Have you ever taken a vacation and gone to a cabin in the woods? Maybe rented a little place on the north shore? And when the sun is starting to set you come back from a long walk, start a little fire in the stove, and sit in an easy chair. You don’t read. There’s nobody to talk to. And nothing much to do. But you aren’t bored, you aren’t drowsy, you’re just…content.
Why? Well, for one thing, you’ve put aside all the hassles and duties of life. You can’t check your email because there’s no internet. You can’t clean the basement because you don’t have a home to take care of. You don’t need to fret over the kids or the gutters or the dog. You’re free from all these duties. You’re not sleepy because it’s too early. You’re not restless because you just came back from a long walk. You’re not hungry or bored or anything much. Could there be anything better? That bone deep contentment is among the most peaceful, best feelings in the world.
So how did you get there? Not really by getting anything. Mostly by giving things up. Giving up family and home life and work and responsibilities and distractions. This peace of giving things up is too often forgotten, but it’s one of the most beautiful gifts we can give ourselves.
And it’s also the perfect state to do mindfulness.
Most people start trying to do mindfulness too early. They take a mind full of stress and anxiety and try to sit still with the breath. It works but not well. Much better to bring a mind of peace to your meditation. This is the reverse of what most people do. Most people think meditation is to make you peaceful. This is true, but it’s even more powerful the other direction. Right Effort is the suite of practices you can do to calm the mind enough to do good meditation. Don’t even try to do mindfulness meditation until you can do it with that sense of peace like the moment in the cabin. Until then, develop your Right Effort, your right state of mind.
When is the right time to do mindfulness? When you can. If you think you can’t meditate because you are constantly wrestling with “monkey mind”, it’s because you have not developed your practice to the point where mindfulness is ripe. Each thing in it’s time, each thing in its place. And the place for mindfulness meditation is when the mind is ready to relax into that state of calm awareness of the breath. Not before.