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Entries in meditation (8)


What I Learned From Sitting Around

In December I was increasingly frantic and disconnected from any sense of well-being when a friend challenged me to meditate.  30 minutes for 30 days.  I was sort of desperate for any way to stem the feeling of walls closing in around me so I took her up on it.  I wrote here about the immediate experience I had of holding space for myself in a life that often feels like it's about doing my duty towards my child, my marriage, my family, and my job first. 

It's been about 45 days now and the strangling claustrophobia has largely lifted.  I'm not sure if this is due entirely to the practice of sitting in the mornings, but I think it's a positive element in a regime of self-care I'm trying to faithfully implement.  Some things I've noticed:

  • I'm not really good at meditation, at least what I imagine capital-M Meditation is like.  In a single sit I consider it a win if I have a couple of breaths where my mind is focused only on that moment.
  • My mind is like an unruly toddler, constantly flitting from one trivial thing to the next.  I don't tend to notice that in my daily life so much, since I'm constantly being bombarded by stimuli and expected to get things done.  But when I'm sitting silently in the dark, the speed with which my mind alights from one thing to the next is staggering.  I write whole blog posts in a single exhale.  And forget them on the inhale while I imagine something else.  It can be exhausting.  And sometimes, when I'm in the mood to judge myself, disheartening.
  • The Present must be just awful.  I mean I know with certainty, now that I've tried for a month-and-a-half to be in it, that it's not really awful.  But somehow my mind (all our minds, I think) does not want to be there.  Wants to avoid it like the plague.  I wonder what that's about.
  • Breathing is hard.  Maybe it's because I fell off the yoga-wagon shortly after Ezra was born, and so haven't had any kind of pranayama practice in three years, but damn if I can sustain any kind of deep, intentional breathing.  Even after 6 weeks.  
  • Thirty minutes is a long time.  Well, not really.  But it is when you need to do it - and your morning pages and your run - before your child wakes up.  I did 30 minutes every morning for the first 30 days, but in an effort to make the practice sustainable and in a belief that even a little bit of meditation is better than none, I've scaled it back to 15 minutes every morning.
  • Even if I'm doing it wrong, it's the right thing to do.  Mostly I just give myself permission to be a bad meditator.  Some mornings I beat myself up about it, and then I try to remind myself that it's okay if I'm not really in whatever peaceful state I imagine meditation is supposed to bring.  In a life chock full of somuchtodorightnowrightnowrightnownomakethatyesterday I am pretty sure there's medicine in forcing myself to sit alone and do nothing for a few minutes, while the sun comes up.


This Christmas break contains nearly everything I have asked for: quiet, underscheduled, uncrowded.  I am trying to honor the simple rhythm of tasks that must get done.  Stove stoked.  Meditate.  Breakfast.  Dishes.  Play Dough.  Wood split.  Firewood loaded.  Sledding.  Snack.  Nap.  Etc.

It sounds more peaceful than I feel.

I am halfway through my 30-day meditation challenge.  I imagined claiming space for this would bathe me in a peaceful, dreamy light, but it hasn't really been like that.  It's been like watching my mind quiver and buzz and alight onto a million trivial things that I would like to care less about.  It's been observing that even when I give myself room to be alone, I bring with me a dozen real or perceived snipes, snubs and gripes that I know I need to let go.  I know.  But here we are, sitting in the dark and quiet together.  I notice that I feel alone, and not in the good way.

I am thinking a lot about 2012 in the quiet of this week.  Considering what to invite with me and what to leave behind.  What to cleave to, and what to be cleaved from.  More doing.  Less thinking.  More alone.  More together.  More dreams.  Less doubts.  More hope.  Less reason.  More movement.  More rhythm.  More joy.  Yes, please.


Hold The Space

Certain gifts are so much easier to give others than to give ourselves.

To be present.  To listen well.  To accept without judgement.

These are gifts I want to offer to the important people in my community and I hope that I succeed in that, at least sometimes.  But I am not in the practice of offering these to myself.  I am not in the practice of receiving them from myself.

I noticed this, as I sat in the dark with only the sounds of my breath and the the furnace cycling on to warm the house before daybreak.

It's hard, sometimes, to know how much space to take in the world.  I don't know if I've grown lately and am straining against the edges of a container that used to be comfortable.  Or maybe the shape has just shifted and the new corners are irritating me but I'll stop noticing as soon as I form new calluses.

In the dark I can't see where I end and the world begins.  An image of my internal space materializes in my mind, a cramped and partitioned apartment building with lots of doors and not enough light.  That's not how I want to look inside.  Internally I want to be a vast meadow where the breeze ripples tall grass and any sound could echo for miles. 


So far it's worth it, trading 30 minutes of sleep for quiet, dark wakefulness.  It feels like a gift to myself, holding the space for an endless landscape to unfurl inside me, where I can stretch out and breathe.


Breathing Practice

Sometimes it's embarrassing how long it takes me to notice the obvious. Even after I admitted in public that I skipped out on shooting a rare-ish celestial event (that happened right in front of me, when I was sitting there with all the appropriate gear) it didn't really occur to me that I should do something about this hunger for solitude.

You know, since I'm so busy and engaged with people in Very Important Ways all the time.

I was explaining all this to a friend Monday, and she challenged me invited me to commit to meditate for thirty minutes every day for thirty days. Just to see what happens. I recognize that a meditation challenge sounds like something of an oxymoron, but it had the ring of a good idea. As I thought about it I noticed, right, I need alone time.  I can make that happen.  I just have to decide to create the space for it.

I tested the hypothesis that this would be worth trading a half-hour of sleep for, and crept out of bed at 5:00am yesterday. It was nice, sitting there alone in the dark, even if the thing I noticed most of all is that my breath was shallow and uneven and I couldn't really moderate it the way I wanted. 



It's not as easy as it sounds.

I used to be very good at breathing, and I never realized it was the sort of thing you have to practice. But it was obvious as I sat there that I have forgotten how to breathe. That seems like a good thing to notice.


I'm going to try not to be too hard on myself.  I'm going to try to just show up for myself every day for a month, the way I show up for work, or for Ezra, or for meetings at school.  I'm going to try to remember how to breathe.  We'll see what comes.


And Finally, The Point

I was going somewhere with all this about meditation and cupcakes

Though I got permission from a colleague to blame the holidays for the grinding unease that has settled on me, I think this is more like Day 5 of Vipassana.  The moment where I realized that I had the feeling I was searching for, and then promptly blew it away with the immediate clutching, grasping, craving.

In the midst of the World's Longest Uninterrupted Good Mood (see also, September and October) I got the feeling of riding along on a flow of inspiration.  Not just riding it or letting it flow through me, but actually being made of it.  It sounds kind of silly as I type this, but I actually thought I had crossed over into some new way of being in the world.  I thought I had found my way into some secret space that only people more actualized than me already knew about.

Well I didn't. 

Or that place doesn't exist, and what is true is that sometimes you're in the flow and sometimes you're out of it but either way there's no use flailing about or clutching.  It's liquid, after all, and it slips through your fingers.  Better to just relax and point your feet downstream and float it while you can.  That's my current theory anyway.

So here I am washed up on the banks, a little bit bruised from flailing on the rocks.  But the grinding unease finally reminded me

chew the cupcake chew the cupcake chew the cupcake chew the cupcake chew the cupcake chew the cupcake chew the cupcake

I'm trying. 

This one's three and determined lately to bend me to his will, but he's eminently chewable.

This one's been remarkably patient with me during the end of the Good Mood. 

This is my job, good work that is its own reward. 

This is me, chewing, somewhere in the struggle to just pause, in the moment, instead of rushing forward or leaning backward.  Considering what it would take to see patience as a belief that all things happen in their right time.