At 5:30AM, I awoke from a restless sleep. A moth had found its way under my blanket and had woken me up sporadically during the night by fluttering its soft wings against my bare leg. The compounded effect of my developing head cold provided additional sabotage to my regular REM cycle.
Reluctantly rubbing the sleep from my heavy eyelids, I put my outfit together quickly and was ready to leave with the full group by 6:00AM. We set off before we even saw the sun peek its curious face over the walls of the valley.
We were heading to a temple situated on a steep hill above the town of Bandipur. The morning air was cold, but our rapid ascension warmed me so much that I resigned to remove my fleece sweater and knit cap.
By the time we reached the temple, we were all rendered breathless from the sight as well as the exertion. The sacred grounds were nestled at the crest of a particularly tall hill. On one side, the town of Bandipur rested far below. On the other, the hills continued rolling, dipping, and climbing as far as was discernible. After we all had a minute to catch our breath, Michael summoned us into a circle.
“I’d like to open up a space for us to meditate this morning,” he said as a cloud began to roll in and engulf us in a heavy fog. He sat with his legs crossed as he addressed us.
“It’s best to meditate in the morning,” he continued, “before our problem-solving mind kicks in.” He smiled with a wink, as was his habit when he delivered as lesson that he knew would captivate us. “You know, humans have this unique gift, right? We can solve problems in ways that other sentient beings can’t. But once we get into this problem-solving mindset, it’s hard to get out of during the day. That’s why we meditate early in the morning, right? Or maybe at night, right before we go to sleep.”
He rubbed his hands on his knees and took a deep breath before he spoke again. “First, make sure you’re seated comfortably. Place your hands either one on top of the other or on each knee. Sit up straight, relax your shoulders. Now, keep your head at a tilt like this. You know, when we see the statues, they have their heads at an angle like this, right? You can close your eyes if you want to, but traditionally we keep our eyes slightly open and fixed on a point. Now, if you’re ready, let’s take just a few minutes and meditate.”
As he finished this last sentence, the hilltop grew quiet. Only the sound of the wind on the pine needles broke the silence.
We continued thus for no more than four minutes.
“Your mind is like a muscle, you know?” Michael said, bringing our attention back to our surroundings. “It’s hard, when you’re first starting, to work it out for more than a few minutes at a time. That’s why we start practicing meditation for three or four minutes at first. There’s no point in trying to sit there for thirty minutes if you can only really maintain focus for less than five minutes.”
He paused to adjust his posture. “Your mind is like a puppy,” he said, once again flashing his smile. “You know puppies. Everybody’s played with a puppy, right? It runs around, it goes over here, it goes over there. It poops, it pees. It just can’t sit still. But do we get mad at the puppy? No. We put it back in our laps and we keep playing with it for three or four minutes at a time. Then, eventually, when the puppy learns how to sit still, we can play for thirty minutes or more, right?”
Michael gave one final wink before dismissing ups to explore the temple on our own.