yoga teacher training my mind would go through the following cycle of random thoughts: “Hmm…I wish my cushion was a bit higher…I wonder what I am going to eat later… Oops, I am supposed to be meditating…I wonder what is going on in everyones heads…Ohh, I wonder how my friend is doing…Dammit, why can’t I focus! Oops…I probably shouldn’t curse while I am meditating.”

The fascinating thing about meditating consistently was that it forced me to pause and ask: What the hell is going on in my head?

In the beginning of meditation, your mind goes something like this:

Thought A …Thought B…Thought C…Thought D…Oops, let me focus on my breath…Moment of Focus…*Repeat*

After meditating consistently for a couple months,  your mind goes something like this:

Thought A …Thought B…Thought C…Oops, let me focus on my breath…Moment of Focus…*Repeat*

Whether it be meditation or day-to-day life, I think the most important thing is to learn to observe the mind and learn to gently and kindly catch yourself in a story.

Breath: What do you do when a baby starts crying? You distract it by waving a toy or give it some love and affection. I think we are a lot like babies, but we use sleeping, drinking, eating, watching TV, surfing the web, etc. to distract ourselves. In meditation, we don’t have our distractions (our “toys) and we are forced to see our thoughts and emotions. The only way to give ourselves relief from the barrage of thoughts is our breath.

The mind is a muscle and meditation is like doing cardio for your mind. As the Dalai Lama says, I meditate for two hours, unless I am busy. If I am busy, I meditate for three hours. The more “control” we have over our minds, the more we can create the life we authentically want, rather than something based on the stories in our heads.

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*Photo from the Boston Public Library