Wk2, Day5: Working with Opposites

I did not want to write this blog today. In fact, I woke up not wanting to do anything today. Anything except find a television to park in front of, to watch the US Open matches well into the night. I did not want to feed my cat, take a walk, make a veggie smoothie, prep lessons for class. I most certainly did not want to study for my upcoming licensure exam. I did not want to do anything today.

I was not even going to meditate. Only a week and five days into this experiment, and here I was ready to cut corners.

Then, I became curious about what it would be like to sit for a full hour when I did not want to. I’ve sat for shorter times when I didn’t want to, but never for a full hour. An hour—this was a challenge to meet, which enticed me to sit. It helps having this blog as well. The intention is, after all, to show up authentically. How can I write a daily blog about sitting an hour each morning and night, from a place of genuineness, without putting in the time? I resisted the urge to punt and write about how I didn’t sit today and instead dutifully cued the insight timer.

In my training as a Level 2 iRest® instructor, I learned a technique called “Working with Opposites.” It’s not new. There are forms of the approach in cognitive behavioral therapy, insight meditation traditions, and others. In this meditation that I did not want to do, on this morning that I did not want to do anything, I used a variation of the ‘working with opposites’ process I learned from Richard Miller.

Beginning the sit, I sensed my body in the chair, the sounds in the room, the sensations on my skin. I noticed the pace and depth of the breath as it entered and left the body. I chose which ‘opposites’ to work with: ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I chose which to begin with: ‘no.’ As I gently thought ‘no,’ responses arose from my mind, my heart, and my body. The experience of ‘no’ fully encompassed me. Some thoughts, feelings, sensations changed as they received attention, and others stayed the same.

After a time, I let go of ‘no’ and welcomed ‘yes’ in a similar manner—noticing the effect of that word on my experience across domains.

I then shifted between the two, spending some time with ‘no’ and inner reactions to that and then some time with ‘yes.’ Back and forth. I then welcomed in the two simultaneously. This is not a feat accomplishable by the mind. It’s purely experiential and absolutely lovely.

Then the bell rang.

I realized that this morning’s series of adamant ‘no’s had a valid place at other times in my life, in response to other experiences. No to minor through major violations. No after no that was ignored throughout my life. In this meditation, I spent more time with these old parts of me whose protests were ignored back then. I validated their right to say no. I comforted them, pointing out that now, what the day held for them could be welcomed safely with yeses.

Do I want to meditate? Yes. Do I want to write? Yes. Do I want to eat well, exercise, read, teach, walk, dance, and spend time with people who I love and who love me? A resounding yes.

What do you do when you don’t want to do what you’ve asked yourself to do?

Wk2, Day4: Present, Not Present

Wk2, Day4: Present, Not Present

Before I gave up my television set several weeks ago, I was watching a reality show in which houseguests are pitted against each other in an elimination competition. This does not bring out the best in people. Safely in the observer’s chair, it can be easy to forget that participation would have similar effects on me.

Two of the contestants are twin young adults. Early in the game they teamed with people who’ve gradually eliminated most of those not in their group. Each summer, the people who find themselves in this lucky position tap into the human experience of entitlement about their victory, while those “on the other side of the house” find a home in self-righteousness related to their defeat—two sides, one coin.

The twins have an expression they use when asked to consider their role in the eliminations in their on-camera interviews or side conversations with their team:

“Sorry, not sorry.”

Upon first hearing this expression, I was intrigued at the possibility that these young women were considering the complexity of the actions they were taking—appearing perhaps aware that a person can be dialectically conflicted: feeling both sympathetic for the victims of their team’s choices while also justified in their own self-preservation.

Watching a few more episodes, I quickly realized this was overly generous. The twins’ sing-song tone and identical smiling snarls made clear the latter portion of the phrase dominated the former, as surely as their team had taken over the house. Sorry? They were definitely not.

Last night, I attended my first mindful women’s writing group in DC. It was amazing! We meditated together for 25 minutes, then took turns sharing our writing and receiving responses. Unlike the twins and their housemates, we were thankfully not under pressure to compete. Our circumstances therefore brought out the ‘better’ side of our human nature. Seeing, hearing, understanding one another was such a glorious experience!

I left the group feeling so present and grounded; I continued the hour or so drive home in what I thought was a similar state. As I turned onto Hwy29 from East-West, my stomach growled and I realized I’d last eaten around five hours ago before the commute into the city. I pulled over into a strip mall I’d frequented on my commute home from DC last fall and contemplated the options. Settling on Trader Joe’s, I reasoned I could grocery shop and pick up something to nibble.

The atmosphere was lively—people singing to the Jackson Five playing on the speakers. I felt attuned with all beings as I wound my way through the aisles.

Done shopping, I returned to the car and pulled out of the parking lot back onto 29. Fifteen minutes or so later, my stomach grumbled. As my right hand reached toward the bag’s mouth, a mental inventory simultaneously took place: eggs, chicken breasts, pasta, butter, pesto sauce. For all the food I’d just bought, I forgot to get something to eat!

Present, not present.

Wk2, Day3: Dipping into Old Grief

In last night’s sit, I was visited by some old, deep grief. I might have known it was on the horizon given the familiar avoidance habits that had been creeping their way back into my life the past few days. I finally stopped engaging in them, and there the grief was, waiting–

that heavy feeling in the center of my chest, the choking up sensation that spreads through my throat, and the cavalcade of memories waiting to be acknowledged and mourned.

I began meeting these feelings for the millionth time in my life earlier yesterday during an evening writing hour I have Wednesdays with a new friend. It felt safer to go there with someone nearby. Having company didn’t make them go away and it didn’t make them less intense, but it made showing up and being with these feelings on their own terms more do-able.

The journey of psychological well-being has always been inextricably woven into my spiritual path. Last night was no different.

Allowing myself to revisit this old grief, the tears flowed as quickly as the words. The grief emerged as a gaping hole threatening to suck me into its depths. It feels much older than me and much stronger as well. It’s hungry and would take me under without a second thought if given the opportunity.

This is not a new sensation. I have built a life around avoiding this grief, by doing so I’ve inadvertently added to it. And despite all that, it continues to lurk, always ready to pounce. I do not know how to live without it, and I do not trust that I have the resources to change my relationship with it without losing myself in the process.

My self.

Perhaps that is it. Perhaps this self that fears being lost is the false self developed in opposition to this deep grief. Perhaps the pull is an invitation to shed that self. Am I up to it?

Wk2, Day2: The Gift of the Moment

In this second of twelve weeks meditating twice daily for an hour each time, I began with a commitment to trying to second half of Jack Kornfield’s instruction in How to Do Metta, which recommends experiencing oneself as a beacon of loving-kindness. For the second day in a row, that instruction converted itself into a simple, classic sit. By classic sit, I mean sitting in silent meditation, using the breath as an anchor of attention.

A central intention in this twelve-week experiment was to show up authentically and let the practice teach me. After an initial resistance, yesterday and today, I realized the latest lesson was to settle into a classic breathing meditation for the week. Message received.

Isn’t it interesting, that my first response both days was to resist what was arising (an intrinsic desire for a breathing meditation) and instead insist on my plan?

Perhaps equally interesting is the (twice now) eventual recognition of the invitation continually present in the moment. Like yesterday, there seems to be increased space in my awareness of what the present moment has to offer.

Like yesterday, I begin by resisting the present. Then become aware of myself fighting it, then observe the negative effects of this struggle, then gradually unravel into welcoming what the moment brings.

What is waiting for you to notice it in this moment?

Wk2, Day1: Finding Space

Wk2, Day1: Finding Space

I spent last week, the first one blogging, exploring the effects of part of Jack Kornfield’s lovely article on the Loving-kindness practice. In the first part, metta toward loved ones is used to cue metta received. I was so powerfully moved by that portion, which helped me move into the practice beyond a place I’d been stuck with it, that I stayed there for the week.

This week, I’m going to progress through the rest of the article and follow his suggestions for envisioning the spread of metta to “think of yourself as a beacon, spreading the light of loving-kindness.”

Perhaps a realization I had yesterday relates to this practice.

I left full-time academia at the end of this summer session. This fall I just picked up one course at a local university, to stay connected. I like teaching—supporting students to find meaning in the topics we’re covering, ways to apply them in life.

At this university, there is faculty and staff parking on either side of the building I teach in. Class is at 1pm, and I arrive a little after noon each day in the hopes of swooping into a spot vacated by someone going out to lunch. This never happens. As many times as I drive around the building. As many times as I pause to park, perking up each time someone walks by in the hopes they are about to leave. It also does not happen for any of the other would-be parkers attempting the same strategies. Ever.

Still, my mind has decided that if I arrive one hour before class, a spot should be waiting for me. My ego agrees, adding that an empty spot is my right. Around and around the building I drive. Then around and around the campus. But obviously everyone knows if you move your car you lose your spot. There are truly no spots.

I become more and more frustrated with each progressively wider, and similarly unsuccessful loop. On my widest loop yesterday, at around 12:26pm, I found a space on the street.

I grabbed my bag and began stomping my feelings out as I started the 20-minute trek to the building. It was hot out (a further affront!). But the heat slowed me, so I’d exert less. And slowing my pace slowed my breath. And slowing my breath slowed my mind. I suddenly noticed I was outside, on a beautiful walk, for 20 minutes, before class. My experience of my experience shifted.

I hadn’t exercised in a couple of days, and I’d been spending so much time studying for an upcoming licensure exam, that I hadn’t been outside much either. Now here I was, granted the gift of two 20-minute walks before and after today’s class. And, if I play my cards right, I can continue to not find nearby spaces every Monday and Wednesday.

Sitting helps access space in the otherwise tight corners of my life.

It made no sense to expect I would find a prime parking space. It made no sense, therefore, to become upset when I didn’t. It made no sense to dig into that emotional response and pound my way across campus.

In the space being carved out in each morning and evening’s meditations, I have a bit more access to my ability to discern what does and does not make sense and to make skillful choices from there.