Monday, July 26, 2010

Zen and the art of "American Chopper"

As a student and teacher of yoga, and long time practitioner of mindfulness meditation I tend to feel as if I am pretty chill about most things. I eat a simple but healthy diet, my husband, John and I got rid of our microwave oven in 2007, and our cable TV last March (we don’t miss either one), I don’t watch the news or read the daily newspaper (if something major happens, I’ll hear about it). Life is distilled down to its essence and I like it that way.

So you can imagine how astonished I was to find myself freaking out recently at the fact that I had become "addicted" to “American Chopper” (that crazy show on TLC that focuses on the Teutul family and their dysfunctional relationships while building bad-ass choppers and building a chopper empire). Despite getting rid of cable TV, John and I still have Netflix streaming through our digital cable and straight into the tube (500 movies and/or TV shows available at the blink of an eye-yikes!). This I am sorry to say, is worse than having cable in many ways.

Anyway, back to that addiction. While eating breakfast and lunch, I would cycle through the Netflix offerings, and watch a movie over the course of several meals, or watch one TV episode per meal until all of the episodes were complete-you get the picture.

One day several months ago, I stumbled upon “American Chopper” Season One and thought to myself; “this might be interesting.” Five seasons and two months later I finished the last episode that NetFlix offered...the END! What? No more family drama? No more pimped out choppers? The day I discovered I had gotten to the end, I felt as if I couldn't eat without the Teutuls and their choppers. I ended up watching one of the first episodes again just to finish my meal. It was then that I came to the realization that I was addicted (or attached as we say in yoga and meditation) to the idea of eating and watching TV . I had somehow fallen away from my mindfulness training and put it aside in favor of mindlessly shoving food down my throat while numbing my brain with chopper nonsense. Isn't it amazing how silently and slowly we sink into the abyss of mindlessness? Mindlessness is how we're conditioned to live these days. We're bombarded daily by a world that tells us that it's good to multi-task, to "plug-in" to "check out" with TV, prescription drugs (can't sleep? Take an Ambien!, Feel sad? Take a Prozac!), our ever-present cell phones (eat, talk and drive at the same time!), computers, text messages, financial worries. Mindfulness brings us back to the reality that this moment is all we ever have. It brings us back to our true nature which is stillness and simplicity. I let "American Chopper" take me away from my stillness (operative words "I let").

So a week ago, I decided to find my Zen again and started to eat my meals in silence. Breakfast that first day was wonderful. I chewed, tasted, and listened to the sounds of birds out in the backyard. I felt the food, smelled the food, tasted the food with mindfulness and was more satisfied in eating it than I can remember. I stopped eating when I was full (not like the usual-stop eating when the show ends). It was a lovely breakfast.

Then lunchtime came around. I prepared my meal and sat in my usual spot. I started chewing and instantly had an overwhelming urge to turn the TV on. Whew. What did I do? I ate, I watched that urge grow, and then I watched it dissolve when I didn't act on it. When the next urge popped up to open a magazine, I ate, I watched that urge grow, and then I watched it dissolve. And so it continued until the end of the meal. After several meals of just eating and watching, the urges to distract myself from the moment became less and less. The feeling of satisfaction of staying in the moment became more and more apparent.

This is the heart of mindfulness practice, I believe: to be present, here in this moment, to watch what comes up and to act accordingly (not react). I'm not saying that one should never eat while watching TV or that "American Chopper" or TV for that matter is evil (the Teutul's, Vinnie, Rick and the gang are BAD-ASS!). I'm saying that whatever you are doing, be doing it. If you're eating, just be eating. If you're talking on the cell phone, be talking on the cell phone (not driving, talking and trying to listen to the GPS all at once-CRASH!). If you're indulging in a little "American Chopper" therapy, just be watching "American Chopper" (not watching the show, painting your nails and flipping through the newest copy of "The Rolling Stone"). Be available to the moment in all of it's complexities or simplicity. Be available to the stillness within, don't run from it or cover it over with mindless "fluff".

I've been eating my meals mindfully for seven straight days and am happy to say that mindfulness has become my new habit. Life is good. I wish you all the miracle of mindfulness. Namaste...