Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ellen DeGeneres, Meditation and Mysteries

by Annette Dashofy

I confess…I am not a huge Ellen DeGeneres fan. Never have been. I guess I just don’t get that hip sense of humor. I never really liked Seinfeld, either. Yes, I am the one person on the planet who didn’t love that show. Sorry.

However, the new commercial for a credit card company (that I shall not name) that features Ellen meditating about socks cracks me up. But probably not for the same reason that it amuses everyone else.

In case you’ve missed it, Ellen sits to meditate, tells herself to clear her mind, announces to herself that her mind is clear and then promptly starts contemplating the socks she got double charged for.

Let me say, it’s probably the most accurate representation of meditation I’ve seen on television.

Here’s what happens when you sit to meditate. You believe that the point is to stop thinking, so you tell yourself to clear the mind. That’s your first mistake. In reality, you can’t make yourself stop thinking. Nope, uh-uh, can’t be done. Spinning out thought is what the mind does and it rebels if you tell it to stop. But everyone, like Ellen, tells the mind to shut up.

So what’s the point in meditating you ask? Aren’t you supposed to clear the mind?

YES. But the trick is to distract the mind. Buddhists sometimes refer to it as the Monkey Mind. Running around like crazy, in a million different directions. You can’t contain it. But you can train it to do something else. Like focus on the breath or a mantra. When the mind has something to do that keeps it focused on something other than your thoughts, it can become quiet. You let it happen, rather than make it happen.

Then, like Ellen, you say “my mind is clear.” Which it isn’t if you’re THINKING about it being clear! That’s what makes that commercial so funny to those of us who meditate! That really happens ALL THE TIME. But if you’re practicing meditation, as soon as you notice that you’ve slipped back to thinking, you bring your mind back to the breath or the mantra.

Well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. In reality, all too often you start thinking about socks. And one thought leads to another. Just like in the commercial.

It’s even tougher when you’re a mystery writer trying to meditate. The thing is, meditation is wonderful for the creative flow. If you can reach that state of inner calm and mental stillness, all the crap is stripped away and the solutions to all your plot problems appear from nowhere.

But you’re not supposed to let yourself go there. You’re supposed to let go, come back to the breath or the mantra when what you want to do is get up and grab a notepad. Jot that down quick before you forget it!!!

Perfect lines of dialogue appear out of ether when I meditate. But my meditation teachers frown upon keeping paper and pencil at my side to capture those exquisite bits of description before they evaporate back from whence they came. Handheld records are taboo, too.


I guess if you’re going to combine meditation with mystery writing, you’d better develop a really good memory.

Those socks were Argyle, you know.


Anonymous said...

My problem with meditation? I fall asleep. But then, every time I've taken a yoga class, I have fainted. I guess it's too stressful for me.

Thanks for the insight, Annette!

Meryl Neiman said...

I like Ellen. And Seinfeld. I haven't seen the sock commercial and I don't meditate. But I enjoyed your post!

Anonymous said...

Fainting in yoga? That's a new one, Nancy. [Although I get nauseated in Tai Chi, something to do with the vagus nerve, I've been told.]

Yes, Annette, meditation can be a conundrum. Thinking about not thinking is still thinking. Focusing on physical sensation seems to work for me, like really feeling the movement of the breath within the nostrils. As for the writing angle, use it -- you can always have a character who meditates. One of my many unsold novels, Running Rivers, features a protagonist {Shannon} who centers herself frequently. It helps her cope when facing law firm work pressures and finding a dead body that vanishes before the police come; it helps me that I know how centering is done.

Annette said...

Nancy, falling asleep during meditation is something else that happens all the time. Basically, it means your body needs more rest. Duh.

Anonymous said...

One of my spiritual teachers keeps a notebook handy to write down her "messages" from meditation. I wouldn't do it in a Zen class, but I might at home. I do believe the first step in meditation is to clear the mind. However, once you can distinguish between your meditation insights and monkey mind, I think you can relax the "rules" a little bit and develop your own style.

It seems a shame to lose all that wonderful dialogue!

Annette said...

Ahhh, Tory, your teacher is more understanding than mine.

Of course, when I'm practicing alone at home, what they don't know won't hurt me...

Anonymous said...

I battle the "Monkey Mind" every day it seems.


Anonymous said...

I think I have a terminal case of Monkey Mind.

Cathy said...

Ellen Degeneres may be a world class meditator, but in a commercial, you've got to go for the gag (especially if you're Ellen D.).

I like to think that even if you fall asleep during meditation, you still get credit for the effort and it did something great for your system. If you fall asleep ten minutes into it, you get half credit.

Besides, who's to say you haven't attained a deep meditative state? Yes, that's it.

The fastest way to enlightenment is to save the meditative dialogue and plot info. Your teacher evidently has never tried to get a novel written or published, Annette.