sit on a small wooden bench with yourself

Posted on November 7th, 2012

This is a meditation trick I learned years ago. It’s simple and sweet. And I revert to it often. You might like it in these noisy, frenetic times we’re having just now.

Photo by Anne He

I’ve mentioned before how much I struggle with meditation. But every day I sit down and do it. Twice a day. For three years now. I don’t descend or transcend. It’s a war for me. Over time I’ve been able to – briefly, tentatively – touch that still, mind-less, space. Even just for a few seconds. Before I recoil again, back to my cascading thoughts.

Once you’ve gingerly reached out and touched that space, even if only for a few delicate moments, there’s no going back. You need to know it better, you need to go there again. Like tasting salty chocolate.  And, really, there’s no choice. The lid’s been lifted, the scab’s been removed.

At a yoga retreat a few years back – before I learned to meditate in the vedic style – I found a way to hold it a little longer. I arrived at the collection of rambling wooden huts tucked into dense bushland late for a three-day intensive. It’s cold on this side of the mountain and the currawongs are doing that sad, lonely aw-awww. I do these retreats, but I tell you, I arrive kicking and screaming , fidgety and cynical and worried about sharing bunk beds with strangers and doing sing-alongs after dinner.

And constipated. I always, always get constipated. I pass through the gates of the retreat centre and it’s like everything just jams right up, like the kid that’s told to share his bag of lollies and reluctantly holds out his stach, but gripping it from below so only one or two can be picked out.

You don’t have to be Louise Hay to see what this is about. When forced to connect and share, I “hold on” to my crap. I can’t flee, either others nor myself. I grip even tighter. I’ve done a few of these workshops and retreats over the years. Always, without fail, on the last day as we do our final class or meditation, I finally let go.

I poo. Then I cry. Then I drive home.

Too much? Sorry.

In the late afternoon on day three we were sitting in an old scout hall, the doors flung open to bushland. A shaft of light streamed in, warming my eyelids. I’d just done two days of opening asana. And now we had to meditate for a full hour. I’d never sat still that long. I gripped. Every cell of my being wanted to run. To climb a tree. Couldn’t we just talk about meditating in expansive ways over rooibos tea from the urn in the common room?  But I sat and followed the instructions. Deb, the teacher told us to:

Turn your awareness to your heart chakra. Now imagine you’re sitting on a small bench with yourself in this space in the centre of your chest.

Just hanging out in each other’s company.

There I was. Yes I had it. I was sitting on a backless, worn wooden bench and to the right of me, sitting quietly on the bench, was me. We’re looking out at the view, over treetops down to an ocean. We ‘re just hanging.

My head started analyzing and pulling back to commentate. Wow! Wait till I tell everyone about this in the post-meditation chat. I go back to looking forward and just knowing that I’m there brings me back to just hanging.

“Now hold that feeling,” Deb says.

I held the feeling. It felt like the end of a sigh.

Or climbing into your own bed after being away for a week.

The smells and the warmth hugged at my being. And I didn’t want to run from it like I normally did, back to my thoughts and my scheduling and thinking about what I’d eat for dinner when I got back to Sydney. A kookaburra cackled and the afternoon turned melancholy, as it does for me when the day’s light fades. But I stayed with the feeling. I felt solid. Yes, solid. I had nowhere to go.

And slowly I started to smile. I found it funny. There “I” was, right here with me. It was funny in the way that a kid finds it softly, self-consciously funny when they realize their Dad has played a trick on them. A dawning funny.

I realized in that moment, all this time, I’d been there all along.

Why did this resonate for me? Did it pour water on my compulsive need to start scheduling and thinking about what came next? Yeah. But there was something more. I had the overwhelming understanding that everything I needed was right here. No need to dart and dash.

Nowhere to go.

I’d read about this many times before – finding that still spot beyond the ego. Eckhart Tolle conveys it by inviting you to ask Who Am I?

When you ask “Who Am I” deeply, over and over, without trying too hard for the answer, it eventually dawns on you: who, then, is asking the question?

“I” am asking the question. As in, the vast Big “I” that’s always there, able to ask questions of myself – the little “i”, gently and patiently. This existential riddle, I’d always “got it” cerebrally and philosophically. But now, tentatively, with the low sun warming my eyelids, I was feeling it. Really feeling it. The realization rushed up my spine.

There on the bench was Sarah-The-Person, with four limbs, a lazy eye and an emotional attachment to chocolate. I could see her. In that moment I dropped fully into the calm, patient “I”, aware that this Sarah-the-person next to me was nattering away in her head, berating herself for eating too much dahl at lunch, debating whether to change the cross of her legs because goddamn it’s fallen asleep again. And I felt for her. I felt compassion and kindness and in that moment I found Sarah-The-Person a rather funny little thing, sitting there with her on the bench.

Hey, I said to me. I reckon I get it.

You might like to try this technique? Quietly sit on a bench…just for 3-5 minutes. Tell me if it works for you.


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  • Hi Sarah, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. For past couple of years Ive been practising guided meditation and have found it empowering and grounding. How wonderful you found Sarah-the-Person and when that happens to me I know I am enough as I am, I am a part of all that is.


  • yvonne

    Made me smile, I can so relate to this 🙂 Thank you.


  • Thank you so much Sarah. I’ve been wondering about meditation, but stubbornly refusing (or unable) to sit down and do it. So many of us connect with your writing and your ideas. I’ve been wondering about this connection. This morning it dawned on me that you’re a much needed role model when it comes to health. To read about and watch a well known person talk passionately about honest to goodness healthy living – in a world full of botox, fast living and superficiality – is such a breath of fresh air. It is soul food in so many ways.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Well Jacinta, that just made my day! x


  • Smudge

    This was written so beautifully and succinctly…..could have been just for me. I so got it especially ” I realized in that moment, all this time, I’d been there all along.” I burst into tears reading this!
    I love the idea of sitting next to Me…..couldn’t think of a nicer person to sit with and share my thoughts. Thank you!


  • I often get caught up in perfecting my imagery when I’m meditating. My internal conversations go something like this:

    I: “Okay, so we’re sitting on a beautiful wooden bench…”
    i: “Can it be made of oak? Cos that’s nice and pretty and symbolic.”
    I: “Okay, a beautiful oak bench…”
    i: “Wait, no, it’s made of recycled timber. Yeah, that’s appropriately meditative. Recycled timber, that’s clever!”
    I: “It’s not about being clever, it’s about being present. Okay, so we’re sitting on a beautiful wooden bench made of recycled timber…”
    i: “Looking over a mountain! Wait, no, the ocean! Wait, no, a beautiful valley! And it’s autumn. No, I like it better when it’s green, how about Spring? Okay? Spring.”
    I: “Okay, okay – beautiful bench, recycled timber, valley, green, Spring, got it. Can we *please* meditate now?”
    i: “Okay… (split second of silence) But just so you know, there are lots of beautiful trees in the valley…”
    I: “Ooooh, that sounds pretty. What type?”

    Apparently I need to poo too!!!


    Nicky Reply:

    you’re funny!


    seeker Reply:

    hey i know that I …. and the i too!
    very funny & very familiar Jess!!


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Even the Dalai Lama does the same…hunt down the interview with him that I did a while back…


  • C

    Wow- a really beautiful post.
    I remember hearing the Dalai Lama saying he tries to meet everyone as an old friend- it sounds like this might be doing that… with yourself.
    I’m going to try this technique and see how I go 🙂


  • Sarah

    you make me smile x


  • Pippa

    This is gorgeous Sarah, just what I need right now! And I love love love the ‘kid with the lolly bag’ analogy. Off to sit on a bench with myself now, see you later. x


  • michael

    Mmmm .. like a lovely clear running stream .. inviting you to drink from it and immerse yourself .. this is what I come back for


  • seeker

    ah this is gorgeous, i love this, thanks sarah!

    i am so glad to know there are others like that out there!!!

    i am always signing up to workshops & courses and i am sooooo excited at the time of booking, excited about what i’m going to learn and what a great teacher it is etc, etc … and then a day or two before it begins, i start tightening up!! yes, in every way!

    “i don’t wanna go” i moan to myself, then the other me says “yes you do – you bloody couldn’t wait for this – why’d you pay so much money for it if you don’t wanna go?!”
    i think of a hundred reasons why it couldn’t be a worse time to be doing this, etc etc!
    i just baffle myself with the resistance!
    it freaks me out, and i’m ALWAYS late!

    and then i end up LOVING it, like i’ve totally shifted … and it always brings a new dimension to my life & those around me …

    sarah – next time you get a chance, do a pranayama workshop with clive sheridan … it will move you and still you in all the ways you’d benefit from!!
    (someday i’ll tell you what it did for me!!! – too embarrassing for public reading!)
    suffice it to say that i’ll be going back for another one though! (and i think there’s one coming up in sydney just before christmas)

    lovely post in so many ways, will deffo be trying this technique too! thank you!



  • Avigayil

    Oooooooohhhhhh….can so relate to this. Especially the retreat part. I mean wtf…have left retreats feeling so not satisfied…#%#
    Have tried the “inner child” thing but it missed the mark for me and, for my money, focused way too much on negatives.
    This is so simple. So profound and beautiful.
    Thank you Sarah. You made me laugh (with real empathy I might add) when I needed it
    and then you shared with me something so precious. ((HUGS)) x


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    ohhhh, nice feedback! xx


  • Linda

    Your post made me cry.
    I dont know quite why exactly. I guess I have never made much time to hang out with me. We sat on the bench. I looked at her ( me I guess ) and I felt sad. Really sad.
    She is kind, she is funny, she loves her kids more than life, she had a tough yukky childhood, but she survived it. I think I really like her. I think we are going to hang out together a bit more.
    Thanks Sarah, from the bottom of my wooden bench and back xo


  • I need to learn to meditate. The closest I’ve gotten was to order an eBook on my iPad at 11pm one night and have a flick through it. I work too much. I can’t switch my brain off. I need to chill, and find some time to learn how to do it.


  • Beautifully written and beautifully honest. I need to start meditation but I can’t yet get myself to. Soon!


  • Thanks for reminding me what I’ve been missing! I did a Vipassana retreat a few years ago which was profoundly life changing but have fallen out of the habit of practicing. Meditation is like exercise. It’s easy to let other priorities get in the way so you ‘don’t have time for it’, but it’s absolutely essential for good health and wellbeing. And when you make the time, the rewards are immediate, not just for yourself but for those around you. Because you are a better you!


  • Lisa Ingram

    I really like that idea of being able to step back and simply observe/examine. Never realised that was what people get out of meditation. I’m like Jess+Sparow+Sea – oh the internal monologue! I forget if I shared this on another post, but once we had to gaze into a person’s eyes for 2 minutes. Everyone raved about how they connected, or reached the stillness, or whatever. I was kind-of, yeah, mm, lovely, so nice (thinking, Not!). The faciliator said after much listening and acknowledging everyone’s experience “Lovely feedback. Now, did anyone just…count?” That was me! (Deep insight following: Now I know why too – I can never NOT poo!) Lisa


  • lopsy

    I like your softness and vulnerability, even though I see you as a tall and solid tree, in my mind.
    You made me cry a little…..

    Thanks x


  • Sarah, thank you. This advice is perfect, simple, and something I immediately understand in a grounded-in-feeling type of way. Reading it makes me feel relieved, content, understood, hopeful. WOMAN you’re wise, refreshing, hilarious, a deep breath of gorgeous fresh air!

    And look at these comments – what an amazing, profound impact your beautiful post is having on us already. Imagine the ripple effects. Astounding!

    Love it!


  • Anthony

    I have spent quite a bit of time in the wilderness in meditation. I truly believe that with a good diet and exercise, meditation is healing my auto-immune system. I don’t know of any better way. You just have to do it.


  • Nancy

    I’ve tried some different types of meditation by myself and the way my mind works it’s much easier to used guided meditation than to clear my mind. Maybe I should create my on guided thought meditation like the bench, and to relax about it, let me just ‘hang out’ as opposed to feeling this overwhelming pressure to let go and achieve absolute mental stillness. I’m furious trying to be still. Pointless! Relax, enjoy the quiet and just be.

    Also in yoga class when it gets to the meditation part I always spend the whole time thinking ‘don’t fall asleep!’ and ‘don’t fart!’ so I’m not relaxed. Better to meditate in the privacy of my own home.


  • Maree

    Thank you, Sarah, thank you.


  • Lauren

    Sarah can I ask where you did this retreat? I’ve been doing a meditation group for a year now but I’m really wanting to go on a great retreat but have not turned up much in my search.
    The name of the retreat would be great, thanks.


  • Selena

    Oh Sarah, I really relate to you!
    Over the last few months I have been going through a pretty rough time and my wonderful sister reminded me: ‘you need to process these emotions don’t just clam up otherwise you will get emotionally constipated….just like when you were a little girl.. always getting constipated (literally)’.
    People tell me I am a wonderfully confident public speaker, and truth be known I really don’t get nervous…I far less fear talking to a crowd of 1000s about something thought-based than having an intimate meaningful conversation with just one other person. When I am taken out of my comfort zone…I emotionally freeze up, but this must also extend to physical symptoms (hence the constipation)…when I travel, when people are staying at my house etc.
    I think it is natural though….as humans we fear what we need the most – meaningful connections. But somewhere along the way we have learnt that this all so important thing (connectivity) can also bring such damaging consequences, proportional to its strength, and as such we freeze up and avoid over-indulging/sharing. According to most personality profiling tests I am an extrovert, but occassionally I need to stop and be alone to process deep thoughts and feelings so they (and other bodily fns) can flow… some people find this strange…others are offended that I don’t talk/share my intimate grieving with them….but I think it is important not to lose the intimate r/ship with ourselves…I haven’t been taught to ‘mediate’ perse but maybe this is what I am doing?


  • lis

    come sit down beside me, I said to myself
    and although it doesn’t make sense
    I held my own hand as a sign of small trust
    and together we sat on the fence.


  • I really resonated with the constipation – I had something similar happen to me at a health retreat recently but didn’t piece it all together. Mystery solved. Thanks for being so open Sarah


  • Sher Bear

    THANK YOU for this Sarah! Your words resonate with me in such a strong way. You make me feel normal-ish… errr…. or at least like I am not alone on this crazy exciting adventure of life. xo


  • What a BEAUTIFUL post. x


  • Sarah, this is exquisitely expressed. What a hoot! My retention strategy of choice is vaginal herpes or a urinary tract infection on the day before a retreat. Not sure if it’s more or less painful but same stuff. As Mary O’Malley so poignantly exprsses What’s In The Way Is The Way. So your meditation struggle is simply perfect. It’s also a reminder to all of us who meditate that we’re all in it together often frustrated not with mediation but ourselves in the way of the lolly gobble bliss bomb.


  • Nicky

    You are such a classic! I love your candidness about all things poo. I too am a unwilling poo witholder and as I meander up very close to the big 4.0. I am only just beginning to get when and why this happens! I so know that I need to sit quietly with myself more often, thanks for reminding me! PS. On week 4 of IQS experiment (former chocolate addict)…loving it..gently!


  • Angie

    Thanks Sarah for this lovely thoughtful post. Comes at the right time as I too struggle every day but once there know how beneficial it is then and there sitting still and later throughout the day. I’m doing the chopra 21 day meditation challenge now to help me make this practice consistent. Namaste


  • Kate

    After 40 years Me and I picked up and took ourselves on a yoga retreat this year on the other side of the country. People asked did I take a friend, they wouldn’t have understood the absolute yearning just to be somewhere with myself and no other voices and energies rushing in to fill the space. I wasn’t sick of other people so much as I was sick of myself – with other people. No I didn’t take a friend, I took my original friend, my best friend – the smartest, funniest, coolest person I know and by the end of the retreat we were one person not two. A deeply relaxed, truly authentic smiling person stepped off the plane at the end, but within 5 minutes of the usual household, business, chaos arising in front of my eyes and before I had even unpacked the Tshirt that stated where I had been…. Crap! gone again, split in two. This morning I read your post, I saw her out of the corner of my eye, reading over my shoulder and a wave of compassion hit me. We are all just trying to do the best we can, be the best we can and it is so difficult. I can’t meditate to save myself (literally) but I can sit awhile in the company of such an old and comforting friend and it is so deeply relaxing to feel that authentic skin beneath the layers that we put on without realising. Thanks for the post Sarah.


  • Kay

    So enjoy reading your web site I also wish I could find that special place may be one day !


  • Oh my – it works for me just reading this post. I thinks its your most insightful ever. Thank you. Sincerely.
    Am trying this – not sure if I can/should share on your comments but you can always remove if its inappropriate – I don’t think it will be.


  • Hey Sarah, I totally relate to this. It sounds as if you were writing about me. Isn’t it strange how our emotions are directly related to our gut? Finally letting go, we are able to go…I wonder when I will ever truly live that?


  • lucy

    So touching. I rather like that Sarah person too. She has had some good thoughts and I have found a lot of her advice to be useful for my own little person who is sitting next to me at the computer right now.

    Thanks again.


  • I just love what you have to say Sarah. Oddly, I had a realllly vivid dream the other night with yu in it. I won’t go into the details because dream re-telling is the stuff yawns are made of – but I think it was telling me to make some health changes, currently doing the Deepak Chopra 21 day meditation challenge and tonight, I might give this a go – sitting with myself.


  • Great post Sarah. I do vedic meditation too but am new to it so I’d love to know what keeps you going if you find it a struggle? Do you simply trust in the process, believing you’ll eventually find it ‘effortless’ or did you see immediate and profound benefits/ changes (I know you said you got the MC gig soon after but it sounded like you were almost unaware of the change?). Are you seeing the benefits progressively?

    I love the ‘time-out’ aspect and do feel there are some positives in the way I interact with the world from it but my Dad is not so sure. I got him to give it a go as I think he REALLY needs it and while he’s continued to do it for a couple of months now he doesn’t think it has changed anything. My own experiences have been positive but not profound enough to convince him to keep at it perhaps.

    I might send him this post. He has quit sugar thanks to you (he just would NOT believe me that orange juice had sugar until you told him).

    By the way, I know this is cheating and totally NOT how to do vedic meditation but I added in a little bench meditation before my vedic meditation tonight (I often start with your ‘soft eyes’ as well). I spontaneously smiled. I’m going to do one on it’s own tomorrow! I always look to Winnie the Pooh as my zen master so hope meditation will make me think like him one day. Case in point:
    “What day is it?”
    “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
    “My favorite day,” said Pooh.”


  • Anne

    Hi Sarah,
    I don’t reply to stuff very often. But this one I do. This is so magic. I have tried for years to mediate and have been having private lessons for the last couple of months and I get what you are talking about. I am going to try this. It feels so right. Thank you for sharing this. And while I am here you have helped me so much. I have hashimotos, fructose malabsorption and very recently osteoporosis and heamochromotis. I read your post about three months ago and now eat a basically paleo diet. My TSH level is the best it has been in years and I am so rarely bloated. Thank you for your blog. It is inspirational.


  • Kat

    Absolutely beautiful imagery Sarah, very moving. You are so rich with your language and generous with your words, thank you. Love how open and honest you are too 🙂


  • Helen

    I’m loving Friday’s when your email arrives! Especially loved this one about finding that gentle place where everything is fine and there’s nowhere to rush off to. Meditations can be made so complex these days and I like that you’ve made it simple so that anyone can go there. With love…


  • Aviva

    I read this article the day you posted it. This morning I headed out to the small wooden bench in my overgrown back ‘garden’ with two mugs. One a warm lemon water and the other a strong coffee – both for myself. I laughed a little because I thought back to this article and how it seemed as though I was bringing a drink for, well, the two ‘me’s’. The small wooden bench part was purely coincidental. It’s nice to sit with yourself as a friend side by side. You humanise yourself again and feel ok about any flaws, rather than being finger pointingly spiteful. I talk to myself out there. The abrupt ‘surface’ me becomes the vessel for the inner (I guess emotional?) me.


  • PK

    Last time I read your blog you were going to find yourself or something Europe…no comments about how that went??? Guess it didn’t happen??


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