On Meditation

Orange DotMy approach to my meditation practice has been pretty straightforward, maybe even simplistic. I cozy myself into the corner of my couch seated in a cross legged position. I grab a blanket and cover myself all the way up to my shoulders. I reach a finger out to set the timer on my phone for twelve minutes. I start the timer, re-cover my finger, and close my eyes. I begin silently reciting my mantra over and over again. And then I start battling the thoughts.

They usually start out benign enough. What should I do after meditation? Oh, I know, I have several emails to reply to. Then maybe I’ll clean the bathroom. After that I should probably get in the shower. Wait. They are just thoughts. Be with them. Let all that go. Return to the breath. Return to now. The thoughts return in a string, sometimes ramping up, wondering what unexpected things await me in the day. How I don’t have time to deal with unexpected right now, maybe next week. Wait. They are just thoughts. Be with them. Let all that go. Return to the breath. Return to now. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until the crickets chirp or the bell sounds.

I take a deep breath. I open my eyes and turn off the timer. Most days I feel deeply contented and focused but on some I feel more agitated and annoyed. It’s a practice I remind myself. Perhaps tomorrow will be different. It’s neither good nor bad. So on and on I go, trying for more days of meditation in a week than days without. Letting each time I sit be what it will be and leaving it at that.

I’ve been realizing something about meditation over the last several months though. It has nothing to do with what happens in those twelve relatively comfy minutes curled into the corner of my couch. That is just practice. Instead it has everything to do with how I take that practice into my daily life. I learned a while ago that this was true on and off the yoga mat, but meditation, too? Wow!

When I am in some of my most uncomfortable places I’m finding myself having to return to the pattern of Wait. They are just thoughts. Be with them. Let all that go. Return to the breath. Return to now. It is when I am in hurt, fear, or disappointment that I struggle to be most present to what arises. I feel the hurt, fear, or disappointment well up inside me after I’ve dared to be courageous and vulnerable, to open my heart to the hope for yes but finding no instead or worse yet no answer whatsoever.

My mind’s default position is to shut hurt, fear, and disappointment down immediately, to push them aside and pretend they don’t matter. How easy it suddenly is to rid my mind of thoughts! Then to protect myself further I begin spackling shut that little crack in my heart and for good measure building an entirely new wall around it. It’s a cycle of events I’ve practiced for years and years. It has not necessarily served me well.

In recent months I’ve been trying a new tact. I let the hurt, fear, or disappointment have their say. I try not to usher them out of the door immediately. I sit with the thoughts and try to figure out why they’ve really come to visit. What’s at the root of the hurt or fear or disappointment? Can I bear to be with that for even a few breaths? Then before they take over filling me with a narrative that is more wild invention and interpretation than the reality of the present, I attempt to let it all go. I breathe deeply and return to what I know to be true in this moment. Then I repeat as necessary, again and again and again.

This is much harder work than just tamping out the hurt, fear, and disappointment. It’s constant practice moving from my old, engrained habit to this new, barely formed habit. I believe it is worth the effort though. This acknowledging of hurt, fear, and disappointment is a connection to humanity. I am not the first person nor will I be the last to feel these, to think they are unbearable, and to come out on the other side better for the experience, awful as it may be at the time. Perhaps most importantly, it is creating a connection between my head and my heart. And just maybe, occasionally, letting my heart lead the way.