I think the automatic car wash is a holy place. Those seven minutes belong all to me and can turn a crummy day around every time. I love the sounds made by the scrubbers, the blowers, the jet-spray hoses. I love the gentle rocking of my tiny Pruis as the huge foamy, floppy rubber tendrils slap at the door and roof. I love watching the water bead on the windshield and then scurry away as I slowly inch forward under the dryer.
I had a few minutes to kill last week, so I swung into the Valvoline. I tried to synchronize my breath as the wash shifted through its various functions. Over too soon, I sighed as the sign changed to green, indicating my ride was over. As I crept forward, trying to enjoy every second of the blower, a ray of sun slanted through my windshield, blinding me. I put the car in park and gazed around in wonder.
The world was in hyper-focus; life seemed to have added another dimension. The zooming cars on the by-pass stood in stark contrast to the puffs of white magic that hung suspended in the pale blue sky. The silver water droplets on my hood shone like diamonds.
I hadn’t realized how filthy my windshield had been, was unaware that I had been seeing the world through a smudged and grimy lens for weeks. That car wash literally gave me a new perspective.
The Yoga Sutras is a sacred, four thousand-year old guide to living a meaningful, purposeful life. The text contains 196 slokas, or short sayings that would be easy to remember (the Sanskrit word sloka means song or slogan). This makes sense, since the Sutras were compiled during a time when the teachings would have been passed orally from teacher to student. Slogans and songs are far easier to memorize than long passages of text.
Of all the sutras, the second one pretty much sums up everything I love about this ancient practice:
Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah, which translates to yoga calms the fluctuations of the mind.
It’s useful to remember that yoga, as practiced 2,000 years ago, was more a spiritual directive than calisthenics. When the ancients speak of yoga, they were not referring to the yoga poses but instead to any endeavor that connected them to God and elevated their conscious awareness.
Every day, when I show up on my meditation mat, my mind is like that dirty windshield. I am distracted by thoughts and plans, worries and projections, perceptions and memories, opinions and judgments, comparisons and feelings, wave after wave after wave of complete mental garbage. After a few minutes of deep breathing, those waves –fluctuations – calm down. As mindfulness teachers are so fond of reminding us, “Only when the water is still can we see to the bottom of the pond.”
We cannot remove all of our thoughts, now should we try. Without thoughts, the mind does not exist. Neither is it about controlling the mind. It’s about coming to rest at the center of all the garbage thoughts, about experiencing life through the clearest lens we can manage.
Mindfulness is both the path and the final goal.
Intentional breathing trains us to observe our thoughts and calm the waves of ephemeral noise that is our mind. This is great news, because intentional breathing is available to everyone at all times. It only asks us to get still and pay attention, every breath clearing the dead bugs and bird poop from the windshield our mind.