Here We Go Again

To begin with, meditation has nothing to do with the occult, the paranormal. [...] Second, meditation doesn’t mean making your mind a blank. [...] Nor can meditation be equated with any kind of hypnosis or state of suggestibility. [...] Some use the word meditation to mean discursive thinking or introspection. Meditation is none of these. [...] It is, rather, a systematic technique for taking hold of and concentrating to the utmost degree our latent mental power. It consists in training the mind, especially attention and the will, so that we can set forth from the surface level of consciousness and journey into the very depths.”

                             –from Meditation, by Eknath Easwaran, pp 8-10

To keep things simple, I’m going to pick up where I left off in my last post, in which I discussed day 1 of my attempt to find a place of silence and receptive stillness. This brings us, of course, to day 2.  I again awoke at 5:30, went to my cushion, and sat still for ten whole minutes.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, not much of a change from the day before. But I once again recorded a few minutes of my voice speaking the Friend’s instructions for me for the day, and then I focused on my breathing for a few minutes more. Afterwards I judged myself as fraudulent and foolish, and I told myself that I do not have the authority to call this meditation.  But I knew I was trying and that I needed to keep trying if I were to see any lasting change in the patterns of my life.

The next morning, feeling extra tired and cranky, I asked myself why I was waking up at 5:30 to go pretend that I know how to meditate. I didn’t want to get up.  I wanted to abandon this stupid plan to become a better person and go back to sleep. It was only day 3.  I got up anyway, went upstairs to my cushion, and I tried to get settled. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing for 15 minutes, repeating the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi a few times. I channeled and recorded the Friend’s instructions. These morning meditation sessions were really beginning to take shape–which was reassuring in a way–but I wished my mind wasn’t so active.  “I might be approaching this all wrong,” I told myself, “I need some structure. I need guidance.  I need a teacher. I need support!!” In a flash of inspiration I remembered a delightfully written tome entitled Meditation by the late Eknath Easwaran.  His kind style and caring voice invited me to take up meditation for the first time in high school when my aunt offered me a copy of the book and taught me the prayer of St. Francis. If his words made meditation accessible to me then, maybe they could help me now. Maybe his suggestions would work, and I could establish a meditation practice that would carry over into my daily life.

Day 4, I sat for 20 minutes. By the time I was finally feeling settled in my body, meditation time was over.  I spent the whole time trying to get my mind to focus on the prayer I remembered from high school. For some reason I decided to continue on with recording the Friend’s instructions in my voice. When will the book arrive?

Day 5 felt a little easier.  The Friend’s instructions that day were to keep repeating, “I am relaxed, I am calm, all is well,” all throughout the day.  I tried my best to remember, but I caught myself dwelling on gloom and doom countless times as the day progressed. Why can’t I be more positive? Why are my thoughts about such terribly frightening things? “I am relaxed, I am calm, all is well.” I wasn’t successful in holding the Friend’s thoughts in my mind for very long, but I kept trying. I tried, that is, until the evening when I got in an argument with my spouse over the balance of time that we spend in housework and childcare.  All of my thoughts about how relaxed and calm I was were burned away in a mixture of exhaustion, rage, defensiveness, indignation and self-righteousness. We tried several times that evening to have a healthy dialogue, but it always erupted into a tense exchange of finger pointing and simmering frustration. I didn’t sleep well that night.

When will I see some results? I asked myself, When will I be able to prevent myself from flaring up in anger so quickly? I don’t want to hurt the people in my life because I can’t control the rage that is boiling inside me. When will the work I’m doing help me to be a better, more peaceful person?

Tomorrow morning I will try again. I will sit on my cushion and try to be still. For now, keep breathing. I am relaxed. I am calm. All is well.

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My Dark Night and the Morning After

One month ago I was extremely exhausted, trapped on the endless roller coaster ride that is my ego’s version of reality.   I had been reading Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle and doing some heavy-duty journal work, excavating painful memories from my past, things I was ashamed about, things I was afraid of, people I am unable to forgive, seemingly endless writing about why I am where I am and who I am today. The purpose of this work was to free up some space within myself to experience the power and beauty of my essential being, untouched by trauma, loss, disappointment.  But it wasn’t going as well as I had hoped.  In fact, I felt like I was ready to give up, and I had barely begun.   I was standing at the edge of a cliff, peering tentatively into a bottomless precipice, unable to see how deep my memories and my pain went, and unable to believe that I’d be capable of shining the healing light of awareness to the darkest recesses of this suffering self.  There was so much to heal and release, it seemed, that I would never be free to enjoy my life. It was depressing. And frustrating. And completely overwhelming.  In a moment of soul crushing self-pity, I finally said, “I’m tired of this! I want to dissolve the chains of this ego that tells me I was never good enough in the past, and I am not good enough now, and I never will be good enough, therefore I am destined to misery forever.  I don’t like these thoughts that torment me. I want them to stop. What do I have to do?”

The answer was swift, clear, and appeared in my head like a long-lost friend.  The Friend candidly spoke to me in a steady, level voice.  It instructed me to commit to a daily practice of stillness and receptive silence, and it added that this is the only way that I will be successful in dissolving my ego so that I can realize my true nature and be of service to all beings.

The very next morning I awoke and meditated.  Well, actually, it took me five minutes to settle down and become still, and then I tried to focus on my breath, but my mind was racing. I wondered about the voice that had spoken to me the night before, the voice that had told me to wake up at 5:30 and leave the comfort of my bed to sit on this cushion. All of a sudden I had an impulse to record my voice as if the Friend were speaking through me.  Some would call it “channeling.” In spite of the critical part of my mind that shoots down ideas before they can even take shape, I picked up my phone, brought up the voice memo app, and spoke into the tiny microphone for five minutes, receiving surprising insight about my current state and instructions for rectifying it.  At the end of the five minutes, the Friend said, “We are complete for now.”  Well, okay then.  I put the phone down, closed my eyes, sat still, and focused on my breathing for five minutes, by the end of which I was really becoming antsy. It had been fifteen minutes since I first sat down, and I really wasn’t sure that what I had done could be rightfully called meditation. I was ready to move on with my day. Before I rose from the cushion, I reassuringly said to myself, “Well that wasn’t so bad, now was it?  This meditation business is easy!”  Except, my mind told me, it wasn’t really meditation.  It was more like a faltering baby step. Oh well.

It wasn’t a glorious beginning, but it was a beginning, and we all have to start somewhere.

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