Waking up to mindfulness meditation at the beach

January 26, 2022
Waking up to mindfulness meditation at the beach - A reflection on Sam Harris' guided meditation app

I have dabbled with mindfulness meditation a few times over the years but my latest adventure is showing signs of great promise, with Sam Harris as my guide.

These few paragraphs are being writting to mark an awakening moment I had this morning and to share this story with you, on the offchance it might give you hope to start again.

Waking Up app

I’ve long admired, enjoyed, and learned from Sam Harris, through his thoughtful podcast, Making Sense.

Through his long interviews, I have learned much about time, about beliefs, about sleep, in fact, about many aspects worthy of time in an examined life.

But his interview with Oliver Burkeman was a real turning point.

Burkeman was interviewed about his book, Four Thousand Weeks, which I’ve written about separately, A marketer’s search for meaning: Time to decide what’s important. I was enlivened by his “wake up” call that it’s time to simply accept the horrid brevity of life and get on with what is “important” to you, despite the likelihood that you might never see your project(s) through to fruition.

It was a liberating thought and my first such task was to read his book this summer.

In tandom with this reading journey, I also took the plunge and downloaded Sam’s meditation app, Waking Up, to see if I was “ready” for mindfulness.

Whether I continue this practice through until my “end” or not, I can note that I am now 29 days in, and I’ve bought a lifetime membership to the app.

An insight into the dense busyness of consciousness

This past week, I’ve been holidaying at the beach with my family, so my mindfulness mediation practice has been happening while standing waist high in the warm summer ocean, instead of sitting in a lounge chair.

And, today, a coin dropped.

Sam, as with all the mindfulness meditation teachers or guides I’ve experienced, was asking me to notice things.

He started by asking me to notice my breath (not because it is special or spiritual, but rather because it is “there” and is practical as a reliable “something” to use as a focus), and then he asked me to broaden that awareness to include everything and to accept it all as part of my consciousness.

On this day, in this place, that meant the feeling of buyancy as I stood in the water, the tug and push of the current, the shifting of the sand beneath my feet, the sound of dogs barking on the sand, the call of the gulls that flew past, the paddleboarder, the small boats, the swimmer, the myriad thoughts and emotions and memories that arose, the various reactionary observations of these observations and, last by not least, the steady, diminutive intake and outtake of each breath.

I was standing in a symbol, in an analogy.

My horizon-bordered view with its vast expanse of gentle waves and random interactions, is precisely what consciousness is like at all times.

We each have a torrent of thoughts and sounds and activities and feelings, rising and falling, appearing, dwelling, and disappearing, often returning and recurring, and this abstract notion was grounded for me today in the theatre of the ocean.

It was a “moment”. A moment of profound mindfulness.

Ironically, this moment gave rise to another one which was to to write a blog post to capture this moment for others and to indulge in a little time of remembering as I wrote it down.

Mindfulness mediation is not a medal, it’s a moment

To understand mindfulness meditation (at the early point in my journey where I’m at), is to grasp that “all is now”.

In fact, as I was typing this, the Waking Up app sent me one of its random, daily thought moments, thus:

It’s important not to go through life, merely being enamoured of the idea of being a meditator. Having the concept that you practice meditation, or that you’re generally mindful, or that you’re doing your best to be mindful, isn’t the same as actually noticing thoughts and emotions as they arise and pass away, clearly. It isn’t the same as really breaking the spell, over and over again, as you go about your day. You can’t fake this. And you don’t get credit for trying. You don’t get credit for time spent meditating. It doesn’t matter that you meditated this morning, or that you didn’t. The only point in space and time that you actually get to win this game is this one.

And so, suitably chastened as an eager novice, I am leaving this article here as a point of interest, as a marker of this journey.

As a delightful sidenote, an experience of reflection has given me yet another glimpse into why that title of that incredible book by Milan Kundera has haunted and fascinated me since I first encountered it in Budapest in 1992; The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.

To me, that title has always, achingly encapsulated much, if not all, earthly wisdom, reflection, and experience.

Only, now, through my mindfulness meditation practice, I am beginning to get a deeper appreciation of this.

Let the journey of wonder continue. While it does.