Surprisingly, I have not yet devoted a Mindfulness Monday exclusively to the idea of meditation. In many ways, all mindfulness hinges on meditation, and it probably ought to have been the first in this semi-regular little blog series. Perhaps it’s telling, though, that I have only brought it up now… because meditation is hard.
I used to think that because I did yoga basically every day that I could get out of doing a separate regular meditation practice. After all, at the end of any yoga practice, students get to lie in savasana, which is at least two minutes of non-sleeping presence-of-mind rest. The thing about savasana though, at least for the yoga I tend to practice, is that it also comes at a moment of total body exhaustion; after 60+ minutes of a rigorous yoga class, it is much easier to collapse into not-sleeping presence-of-mind-rest. Developing a sitting mediation practice that is longer than two minutes and not at the tale end of the near-ideal situation for easier access to a still-mind? Much harder.
There’s a great zen proverb that says something like, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day; unless you’re too busy—then you should sit for an hour.” I spent years avoiding the truth in that. I am absolutely one of those people who thinks I don’t have enough time for a sitting practice. This is laughable though, considering the amount of “sitting” I do to work at my computer, or veg in front of the TV, or pet my cat (etc). I have time, I just had never regularly devoted it to a meditation practice.
I’ve had decent success with meditation challenges, and mentioned on the blog before that I am currently in my third Deepak & Oprah 21 Day Meditation “experience” (‘challenge’ is too aggressive for their brand of New Age rhetoric). Of the three I done, I feel like this has been the most transformative so far, and it’s probably why I felt compelled to devote today’s post to the practice. Third time’s a charm!
Each day, for the past 21 days, I spent sitting (different places) listening first to Oprah introduce the theme, then to Deepak expand on it with a Centering Thought and a mantra, then sitting, for around 12-15 minutes in meditation. I believe a lot of things that have happened to me these past two very difficult years of my life have set me up to be more open to embracing the benefits of meditation. When we are hungry for tools to help us stay afloat, we shed ourselves of excuses that build walls between our egos and those aides. The past couple years of life (and this past winter and spring, most especially) has been a time period in my life that called for tools, and doing this meditation experience showed me that I was ready to find and use them.
Things have been getting better for me—some materially, but mostly mentally/emotionally—since about May, but I was still struggling with old habits and thought patterns and some lingering bouts of depression. My first week back from England felt like I had even backtracked a bit. But then I started meditating, everyday, and honest to goodness, readers, I felt a shift. A real, “Holy shit I’m sitting with my Self, dropping the story line that holds me back, connecting more dots and transcending old patters, and feeling so incredibly happy for just being a living vessel of Love and Oneness” kind of spiritual awakening shit. Now, part of this is probably the time and space I’ve had from some of the tougher stuff I was dealing with the months prior, but a big part of it, I honestly believe, is due to the meditation practice. Making it a habit, finding the ability to be sincerely present with the mantra, confronting the reality of my/our True Self, and really believing it. Accepting it. Accepting that, “I am the ocean, the rest is just waves.”
This past weekend I was at a wedding for a dear friend of mine from grad school. For a number of reasons, I was very anxious about this trip: I was going without a date (which felt heavy and sad); it was the only wedding out of four that I had been invited to this summer that I was actually able to attend (because of time and money); it was in the Midwest (a place I miss very much); and because I am just generally not great at handling the interrupted routines (food, exercise, sleep, alone time) that traveling throws at me. I arrived with about four hours before the wedding started and asked my friend if she would mind if I went for a run before getting ready. As I’ve written about many times, exercise is something that is both very grounding and healthy for me, and also a product of years of exercise-as-punishment mentality. I believe that today I mostly workout for the former, but I am not sure I will ever 100% shake the later. So I was delighted with what happened next: I ran for less than a mile, just enough to break a sweat, when I stumbled upon a beautiful park. The weather was perfect, sun hot on my shoulders, a slight breeze in the air. There was a hill overlooking a vacant baseball diamond. I stopped running. I hadn’t done remotely as much as I would have in a normal workout, but burning calories, nor even an endorphin rush, were what I wanted or needed in that moment. Instead, I listened to what my body/mind/heart/soul was requesting: Raechel, go sit on that hill, open your Deepak & Oprah email for the day, and meditate.
I had figured that I would probably skip the meditation exercise the day of the wedding, given the circumstances, but to my surprise, I made time for it. I cut exercise short and made time to sit on a hill and be still. And, friends, it made the rest of the weekend’s anxieties melt away. I didn’t feel sad to be alone at the wedding; I felt like I was bursting with love out of every pore. I wasn’t allowing my brain to take me from the joy of the event I was at by thinking of the weddings I wasn’t going to be at. And the next day when I didn’t get to workout before my flight, I was totally fine. My plane got delayed, and I didn’t freak out. I was present, I was happy, I was so grateful for the calm that my body has seemed to learn, more deeply, these past three weeks.
Meditation is not a panacea, and I’m not to saying that I am not going to have moments of really un-meditative responses (reactions) to things in the future. It’s not a cure; it’s a practice. (And it’s VERY important to note that if you are working through PTSD or trauma to practice meditation under guidance of a professional, as there are studies that say meditation can actually be harmful for those of us with that particular type of mental illness.) But, I am saying that it has proven powerful for me this time around and enough so that I am going to continue to try to do at least 15 minutes a day.
I will miss the guided practice I got from Deepak and Oprah, but hopefully I’ll find something else that works for me. (I was having good results with the 9 breaths of purification meditation for a bit as well, and might go back to that).
Here are some resources and tips that might be helpful for starting, maintaining, or taking deeper a practice:
*One of my most treasured teachers, Tara Brach, on Basic Elements of a Meditation Practice
*A list of the Best Meditation Apps of 2014
*For those of us who struggle to get into a practice because we can’t separate meditation from the way it’s been co-opted into something exclusive to White Western Bougie people, I love this article on how meditation is relevant to racial justice movements. There’s a lot of other good stuff out there about spiritual healing and social justice, but that deserves it’s own post!
*Get a pillow or block to sit on! I found sitting comfortably was the hardest part; using my yoga block made all the difference!
*Finally, if you are like me, maybe really challenge yourself to do fifteen minutes or longer; when I did 2 minute meditations on my phone app, I didn’t feel the effects and thus didn’t feel motivated to stick to it.
Do you meditate? Will you join me this week in trying to sit for 15 minutes a day? xoxo