Tag Archives: Stillness

Learning to Meditate

One
The unpleasant feeling of being lonely hit me really hard kind of out of nowhere when I was walking home from the MRT. And then I thought about Sam Harris’s meditation lesson from yesterday: “That which is aware of sadness is not sad. That which is aware of fear is not afraid.” As soon as I thought about that, and each time I went back to it in between episodes of masochism resulting from loneliness, the feeling went away. For a fleeting moment, but it went away.

And that amazed me because that, I think, is what it means to let the ego dissolve. Sadness is a sensation but I am not sad because there’s no I. Interesting.

Two
Tonight’s meditation about emotion, day twelve, came at a good time. Sam prompted recall of a situation that was unpleasant – something to leave you sad or anxious or upset in some way. Following his cues, the point was to notice first the thought itself and then where that unpleasant feeling lies in the body, giving rise to the emotion that we’d started with.

Sam went through the exercise three times, twice with situations that bring about negative emotions and once with a situation bringing about positive emotions. He then talked about emotions as just “patterns of energy” and about how powerful it is to recognize emotions in this way. Just energy in the body, like any other feeling. Sam used knee pain as an example and I’ll follow suit because it worked. It seems the idea is to see “the feeling of sadness” in the same way as “my knee is sore” but not let the self become the sadness anymore than the self becomes the sore knee, which is not at all.

During tonight’s meditation, as always, I felt the negative emotions in my chest. When I’m anxious, afraid, or sad, my chest tightens and it’s difficult to breathe. At least once during the meditation exercise I gasped and opened my eyes, certain I was going to cry. But when Sam prompted thinking about something positive, I felt the same clench in my chest. And it rose into my throat just like tears do, but this time the feeling manifested as what I usually call “a bubble of joy”. It was so interesting to observe the same sensation and label it with a different emotion.

At the same time, though, I also started to wonder what a person becomes without deep feelings. But it’s not a lack of deep feelings, is it? It’s a lack of attachment to them during a full experience of them. The purpose of meditation is to notice whatever it is I’m actually noticing. I realize this now, writing, but at the time I worried a little, worried just for a fleeting moment, about becoming an empty shell, something not quite human.

But now, reflecting, I realize that’s not it at all. Instead it’s being able to recognize what’s there with an open mind instead of judgement and have the experience instead of letting it pass by.

Three
With tonight’s meditation experience, I thought in a different light about an earlier conversation with a friend that really upset me. I was talking about how frustrating it is to want something that has eluded me and my friend asked if I ever meditated on letting go or living without. My immediate response internally was defensive outrage, but tonight it struck me that perhaps I can separate the feeling of wanting from that which is I. And if the feeling is just a feeling and the conscious mind is what processes the feeling, there’s no need to attach any of it to I at all. Because I is just a construction of the mind. But the point is, “I can walk away from the feeling because the feeling isn’t me.”

I’m not there yet. But I think that’s the point.

Four
I’ve been finding it helpful to focus on sound. Sound comes in and out of conscious awareness and there’s nothing we do to make that happen. It’s just there and then it isn’t.

It’s the same for thoughts, though harder to grasp because I don’t find myself beginning to have a thought; rather, I find myself when I’m already lost in them. But it’s the same thing. Thoughts just appear. Like sounds. We notice them and then they’re gone, too, and we don’t notice them anymore.

Five
Watching my emotions change over the last week has been really interesting. As best as I can, I’ve tried to step outside of myself and observe what I’m feeling rather than just letting it swallow me.

I went to the climbing gym twice this weekend because I disappear when climbing. As a friend explained once, “There’s no room for ego up there.” It’s easy to lose myself in my own head when I’m running but not so easy at dance or doing yoga or on the climbing wall. I’ve been trying to engage in ways that let me spend less time lost in thought, an experiment to see what happens.

And so far, I’m not too sure.

Six
I had a conversation today that indicated ego is alive and well. Frustration for other reasons bubbled up and got the better of me and I was defensive instead of open-minded. As I teach my psychology students, we are cognitive misers and it’s less taxing to rely on emotion than reason. Knowing the traps doesn’t mean immunity from falling into them.

I didn’t realize this conversation was still bothering me when I sat down to meditate tonight, day nineteen. But as soon as I turned my attention to the breath, I noticed an elevated heart rate even though I was breathing deeply without effort. For several minutes, I couldn’t slow my heart down even though I guessed its cause. So I observed that and tried not to judge it.

While I’ve been familiar with loving-kindness meditation for a while, Sam’s inclusion of it tonight was most welcome. In its full form, you begin thinking about someone close to you and wishing them well and then expanding the well-wishing, over the course of several stages, to the whole world. Tonight’s meditation centered on just one person.

I thought about a very dear friend. And that’s when I felt my heart rate slow down. I felt better turning my focus towards another person and wishing happiness, which really means sending pure love.

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.

Mindfulness is a journey to travel, a journey without signposts and without end. But even as a novice along the journey, I’ve had moments of utter simplicity where I’m left stunned by what is sometimes so easy and other times so challenging.

To be mindful is to be aware. Aware of what we see, hear, and think. It is to experience. It is to look outward and take in with an awareness of what we’re doing instead of just letting it happen. It sounds like doing nothing. But as I’m learning, it’s actually doing quite a lot.

Newport Beach
Newport Beach, California – December 2016

A New Thing I’m Doing

I’ve been a regular yoga practitioner for about six years now and I’ve grown increasingly curious about mindfulness and meditation. I’ve done some reading and attempted one guided meditation (after letting the website just sit in GoogleKeep for weeks) that I did enjoy. But I have found it difficult to appreciate the quiet that (I think) is supposed to come with mindfulness and meditation. A year ago, I actively avoided silence because lack of noise was never actually silent –  it was whisperings of thoughts I didn’t want to have but couldn’t stop having. I turned to podcasts and NPR as a way of listening to something other than what was going on in my own head.

I’m in a much healthier place now and I’m trying to break habits that I purposely developed to avoid reality. After a recent experience where I fell into stillness, I made the decision to deliberately seek out more quiet and blank space than I was used to. Last week, cooked a few meals without a podcast in the background for the first time in at least two years since I’ve done that. I’m not hiding from quiet any more and that feels empowering.

Right now, day-to-day living is easy. I’m comfortable with myself and I’m happy. So, basic needs met. Time to try something new.

Enter mindfulness. We have a faculty/staff fitness program at school, which is how I’ve taken weekly yoga classes in the past. I’m doing that again, but this year one of my colleagues is also offering a mindfulness class. I didn’t immediately sign up, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, either.

The first class met this afternoon.

He told us about his experiences living at meditation centers for years at a time, some of which I already knew. He introduced us to Osho Kundalini meditation, an active meditation divided into four 15-minute parts. We shook, danced, sat, and lied still. The music changed to introduce each stage. Bells indicated the end of the fourth stage. I enjoyed the music, the movement, and the freedom that came with closing my eyes and doing whatever my body decided it wanted to do. Time didn’t pass quickly, but other than lying in savasana at the end, I didn’t pause to wonder how much time had passed.

But I couldn’t shut my mind off.

I couldn’t stop thinking. I was doing okay until I thought that I might blog about the experience, and then I began writing this post in my head. That’s not infrequent, but this post contains almost nothing of what my “meditating” self thought it would. I made a couple to-do lists. I reviewed plans for a party we’re having tomorrow. I thought about how I was feeling and how long it had been since I’d formally taken a dance class and what I was going to have for dinner. I thought about not berating myself for being so busy when I was supposed to be so internally still.

I tried, I really did. I tried counting the beats of the music while I danced. I tried keeping a pinch in my shoulders during the seated meditation to keep my back straight. I tried counting breaths. But my mind was curious and loud and it stayed that way.

And then the bells rang and it was over.

When I got home my roommate asked me how it went. I didn’t know how to respond because I had enjoyed the meditation hour but hadn’t had the type of moment I expected to or had hoped for. But at the same time, I really didn’t know what I’d expected or hoped for. I’m not sorry I spent an hour in meditation class after school, but I can’t say that I meditated. I certainly wasn’t mindful. So how was it? I can’t quite say. It was new, that’s for sure.

The only thing I do know is that I’m curious and want to learn. I’m open to new things and I know new things take practice. So far, I’ve learned that meditation doesn’t only mean listening to someone speak soothingly while you sit and focus on what they say. Learn something new every day is a rule that I live by.

Since I’ve already learned one new thing, that’s enough reason to go back for more.

IMG_0358
An alley in my neighborhood during a walk in the rain

Quite Possibly the Best Run I’ve Ever Had

I didn’t want to run tonight.

I spent all weekend at school covered in dirt and fake blood, learning how to save lives, splint injuries, clean wounds, conduct a full body physical exam and focused spine assessment, and record patient data to pass records off to the helicopter (or car, donkey, or mule) evacuating them from the field once we’re done administering wilderness first aid.

So I was tired. And I didn’t want to run tonight.

But I did, because tomorrow night is back to school night and therefore I’ll probably be even more tired on Wednesday.

Turns out, this run was the best thing I could have done tonight.

I took a long route by mistake. I told myself I’d turn around and then I forgot because the run felt good and steady. I was in East Coast Park, the grass was springy, the breeze that comes every evening smelled like salt and ocean, and there were fewer people around than usual. So I kept running.

About halfway, I stopped. I took a breath. I sat on the rocks in the sand, as low as I could without getting wet, for about 15 minutes. What I began to understand on those rocks qualifies this as perhaps the best run I’ve ever had.

As I always do when I pause in the park, I just looked at the water. I found it in the air and I breathed in it. But waves are mesmerizing , hypnotic, and I felt my eyes close. I let them. And then I listened.

I know that the remaining senses sharpen when one is removed. I know that you can see waves roll and hear them crash. I didn’t realize that you can also hear waves roll. I had never thought about the energy that keeps waves in constant motion. For the first time, I heard the waves rolling down the beach. I heard them crash and I heard the crash ricochet, tumbling down the beach. And when I opened my eyes to see what I was hearing, I lost it. I love watching water, but I’ve never spent much time just listening to it. I sat there on the rock for those 15 minutes, eyes closed with occasional peeking, feeling a giddy smile on my face each time closing my eyes brought the sounds back. Brought the energy back. My rock was just above the tide line but I wasn’t always sure based on the sounds I was hearing, the water pulling back, rolling forward, like rocking a cradle.

I was surprised how quickly time passed and how lost I’d been in the sounds of such a powerful force. It literally swept me away to a different understanding of energy and how it drives all things. Energy is everything there is, everything we touch, everything we are, and the connections we form with each other. I could say those words before, but I understand them now.

Learn something new every day.

Take time to be still and quiet.

On the run home, and even now still in the wake of endorphins, I felt happier, calmer, more connected to the natural world and the people around me. At the end of the day we’re all part of the same thing. And I have to believe that on the most basic, human we’re all just doing the best we can to hold it all together.