Silver Linings after a Lousy Week

This last week has been hard for me.  I have been surprised at how hard it has been to sit during this time.  It felt like I had never begun these contemplative practices at all.  While meditating,  I wanted to get up and move and do things.  Thoughts and feelings and fear were so invasive.

There is a part of me that is tempted to write that meditation sucked this week.   People who are wiser than me, people that have been at this longer than me, I think they would have pushed back at this idea claim.

I am just starting to grasp this concept: the success is in the practice of it.   It’s not about what we get out of it.  It’s not about what mind states we end up with.  The theory is that If I am doing this to attain calmness, then I am missing something, cheating myself out of something.  I haven’t, for the record, internalized this idea.  I still have a desire for how my meditation will go.   I have a sense that I am getting there, that I am slowly letting go of my desire and intent.  But I am not there yet.

As the dust starts to settle from this challenging week, and I return to more calm in contemplation, I am starting to see something else.

As Shrek might say, there are all these layers.  I don’t mean that there is a hierarchy, in the sense of of one thing being more important than the other…  But the most intense meditation reaches me somewhere incredibly deep within.  The thing is,  even when I can not get there, important things are going on.  Let me be a bit more specific.

Let’s call my very deepest place spirit.  It’s the interface between me and God.   A meditative practice is only ever going to reach my spirit by making it’s way through my soul.  My soul is more identifiable with me.  But for a meditative calm to get here, it must move through my mind, home to thoughts and feelings that seek to intrude.  But to calm the mind, I must first calm my body.

This week, I didn’t get much deeper than calming my body.  But as I did this, I have this sense that their are lessons that carry over.  It was especially hard this week to resist the urge to scratch my itches, as I meditated.  Once I began, I kept wanting to shift my weight and position.  I was there, mostly in my body, trying for something deeper.

When I was able to work through these temporary desires, I built up some sort of discipline that would apply at the deeper levels.  I had the experience of waiting out a desire, working through it and past it, witnessing that I wanted to do a thing, and just letting that desire exist with out satisfying it.

I suppose the big picture is that we take these lessons past the time we are sitting quietly and breathing.  Because in my everyday life there are countless opportunities when it would be wise to resist instantly fulfilling my urges.  There are dozens of times each day that I ought to simply observe my discomfort and accept the idea that a little bit of discomfort won’t kill me.

There is value in these bad weeks.  But they still suck.


3. Chain Reactions

If I am not careful my mind runs away from me.

I might, for example, feel like I need to tell somebody something that they won’t want to hear.  Then, I begin to focus on times that confrontation has gone poorly in the past and people have been hurt.  And I might have this label in my brain, that I am barely aware.  I label myself a critic.  Or I might label the other person, lumping them in with all the other people who do this thing.  Or this whole thing  might give a feeling I don’t like very much, and now my mind is on the last time I felt this way.  This group of connections carries with it their own set of negative connotations, emotions, and assumptions.  And so it grows, like a wildfire or a nuclear chain reaction.

After a couple desperate and difficult years, I ended up with a pretty big problem.  I was often scared and miserable.  There were times I would be in the middle of everyday sorts of things– doing the laundry, for example– and my brain would just get so full with this avalanche of judgement, association, and assumptions.

I ended up with a psychiatrist, a therapist, and medications.  They got me through some tough times.  I suspect I would have needed them less if I’d had some options I could have tried on my own.  I wish I could travel back in time and tell the person I was about the things I would be doing some years from that difficult time.

Sitting quietly brings me face to face with the reality that I am living.  That first step isn’t easy.  But the thing is, I was always kidding myself.  I never was fully in denial about my reality.  I was in just enough denial to prevent myself from solving these issues.

The act of sitting in silence is one that calls me to recognize that my current moment is totally unique.  There isn’t any reason to think the past is going to repeat itself.  There isn’t any reason to assume the future outcome is determined.

 Meditation time is like running drills to get better at sports.  Specific skills are identified and practiced in isolation, but the hope is that these abilities generalize outward.  When I meditate I approach the world in ways that hopefully I can bring out of those quiet times and into my everyday life.

This anxiety-busting aspect of meditation is closely related to a thing called non-dualistic thinking.  But non dualistic thinking deserves it’s own post, so we will explore this next time.

Today, though:

I think you ought to begin where you are.

Spend some time sitting, and breathing.  Perhaps you would like to set a timer for fifteen minutes.   Try and sit up straight and sit still.

Breathe slowly.  In through the nose and out from the mouth.  

Be in this moment.   This is the first time you have experienced this moment, ever.   And you will never live in this moment again.  

Drink in the uniqueness of each moment as you sit.  When thoughts or feelings arise that might pull you into a connection with the past, dismiss it.  When fears about the futute arise, dismiss them.  Let them go.

Let them go by continuing to do what you are doing: breathe in, and breathe out, and sit in this single moment.  Be present to this present moment.

My experience has been that each time I do this, I carry just a little bit of it with me, out of the meditation.  I get a little better at facing the world one moment at a time.  My hope is that you experience this, too.