Celebrating My 3rd Year of Meditation
Meditation. It’s similar to “networking” and “chicken-foot broth” in that it’s sometimes tough to get past our initial reactions to the words and get to the core of the concept.
It’s also similar to being likeable in that the harder we try to be likeable, the harder it is to be likeable; the more pressure we put on meditation to change us and our lives, the less likely it is to do so. In both cases, we’re getting in the way of the process.
As one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Charlotte Joko Beck, said:
One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get ‘enlightened,’ and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough. There’s no such thing as getting it.
Last week marked three years since I began a meditation practice in earnest. It’s been three years of profound change that have left pretty much no corner of my life untouched, personal and professional. How much of that had to do with meditation?
I have absolutely no idea.
What I do know is that when I start a day with even 10 minutes of meditation, I feel better going into my day. A little calmer. A little more centered. A little more mindful.
I’ve learned some things about myself, too, like some of the corners in which my damaging perfectionist tendencies like to hide. That’s a biggie.
What I also know is that the friend who introduced me to Charlotte Joko Beck’s writings asked the clients of her clinical social work practice to sit quietly for 5 minutes a day. The outcomes of those who did were notably more positive than those who didn’t.
Perhaps the why of meditation is similar to what Oswald Chambers, a Christian evangelist and teacher, said of prayer:
To say that ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘prayer changes me and then I change things.’
I’m a fan of milestones and so I’d like to invite you to celebrate this third anniversary in a way that seems most fitting for the occasion: quietly!
If you already have a meditation practice, I’d love to hear about it! Email me, tweet to me, post a note on my FB wall. There are so many ways to go about it and I love the inspiration of others’ practices.
If you don’t currently meditate, I invite you to give it a swing by trying out one of these simple practices.
First, set a timer for 3-5 minutes (a lot of meditation timer apps not only have lovely signaling bells and chimes but will also turn off the notification sounds on your phone for the duration of your timer. I used the Zazen Meditation Timer on my Droid.) Then try one of these:
- Sit quietly and comfortably somewhere
- Do a chore like washing the dishes or sweeping
- Lay down and mindfully scan your body from head to toe, noticing (without judging) any sensations you find along the way.
Then what? Well, then just be in those moments and minutes. Focus on your breathing or on the way the soap lathers and the dishes feel in your hand. Focus on those sensations you discover in your body.
That’s it. Truly.
Please know that the idea of being able to completely quiet your mind might just be an unattainable goal. RuPaul (yes, that RuPaul), likens our thoughts to a river. Most of us think meditation is a practice of stopping that river in its tracks. Instead, he said, it’s about getting out of the river and watching it flow by.
While your timer is going, notice the thoughts with gentle curiosity and let them go. If you find that you’ve gotten into the river – you’re feeling attached to your thoughts and drifting along with them instead of letting them float by – gently remove yourself. Remind yourself that the thoughts will come back later. I sometimes envision throwing my thoughts into the river where they land on rafts and float happily away; when the thought is a person, the person even smiles and waves while drifting off.
To me, the noticing we’re attached to thoughts and then releasing them, again and again, is a big part of the opportunity of meditation. With each moment of mindful redirection, we’re retraining our neural pathways, making that process easier and easier over time and, in that way, counteracting the neural pathways that reinforce our self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.
More than anything, I encourage you to leave the shoulds at the door. It’s not that you should meditate; it’s that you feel drawn to give it a try… if you do. It’s not that you should change, grow or evolve; it’s that you will, and you get to decide how active a participant to be in that process.
No rights or wrongs, my friend. Just a variety of paths, each with its own brambles and beauties.
The first rule we should begin with, if we want meditation to be in our life for a long time, is: Don’t make a rigid structure and then chastise ourselves when we don’t live up to it. Better to keep a limber mind and develop a tenderness toward existence.