Describing Light

Meditating for five minutes doesn’t work, so I meditate while eating, walking, and doing dishes.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

My family has always been big on spirituality and meditation. It was their dedication that drove me away from the practice at first. My mom would force us all to chant in the living room together, and I despised it because I had so many better things to do. Why would I waste my time chanting when I had math problems to solve, sports to play, notes to take, and shows to watch? I would meditate out of obligation and irritation—of course, I hated it.

My grandpa would tell me that his father had reached enlightenment, and I’d roll my eyes, saying, “What does that even mean?” He’d question back, “If a blind person asks you what light looks like, would you be able to explain it?” I’d respond, “No, but light is real. Enlightenment is just in your head. It’s different. Plus, I’m trying to get through high school, not become a monk. It’s all great in theory, but who has the time to be enlightened?”

A few days after that conversation, I found myself sitting in an empty stairwell, not wanting to do anything. I just wanted to be. I hadn’t planned on meditating, but I decided to try it quietly and independently, without my family telling me how important it was or lecturing me on the perfect technique. I folded my palms across my lap, closed my eyes, and hummed one long note with my lips sealed and ears puffed out, as though I were popping them in an airplane landing. The vibration echoed through me, filling me with a surge of energy. For the first time, I had approached meditation with an open mind, not because a new study came out about how effective it was or because my family forced me to, but because I wanted to. And it worked! It helped me feel more present and invigorated. I can’t quite explain it… just like I can’t explain light.

After that experience, I wanted to learn more about meditation, but I was still suspicious about the time commitment. I was sure that my motivation to practice would tumble down my list of priorities. Everyone says to start with just five minutes a day, but even that schedule requires consistency that would likely fizzle out.

Figuring out that I could make existing parts of my routine meditative instead of adding meditation to my daily routine was a game changer for me. My friend introduced me to “Peace Is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh, which discusses how we can assimilate meditation into our daily Western lives. Since meditation is about being fully present in the moment, our daily activities can be done in a state of mindfulness.

Simple mindfulness has the power to turn everyday, monotonous activities into blissful memories. When I walked to school during snowfall one morning, I sipped on a cup of pomegranate tea as I stayed fully aware of my steps, breath, and five senses. As my mind wandered, I set each worrisome thought on an imaginary paper boat and let it drift away from my consciousness. That walk could have been unremarkable, but my attention to it made it special.

Another accessible form of meditation is eating meditation. My grandma would always tell me to pay attention to my food, but I used to always let my mind wander away. Eventually, I realized that she was right. When I pay attention to all five senses as I eat an orange, I feel connected to my food and make the simple experience vividly flavorful. At a restaurant, my friend and I decided to sit in silence, focusing on every aspect of the moment: the cauliflower we scooped into our mouths, the clank of dishes in the kitchen, and the warmth of each other’s presence. I forget most of the good food I eat, but when I meditate while eating, I form a memory of bliss. My mind is always whirling, stressing, and picking apart my life. Meditation is a refuge from all the worldly problems that normally occupy my mind.

Even dreaded activities such as washing dishes can be meditative. Chores are only drudgery because we perceive them as such. If you circle the plates with a certain rhythm, soak your hands in the warm water, and immerse yourself in doing the dishes well, it will take longer, but it will be a pleasurable experience. Of course, that change is much easier described than made—I still hate doing dishes, but it’s a mindset I’m working on changing.

I’ve felt so much more at peace and in control of my life since I started meditating. It helps me establish what psychologists call an internal locus of control—believing that I, rather than external forces such as school, teachers, parents, friends, chores, or circumstances, have control over my life. While the ultimate goal of meditation is to reach a state of “enlightenment” or “self-transcendence,” the purpose of my practice is to be able to enjoy the present moment more and drench my daily life with simple joy. There’s so much power in knowing that I can choose the moments that I want to make special and memorable, merely by focusing on them.