Thursday, July 9, 2015

The M Word

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I discovered meditation initially as a coping mechanism, a form of cheap therapy unattached to any religious or spiritual label. When I could feel curiosity kicking and screaming during my novice meditation practices I gradually started turning to the study of Buddhist philosophy - the dharma, and then to other Buddhists - Sangha support, for advice, connection, and understanding.

It’s a classic tale of how the spiritual practice ball gets rolling: My friend introduced it to me, she was introduced to it by her husband, he was introduced to it by his therapist, his therapist was introduced to it by the monks he lived with in India, I introduced it to my friend, and she introduced it to her boyfriend. We all practice it in different ways, we all have our own spiritual gurus, and we all have our own reasons for doing it. For the most part it’s shameless yet very private: like flexing in the mirror.

There are countless articles written about meditation and if you have time I’d read the ones that debunk the myths of meditation. Taking on the heavy task of writing about the meaning of meditation is daunting, so kudos to them for even trying. I’ve decided to simply and gently share what meditation has taught me:

1. I am very rarely ever present during my waking hours.

The presence of presence is so short-lived, as if going extinct, and to me, prevails only on the faces of babies and animals. Anyone meditating just one time knows how difficult it is to just sit down, be completely in the now and be aware of what our body and hearts are experiencing at the moment. Being present -- like really here, without thoughts or intentions on what we’re going to say next or do next, without wishing we were somewhere else, or reliving moments, or deep in concentration, or stuck in our judgments, or planning, or with stories drifting in and out– is really truly radical and difficult. Meditation helps me become aware of how much I am not present in my day-to-day life. Having this awareness through meditation teaches me how to tap into presence in my normal waking hours, if not for a few minutes of every day, allowing more connected, more amplified experiences. And that’s when the magic happens.

2. Feelings have feelings.

I tend to be the most enthusiastic about meditation when I am triggered. I often only meditate on the heavy stuff: frustration, guilt, anger, disappointment, betrayal, fear, loss, blame. I sit with the particular feeling, without thoughts or stories attached and commit to being with it for an amount of time all while exaggerating it from head to toe. Doing this I become better acquainted with it – and most importantly, less scared of it. What this practice does is it familiarizes and prepares me for each emotion when they unexpectedly creep up in my life, acknowledging them, and then letting them go. Like most people I have a tendency to react before properly identifying what it is that I am feeling. Now, I recognize fear, I recognize control, I recognize burnt out - they all have a clear sensation (and taste and texture and smell). The magic happens when I'm comfortable sitting with the pinching of resentment and the coolness of shame without acting out and without repressing.

3. There are no unwanted emotions.

This one may be the most eye-roll-inducing but it surprisingly was the easiest concept for me to grasp: I learnt to stay with the hurt
 and self-doubt that arouse when I was sitting cross-legged in solitude on a cushion. Meditating is not escaping or distracting me from the difficult. I don’t go off to zen-land and meditation doesn’t put me in a hypnotic, psychedelic trance. It’s quite the opposite: I see exactly what’s really here. What’s really underneath the shrug, the smirk, the jazz hands. What I’ve been pushing down since before lunch. I learnt to ignore the friend who saidDon’t be sad. You should be happy!” If I am paying attention, difficult emotions can indicate what’s really going on, especially if they keep creeping up. I don’t always leave mediation “feeling better” but at least I’ve learnt to stay with what is. The magic happens when everything is welcome.

Instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”- Pema Chödrön

4. It’s the only place I can be completely honest.

Like most people I have an unconscious-sometimes-conscious pattern of dishonesty and wearing armor to self-protect and to protect my children, flawed as I know it is. During my private meditation it’s an opportunity to really look and be honest with my experience no matter how ugly. Cultivating honesty in my relationships and refusing to accept lies from other people can only happen if I have a private space to practice honesty. I suppose this is the Buddhist version of the Catholic Confession. However, there's a serious intention to not judge during meditation. We’ve been brought up to judge emotion: Joy is good. Jealousy is bad. We've been brought up to judge experience: I'm not doing this right. It's not supposed to be like this. Whatever the experience is when I meditate is as the Buddhists say: no big deal. It’s all part of the package – no judging on why it happened, how I got here or what emotions are likable or unlikable. The magic happens when I admit that I still find this one extremely difficult and I’m still trying to get the hang of it.

5. Gratitude

There have been countless times I’ve sat down to meditate but instead wanted to get up, turn the lights on and go check my Facebook (and believe me I have). In those times on my cushion, I have learnt to practice simple breathing in and out with feelings of gratitude for all that I have and all that I am. I don’t express gratitude enough during my waking hours, so during this meditation it brings clarity and perspective. I have so much to be grateful for. Most of us do.

6. Self-Advocacy

I’ve become a self-advocate -- which is not to be selfish or self-absorbed, though I have my moments -- but to not give up on myself. The root of everything is compassion; and the root of compassion is self-compassion. If nothing, absolutely nothing arises on that cushion; no thoughts, no emotions, no physical sensations, then at the very least I can put my hand on my heart for 10 minutes and devote to being kind to myself. Not everyone loves themselves, I get it. Even when I believe I do I still treat myself in ways that say otherwise. So I take time to give kindness, love, and compassion to myself for no reason. I don’t list all the wonderful things I did today, or check off my good deeds. And this magic-inducing gentle reminder: Go easy on yourself. Take care of yourself.

7. I can always find my way back (home) to it.

No matter how much something hurts or how long I’ve gone without meditating I can always come home to it. Paradoxically, I knew meditation was working for me when something traumatic happened and I couldn’t bear to face meditation. I abandoned it for weeks. I felt if I sat with it, the hurt would creep up and the thought of having to “look at it” would be too much to bear. Instead I turned to music, cigarettes and writing -- harmless as they seem. It takes a lot of courage to want to crack open. Meditation is always here when I’m ready. Even if it’s been a season’s passing, even if I’ve changed my mind and back again. I can have as many chances as I like. I can never fail and I can never truly master it, which means the path is limitless. There’s no end result, there’s no resolution. 
 So I suppose I’ll just keep going. The magic happens when I can feel my heart opening up a little more each time.


Lastly, I don’t claim to be enlightened, not in the least, I’m still striving for improvement, I know we’re all a work-in-progress.  
Pema Chödrön, a popular guru and my most cherished, wisely and best states it this way:

"Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

If anyone reading this feels they want to connect with me on any of the subjects broached, please know messages are always welcome, throw rocks at my window, knock on my door, smoke signals, whatever. And for those reading who believe they could never learn anything from meditation, I say that's cool too.

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