Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wellness Wednesday --Meditation

I finally get it.  For years I have had all sorts of input about meditation, all of which made me fail.  Here are a few-- do you relate?

You have to be disciplined, it is part of the practice. Some Buddhist friends get up in the cold and dark at 5AM whether they want to or not and sit. For me, I can't do it first thing in the morning. I fall back asleep. While I understand the body is purer if this kind of meditation is done on an empty stomach, for me it becomes about overcoming hunger, not being in the now. Being raised Roman Catholic, I understand the discipline/sacrifice/pain part, but I don't want to associate any more negatives with meditation than I already do. 

In college, I took a meditation class. In those days, TM (Transcendental Meditation) still dominated from the 60's.  I was to sit on a pillow or on the hard floor with my back rigid, in a lotus position, hands forming a certain pose, and not move for an hour. If I had an itch, I could not scratch it, if my knee hurt I couldn't move, etc...   Not to mention that in trying to empty my mind so that it was a total blank, and only be aware of my breathing, those first few thoughts that could not be controlled -- the monkey mind -- totally threw me off.  I had no idea how to control them, and oh the self flagellation that occurred after 10 minutes of failure at this! Like a diet you mess up by dinner time on day one you think, I ruined it!  I have to wait til next time now. But first I have to sit for the rest of the hour in this class, crawling out of my skin. Let's just say it's a miracle my hair didn't burst into flames from the stress.  Isn't meditation supposed to help stress?  

Needless to say, I abandoned THAT. Thinking back I'm amazed that there weren't ways to ease a beginner into these things.  Maybe my teacher just wasn't that great. But it seemed these "rules" were pretty consistent everywhere I turned.

And then there were mantras you could repeat to help the overactive mind have something to do to eventually lead to focus and emptiness. They seemed very mysterious to me... you had a special secret word, that had to be given to you by a bona fide guru... It was a sanskrit word and no one was to ever know it, and you were up shits creek if you forgot it.  Since I did not see myself following the Beatles to India to see the likes of someone like Sai Baba anytime soon, that route was nixed.

Through the years I listened to dozens of Ram Dass tapes, in which I learned that even he struggled with these things. So people who go to mountain tops and fast and meditate for 18 hours a day for weeks and months also want to scratch that itch on their ear? Apparently so.

I could give a zillion more examples, and I know there is one for each person who might be reading this to relate to. And if you and I were sitting in a coffee shop talking about this, of course we could cover all the nuances, and I could explain that now I understand what is behind the things I wrote about above NOW that half my life is over, if not 3/4 of it. (Isn't that funny about life? Just as you're beginning to get it, you're either getting too old to do much about it, or you die, lol. But that's a WHOLE other post)

I guess what I'm here to say is --throw it all away if THAT's what's preventing you. 

#1, you can start with 10 minutes. Or five.  Set a clock if you have to so you won't have to worry about checking. And if you check the first few times, so what. You won't by the third time or so. Whatever works to allow you to go there is GOOD.

It's about getting still and staying aware and vital (not falling asleep) and if you are doing that you can lie down or sit in a chair and scratch an itch and still reap benefits.

To start, you can do a little thinking -- you can do a body check for 5 minutes... where in your mind, in position, with your eyes shut you can start at the top of your head and just take your time scanning all the parts of your body. You will be amazed how tight your forehead was, that your jaw was clenched, that you were sitting more weight on your left butt cheek than your right. Whatever you find, just relax it, release it, or send lovely white light through it. I like to have sparkly white light, like sparkler or champagne light. 

If you wander off in your head, just come back to the place you left off in your body. This is kind of like training wheels, and guess what -- it's ALL GOOD!

If a garbage truck lumbers up and bangs a bunch of cans into it's belly right outside your door, no need to break from the bliss you were just slipping into.  Let the sound take you deeper.

If it's about the MIND jumping around, then this is the deal -- Your mind will most often never be totally empty, as that is it's nature.  It's very much like how the ocean (your mind) endlessly has waves (your thoughts) that must form, and lap up on the shore. Ahhh, much better!  So you get to drop all former notions. Meditation is this:  You get to sit on the beach, a bit at a distance from the waters edge and just watch the waves roll in and recede, just notice. There should be no failure, no struggle.  If it's easier think of your mind as the sky, on a beautiful day, and thoughts as little cloud that dance across it. In meditation, you can be lying on a grassy hill, enjoying the "sky".  As soon as you notice that clouds have come in, let your breath dissipate them in an instant, like the wind might.  It's that simple.  

You can come to love the activity of the mind like you might love how jumpy puppies or kittens are. It's OK. As soon as you realize you're thinking, you say, oh, ha, there I go again, and you make a little choice to come back to center. 

And what is center?  Whatever works for you. That could be picturing  a pleasant blackness (like how it is when you 're buried under a fluffy warm quilt when it's freezing outside) or an empty room (one you like), or a sky clear of any clouds or birds or planes or a glassy lake. Or you can just feel your chest rise and fall, or focus on how the air coming in and going out of your nose tickles the tiny hairs there. 
Or it could be a mantra -- in this case a word of any kind, hopefully a positive one. It could be Love or Peace, or Still or Be or God or I AM.  It could be Football or Pedicure, I suppose, but that might get you thinking, so I'd say pick a word that's like a period is to a sentence. It roots you where you are.  And if you forget it, pick another. No worries. 

And as to breath -- just breathe like you do. Don't worry about using the right or left nostril or belly breaths, or how your diaphragm moves if you've heard of all those. All that has merit and meaning, but if that holds you up, it's not important for now. 

I like writing meditations, dancing meditations, walking meditations and group meditations if I pick them to have the elements that work for me.  But there is a version of  "Be Still and Know" running through every major spiritual tradition. I could fight it all I wanted but I can't get around that there is something THERE in being still... but I have been THE most resistant person to sitting still meditation on the planet.  All these little things that add up to that now I get it... and I wanted to pass it along to anyone else who might be struggling with this.  

Are you?


jinksy said...

Brilliant collection of the ifs and buts that lead to eventual success. Meditation magic.

meb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
meb said...

Does meditating at night when you go to bed and you can't sleep count? It always puts me to sleep. guess that's not really what you're talking about is it? Smile

So my wv is drones...

My question... when in the WORLD do you find time to sit still and meditate? You're ALWAYS doing something!

jinksy said...

Have read your meditation comment on my blog, but it shows you as a 'no reply'! I don't want to start posting about my 'travels to meditation', as I started the blog as a poetry / writing outlet. My vary varied experiences of what I guess I could call New Age learning are something else again. If you want to email me and hear some tales 'off blog', feel free...

Natalie said...

I tend to 'meditate' while ironing or under the shower.It's the only way for me right now.

dla said...

Finally... this is the first thing that I have read that makes meditation make sense to me and my life.

I will put this into practice, and keep you posted on my progress.

I can always count on you, my friend. :)

Donna in AL said...

I am with MEB, does using this type of thinking count if you use it to fall asleep? I picture myself laying on a cloud, just floating and relaxing my muscles. It is extremely hard to keep my mind focused on floating. Work or usally projects around the house creep into my head!

My VW is tence. Are you tense?

Barry said...

Thanks Sydney, some excellent suggestions here. I have the reverse problem to you in that I tend to fall asleep when I try meditating at night. Early morning is fine.

I started with 5 minutes but find I am fine with ten. I took your advice and use my ipod clock to time me so I'm not worried about the time. It has a very pleasant alarm.