Tag Archives: meditation

Adventures In Meditation: Sitting With Fear

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My favorite spot is a rocky point of land overlooking the Atlantic ocean. There is an old, white lighthouse which coos and beams at the choppy waves. Recently I drove there for a brief visit by myself.

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It had been a stressful week. I carried heavy, inner turmoil I couldn’t name, but from which I longed to free myself. I got it into my head to sit and meditate on the cliffs for a bit.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you may have caught on that I am attracted to Buddhism, and the concept of mindfulness. There are many fancy, eloquent, and poetic definitions for mindfulness. I think of it as being 100% aware of my surroundings, body, breath, thoughts, and urges and how these factors influence me at any given point in time, then accepting these factors without trying to influence them.

In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron writes, “We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is. . .  This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it is always with us.”

When I am mindful in a situation, whether it is painful or pleasant, I can be present without trying to block or diminish what’s going on.  Here’s the thing:

I’m not very good at it.

But as someone pointed out to me, it is called “practicing” Buddhism because we aren’t perfect at it. We are always practicing.  (Thank you to Shannon from Game of Diapers for that gem!)

I probably would be a lot better at this gig if I meditated more.

Most practitioners of Buddhism meditate, or sit, for a period of time in quiet space to alter consciousness, gain enlightenment, develop compassion, or for relaxation among other things. Some meditate daily, others do it a couple times a week.

Meditation-wise, I compare to Christians who go to church devoutly on Christmas and Easter.

Time, space, and lack of privacy are among the hollow excuses I have for not meditating more.   Also, I just don’t really like it. The perfectionist in me becomes confused and overwhelmed by all the different types of meditation and if I am doing it “right enough.”

Anyway, there I was with some hurt in my heart, at that beautiful spot. I got out of my car and trundled down to the cliffs, noting that clogs were not really made for traversing shaley rocks. I got my body safely to a spot and sat down.

Assuming a comfortable position, I took some breaths. I chanted om tare tutture ture soha, a chant for Green Tara and compassion.

The view before me.

The view before me.

My gaze was gentle and calm on waves that flickered and danced in the sun. Ten minutes passed easily. For the most part, my mind was clear. When occasional thoughts came up, I remembered Pema Chodron saying to simply notice the thought, label it “thinking” and return to the meditative state. I did this several times.

Oh, yeah, look at me! I am totally rocking this meditation! I should do this more often because I am kicking meditation’s ass! 

Then I realized despite the spring chill in the air, and the breeze off the ocean it was quite warm on the rock. I smiled, feeling content as a cat in the sun.

Panic smacked me full-frontal like an icy wave.

Snakes like warm stuff. 

What if a snake crawled out of his hidey hole and was attracted to my warmth here in the sun? 

My eyes snapped open. I twisted my head around and sure enough, there was a hole in the moist earth behind me.

And the view behind me.

And the view behind me.

Rationally, I know any number of things could have crawled out of that hole– a skunk, a mouse, or some other warm-blooded, furry critter. I live in a part of the world where there are barely any dangerous or large snakes, and any reptilian creature that may or may not have crawled out of that space was likely small and harmless.

But phobias are not rational. The breeze rustled the branches a bit and I leapt from my spot, scampered up the cliff like a mountain goat, and ran back to the safety of my car. Even then, my legs felt creepy crawly and I shuddered.

I felt goofy and embarrassed.  Once again, I failed at the meditation, wannabe Buddhist thing.

Or did I?

At home, I consulted Chodron’s book.  I read, “In practicing meditation, we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal– quite the opposite.. .   If our experience is that sometimes we have some kind of perspective, and sometimes we have none, then that’s our experience.  If sometimes we can approach what scares us, and sometimes we absolutely can’t, then that’s our experience.”

So, is she saying, in a sense, I totally nailed that meditation, (even though I literally ran away from my irrational fear) because it was exactly the experience it was?

I like to think so.

Of course she is probably speaking of metaphorical fears within us with which we may or may not feel companionable.  That we may not have enough compassion.  That we may be judgmental.  That we may be angry or even hostile.  That we may erect walls to insulate ourselves from becoming vulnerable.

Or, we are terrified of nature despite the fact we would like to present ourselves as an earthy-mama-goddess who isn’t afraid to get a little dirty.

As I sit here trying to figure out how I will wrap up this post, I realize I could write an entire series about my fears.  Even as I laugh at myself for beating feet from an imaginary snake, I am struck by how fearful I have become.  A decade ago I had a delicious sense of safety, but now life feels precariously balanced.   I think it has to do with “stuff” in which I am stewing over turning 40 in a couple months, my fears of growing older and death.  In my work as a clinical social worker, I am also exposed daily to horrendous acts of humanity which have certainly tainted my world view and inner monologue over the past ten years.

I feel like if I lean only slightly to the left I will become terrified of bridges or bees.  Lean forward and I will become one of those people who never leave the house.  To the right and I will spend every second of every day cleaning for fear of germs.

What would happen if I just let myself fall back in a trust-fall into the universe?

Well, those are all matters for other posts.

What purpose did my adventure in meditation serve?  Did it further my awareness?  Did it help dispel fears?  Was it the silly punchline to a cosmic joke?  Or was it simply my experience?

I like to think so.

 

 

On The Beach With My Dead Dog

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All week long my dead dog and I hung out on the beach.

Except she wasn’t dead.

And it wasn’t bitter winter.

It was that glorious time, mid-September, when the world bathes in amber sun poured from the cosmic alignment of earth being right there.

We were both so much younger, thinner, more agile.

We were the only ones on our favorite beach.

We skipped circles around one another, down sand as soft and gray as rabbit fur.

The Insight Timer app I purchased offers guided meditations.  I did a six minute guided meditation about accepting and loving my inner child.  I chose it because it was only six minutes.  The woman’s silky voice prompted me to imagine a safe place, so I went to the beach.  Then she prompted me to imagine someone I love who brings me joy and comfort.  My little, black lab mix suddenly appeared.

My dog died three years ago, after spending 16 years with me as my beloved companion.  She was like my sister.  She knew all my secrets.  She was with me through more loss, loneliness, and drama than I care to remember.  In my memory, her presence softens those years of confused dissatisfaction.

I struggled with her when she was elderly.  Already caring for a busy and head strong toddler, I was challenged to remain compassionate towards my dog when she lost control of her bladder and bowels and crapped all over my carpet multiple times daily.  Sadly, I was not always compassionate towards her.  There were times when I was blatantly exhausted and mean and I didn’t want her to be my friend anymore.

If there is hell and I have to go there, I will be forced to watch myself be mean and angry towards my dog, over and over for all eternity.

When she finally died, it happened in my arms.  It was really peaceful and loving.  I guess you could call it a good death, but her passing left me with the most profound sense of loss I’d ever known.  A week later I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was my dog coming back to me in another form.  Maybe it was just the universe smiling on me, or maybe it was just equilibrium reestablished.

Regardless, I felt terrible full-body pain of losing her for months.  I don’t know if I ever fully “got over” her death, and I think a lot of that had to do with how frustrated I was with her as an elderly animal, how limited I was in my ability to care for her the way she needed.

When meditation returned her to me, it was immediate and unexpected joy.  It was such a contrast to the guilt and pain I normally experience when I think about her.  She was smiling, in that way dogs smile.  She skipped around me in circles as I leapt and pranced down the beach.  Even now, remembering this exquisite vision, I find the corners of my mouth twitching up in a smile.  I’ve been able to go back there, too, anytime I want to just close my eyes and be with her.

It’s like a little pocket of peace and happiness in my mind.

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Happy Effing Holidays

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20131209-123524.jpgIt seems like the only word coming out of my mouth today is “fuck.”  I’ve used it in just about every way possible, embracing the inner biker chick I never knew I could be.

What the eff is wrong with me?

We had a decent but busy weekend.  Got a tree.  Put it up.  Did some shopping.  Watched good Christmas shows.  Cleaned the house.  It was highly productive.

But then this morning in the shower, there I am thinking about how the holidays bring out the effing worst in everyone.

And by everyone, I mean me.

You see?  There.  I’m a pessimist.  It’s me.  While I’m embracing that surly, punky inner biker chick, I guess I also have to embrace the inner Debbie Downer.  But before you get all judgey wudgey on me because I’m a Grinch this time of year, I come by it honestly–  my parents divorced when I was very small.  For me, the holidays meant a time where I was ripped away from my mom on Christmas day, after unwrapping her gifts, to be driven in an unheated VW Camper van (no car seats or seat belts either, mind you) up over the Berkshires in sub zero temps to be with the other half of my family.

As an adult, I know my parents did their best, but from the earliest age, my brain has been wired to go haywire with stress at the holidays with very little provocation.

For example, I wanted to make a craft with the kids for them to give as holiday gifts.  It was supposed to be their thumbprints in small pieces of clay that I then was going to string on some pretty wire with beads as an ornament.  It looked so pretty online, and since I am experienced with beading and clay, I thought it would be relatively simple.

Relatively simple are almost always famous last words and you should never underestimate the power of a toddler who decidedly does NOT want to put her thumb into the clay in any way that resembles the picture in your head.  A tantrum will almost inevitably ensue.  In this case, the tantrum was mine, as I catastrophized.  So, I suck at crafts almost as much as I suck at cooking and now I don’t know what to make for the grandparents from my kids this year.  Fuck.

I’m working on it.  I promise.

But until I really find the joy, I have these days where the sky is about to fall simply because I stub my toe, or because it takes 45 minutes to get out of the house to go buy tampons because Emily doesn’t want to put on her coat and it is pouring freezing rain outside. Then I get all pissed with myself for my stupid “first-world-white-person-problems,” as a colleague of mine would call it.

It could be the weather, or the darkness of winter.  It could be weird hormonal fluctuations as I near 40.  It could be situational stressors over work and money and exhaustion.  It could be bio chemical.

 

Whatever the reason, I’m overwhelmed and living with a low level depression that leaves me functional but in a funk.   I end up fighting with myself because I want so dearly for my kids to be happy, and for them to never, ever live a holiday season like the ones I did as a kid.   But it is so hard when all I want is to curl up in bed and have every living being leave me the fuck alone for twenty fucking minutes.

So, here’s what’s going to happen now:  Shockingly, Emily and I made it to nap time in one piece.  Jack is still at school.  I am going to log out and meditate for as long as I can or want and try to show myself a little compassion, in the hope that I might be able to show some to the rest of the world as well at this joyous, beautiful, bright time of the year.

Momaste, ya’all.

Three Minutes of Meditation- WOOT!

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Emily had gone to sleep under her pile of brightly colored blankets, and I crept out of the room.  Out to the living room I plodded, down on the couch I curled, and a-channel-surfing-I-did-go.

This is my nightly routine.  I crash on the couch and flick on the TV or work on my blog until my hubs comes out from putting down the boy, and we watch something together on Netflix.

I found an episode of Will and Grace in syndication and settled in.  But I felt agitated and bored.

Why am I watching this?  I wondered.

I picked up my phone.

Put it back down.  Picked it up again.  I notice the app I purchased called Insight Timer.  I had yet to open it.

Well, I could sit up and meditate for a bit, I thought.

I turned the TV off and sat up with my legs crossed in front of me.  I fired up the Insight Timer app.  It prompted me to chose a timer duration for my meditation session.

I set it for three minutes.

Let’s start small.  I don’t want to set it for like ten minutes and fail at sitting because I couldn’t sit for that long, I thought.

Here’s the thing–  while I know I should be meditating, it is really, really, freaking, super, stupid hard for me to do.  I don’t like it and I’m not great at it, not to mention I almost never have the proper time to devote to a meditation practice.  But since I’ve started this blog, and have been more focused on mindfulness, and have been reading Pema Chodron, and have been learning about other people’s successes with meditation, well, I figure I should try.

Here we go, I thought, pressing the “start” button.  A beautiful bell rang out and reverberated for 20 or so seconds.  I tuned into my breath, followed it in and out.

This isn’t so bad!  Maybe I’ll write something about it for my blog. . .  oops, you’re thinking.  That’s what Pema Chodron says to do when you get distracted during meditation.  Label it as “thinking” and go back to your breath.

In-breath.  Out-breath.  In-breath.  Out-breath.

Why was I watching Will and Grace anyway?  It’s not like I really care about that show.  Now if it had been a re-run of Grey’s Anatomy. . .  

Thinking.

Breath.

TV is so addictive. . .  toys on the floor. . .  maybe I’ll heat up the herb pack for my lower back; it’s kind of sore. . .  when was the last time I wiped the microwave?  Is it weird I would rather throw away a major appliance than sponge it down?  I could go for some tea.  

Thinking.  Breath.

Ooooh, look!  There’s Mt. Everest.  It is so blue and frozen.  It makes me feel so remote to look at, kind of like I’m drifting.  Speaking of drifting, I feel so far apart from my family.  Holidays are like that, I guess, bringing out the difficult stuff.  Feelings. . .  Oh, yeah, I don’t have to think about feelings right now.  I’m meditating.  Thinking.  Thinking.  Go back to the breath.  Breath. . .  

In. . .  breath. . .  Out. . .  breath. . .  soft and focused, searching for that little gap after the out breath when there is nothing at all to do.

And the bell rang again.  My three minutes were up.

What I liked about the experience was the quieting of my mind.  I often use TV or Candy Crush to “zone out,” or numb myself.  I am aware those are not entirely helpful and rather than being with myself, I am trying to avoid myself by engaging in those activities.  Not all the time; sometimes I play Candy Crush because it is fun.  And sometimes it helps to distract my anxious mind into some sort of focused mind.  But I think meditation is a more gently way of creating that down time without relying on technology.

It wasn’t an all together awful experience.  Actually, it wasn’t awful at all.  It was sort of pleasant.  I’ll try it again, and maybe set the timer for five minutes.

What does your meditation practice look like?  Is it regular and ritualized?  What stands in the way of your being consistent with meditation?  

Advice Please- Meditation Hesitation

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Yesterday I meditated.

At least I think I did.

I went out on the deck while Emily was napping and Jack was with his grandparents.  It was nice and quiet. The hot mid-day sun instantly relaxed every muscle in my body. I sat on our glider, looking at the clouds, the trees, the butterfly exploring our messy garden area.

My mind went all soft and I closed my eyes, tucked my feet up under me, let my hands rest on my lap. I focused on my breath, which was slow and natural. Although my mind wasn’t totally quiet, it was very peaceful.

Hey, look at me! I thought. I’m like meditating! And it doesn’t totally suck!

Among other reasons, I began this blog as an attempt to become more mindful as a mom, wife, social worker, and general human on the planet. Since becoming a mom, I noticed how painfully fast life moves and passes, and I wanted to really tune in and soak it up.

I am getting pretty good at being in the moment, generating a full spectrum of awareness about what is going on and about how I feel.

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Be here now.

I’ve met a bunch of other amazing humans through this experiment of blogging, some of whom are Buddhist. They devote time each day to the practice of meditation- sitting still in quiet, turning down the volume of their internal dialogue to become more relaxed, present, compassionate, and eventually, enlightened.

Or at least that is my understanding of it.

Meditation has never come easily for me, probably because I have a busy and anxious mind. It also seems so rigid to me- sit this way, hold your hands that way, breathe this way, use this pillow, wear this shirt, yadda yadda yadda- and that rigidity is a total turn off to me.

I also resent the fact that I feel like I SHOULD be meditating.

I do practice what Pema Chodron calls Pause Practice, where at random moments in the day you “drop the storyline” of whatever you are doing to take three mindful breaths. And I do practice tuning in to my body, breath, and energy when I am doing everyday things like taking a walk, changing a diaper, or doing the dishes. I also have several chants that I use to help ground myself.

I strive to live a mindful and centered life, but I feel like there is something wrong with me because I don’t formally “sit” on a daily basis.

There is no religion to which I ascribe (except possibly Mister Rogers), but I’ve always resonated with the theories and images associated with Buddhism. However, I so easily become overwhelmed with all the different instructions for how to BE Buddhist. At its core, I guess I don’t really understand what it is, or what meditation is for that matter.

Yesterday when I sat, I felt nice. I sat there for ten minutes and for once did not want to leap up to get on to the next damn thing. My soft mind was punctuated at several moments by a neighbor’s voice and a lawnmower, and then again by a sudden urge to go infuse water with cucumber. But I did what Pema Chodron says and labeled those distractions as just “thinking,” and then returned to focus on my breath.

  • Was what I did meditation?
  • Is meditation still meaningful if it isn’t a daily routine?
  • Are there benefits to doing it once in a while?  
  • Instead of meditating for a half hour all at once, can I gather the random moments of mindfulness throughout the day and consolidate them to make up a “session?”
  • Am I a crappy person because I don’t normally enjoy sitting?  

All these questions are on fire in my head space today- totally contrary to my blissful little moment of whatever on my porch yesterday.  Doesn’t it kind of defeat the purpose of meditation if I am going to spend all this time and energy pondering and analyzing it?

If any of you out there in the blogosphere have any answers to these questions, or advice for me, it would be greatly and graciously appreciated!  And now, to go drink some of that cucumber water that I made AFTER meditating!