Wk4, Day7: The Month in Review

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
Wk4, Day7: The Month in Review

Wow! It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole month since this project began. Meditating an hour each day, once in the morning and once at night, has had incredible impact on my life. I thought today would be a good day to recapitulate.

Extending to an hour, I realized early on, makes the commitment real. I have to be intentional about making sure I’m in bed early enough the night before (having already meditated) to wake early enough the next day to begin the day with an hour-long sit. Meditation has long been a priority in my mind, and now it has priority in my life.

An hour also gives me time to sink deeply into the meditation. I discussed this previously and it remains true. It takes about 15 minutes to become present (shaking off the day’s effects), 15 more to observe what wants attention, 15 more validating it, and 15 more in a deeper inquiry about it. In practice, it’s more of a loose internal calculus, but you get my drift.

Overall, I’m just calmer and happier. This is interesting, given that the practice began with a week of metta. (May you be happy; may you be peaceful and content.) Around week 2, I realized I was suddenly laughing so easily, from my gut at how much fun life is. Did my life suddenly become more fun in two weeks? More likely my perspective has shifted.

Apparently I am now pretty. Weeks two and three, three separate people (a friend and two strangers) suddenly remarked, “You’re really pretty.” This may not seem like much to a fit 20-something, but for an overweight 47-year old (morbidly by medical standards), it is out of the ordinary. Times three. My sense is they detected I was present, and there’s something attractive about that.

I’ve become less tolerant of making choices that do not match my true values. This seems cyclical—as I sit and digest each day or prepare to start it, what I hold dear becomes clear. As I sit, I am aware of the discomfort caused by compromises to what I hold dear. In some key areas, I’ve been making new choices. Some have been effortless (I’m hungry; I think I’ll have a vegetable smoothie); others have required more intention (giving up television).

I’ve begun walking for an hour a day, four to five days per week. And I love it. Many of the pictures appearing recently at the tops of the blogs come from these walks. They were also great times to listen to studying tapes for the now-thankfully-forgone licensure exam. I can start listening to music now!

I’m more at ease around new people and events. Re-reading the past month’s posts, I’m quite surprised at how many groups I’ve joined and outings I’ve gone on. They looked interesting, so I did them. I forgot to give a thought to my story of being highly introverted. I just went out and did them. In part, the regular longer practice must be soothing my nervous system. In part, sitting with the mind helps loosen its grip on my reality, allowing false sense of self (am I highly introverted?) to gently fall away.

“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.”

~ Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness

Moving into the last two months of this experiment, I am considering adding 30-60 minutes midday. Maybe 30, which I can add to eating during a lunch hour. I’ve found there’s something about a formal sit that naturally initiates a slower, more mindful pace throughout the day. But the stretch between morning and evening leaves me wanting a more formal pause halfway through the day. It could be a time to check in about how the day is going and be more intentional about how I want to approach the afternoon and evening (which I sometimes feel like I’m just trying to make it through). I won’t decide to add more meditation time just yet, though. I’m still sitting with the decision. Maybe after a second month. We’ll see.

In all, it’s been a great four weeks, and I’m excited for what the next eight hold!

Wk4, Day6: Learning Soji

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
Wk4, Day6: Learning Soji

You can imagine that I slept like a baby last night, after passing the exam I’ve been studying for since May. The majority of each week, for the last 20 weeks, has been spent preparing for this (thankfully) one-time feat. (Not to mention the 8+ years of specialized training in my profession prior to that.) I woke up this morning wondering what to do with myself. So, I fed Amelia, fed myself, and sat in meditation for an hour. As I’ve done each day for the past five weeks.

Yesterday I read an article about soji, a silent work period. Per this article, soji is a short period of practice that takes place in Zen temples in which everyone spends 20 minutes performing their assigned cleaning task. When the ending bell rings, they move on to the next part of their day. The task is left where they’ve finished it. Perhaps completed, perhaps not.

This idea was intriguing, given my current situation. Much of my time mapped out the past several months, spent preparing for a high-stakes task that had to be completed by a certain date. That was yesterday. Today, now there is unplanned time and no clear goal to work toward.

Also, spending so much of each day studying left little time for other things. I’ve inadvertently built up a four-month backlog of cleaning and errands. How to wrap the mind around where to begin? Soji.

I set the timer for 20 minutes and began with the dishes. I started slowly, noticing the temperature and pressure of the water pouring onto the plate. I remembered the drought in California and turned it off until I was ready to rinse the sinkful of washed dishes. I caught myself having turned the activity into a chore—attacking the build-up on bowl with mindless zeal. And I took breath and returned to gently attending to the task at hand. The bell rang, and I left the remaining dishes in the sink.

What a shift it was to pick up an activity, be present with it, then just put it down!

The next 20 minutes, I turned my attention to the shelves piled with books transplanted from my old office at the end of last spring’s semester. Sorting with mindful awareness changed this long-avoided activity remarkably. Some books were easily and quickly classified – keep, donate. Others presented more of a challenge. So I sat with the book, recalling its contents, what I’ve learned from it, expressing gratitude for the time we’ve spent together. Then I let it go.

The piles completed, 6 minutes remained on the timer. So I sat.

What can the practice of soji teach you?

Wk4, Day5: Winning the Open

by Denise Bike 2 Comments

Earlier today, I passed the licensure exam that I’ve been studying for since May. As I was reflecting on yesterday, I do not have events in my life that call for bringing all of my resources to bear for a single, high-stakes task like the exam required of me today. Having made it through this gauntlet, I am far more empathetic toward those whose lives and professions regularly require it.

More on that tomorrow. Celebration awaits.

Wk4, Day4: My U.S. Open

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
Wk4, Day4: My U.S. Open

I had the chance to watch some of the U.S. Open tennis matches in the past two weeks. It’s inspiring to be aware of all the drills, practice, and conditioning that these athletes dedicate themselves to each day in preparation for these short events. All the days of routine rehearsal, and then two quick weeks in which they must bring their knowledge, skill, and steady minds to bear in a quick burst of competition.

There is nothing in my regular life that compares. The things that I do, for work and for fun, are non-competitive, low-risk, and relative in effort. If I show up and do my best and things did not go as well as I would have liked—in a lecture for class, for example—I can correct it the next time. If I lose focus for an entire hour of sitting meditation, I can just watch it happen, note the impact, and show up for the next hour that night or the next morning.

But within this pattern of regularity, routine, moderate cost-ongoing benefit, there is tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m taking the licensure exam. I have been studying for it full-time since May; 200-300 hours total studying time are recommended. I wake up, meditate, feed the cat, feed myself, meditate, exercise while listening to audio tapes of the testing content, shower, read notes, take breaks, read more notes, etc. The test in one day is my U.S. Open.

Part of me is wound tight about that.

By now, however, I know the content back and forth. As I listen to the recordings, I am speaking along with the teacher. I’ve scored in the high 90s on all of the practice exams (up from 50s in the winter and 70s in May), and I’ve shown up, day after day, and put in the work to learn this material. I am well-trained. Add to that the increase in meditation time to two hours per day beginning a month ago now. All signs point to success. There’s really little more that I can do at this point.

I’m curious, though. I don’t have any high-stakes, one-shot major events as part of my regular life. I wonder what all of this daily, committed practice will do when it comes to being called to bring my knowledge, skill, and steady mind suddenly to bear?

I will keep you posted. In the mean time, I’ll keep practicing—meditation and studying.

Wk4, Day3: Mudita for Republicans

by Denise Bike 2 Comments

I am a bleeding heart liberal. One could say that I am particularly attached to the values espoused and proposals made by Bernie Sanders. I watched the Republican debate last night.

As it began, they lined up taking pictures. Immediately I noted the sourness of my thoughts, the defendedness in response to my assumptions of what was about to be said. The ill will I felt toward the front runner. I noticed the pull to remain in this space, to deepen these attitudes as I shifted my awareness to the fact that these thoughts were just choices the mind was making in support of my attachment to the values I prefer.

I invited myself to shift my relationship to these fellow humans. Just for these few hours. What would happen if I welcomed an attitude of mudita, for example, as I watched the Republican debate?

Mudita was quite a stretch at first. And it made me laugh—the effort I was expending to welcome in a sense of “sympathetic joy” for a group of people I had pre-emptively decided were the other, them, the enemy even. I chose to focus on one person at a time as a way of shifting from imaginary conflict to a sense of alignment with these fellow people.

Beginning with Carly Fiorina, I imagined how proud and happy she might be feeling to have done so well at the previous debate that she earned a place on the main stage. It softened me immediately. My sense of connection with her deepened further in recognition of what it can be like for a woman to shine in a group of men. Mudita, sympathetic joy, was on the horizon and it shifting this experience palpably.

Then, because Donald Trump was receiving a lot of the initial attention, I turned my focus to him. I quickly noticed how negative my thoughts became as I relished in the obvious vagueness of his responses in contrast to his peers’. Then I remembered that I was practicing mudita.

Donald Trump appears to enjoy receiving attention, so I brought to mind the joy he might be feeling standing in the center of the dais, having so many of the questions relate back to him. A sense of joy arose in me in response, as I realized that he was getting something that he seems to very much like receiving.

I continued this process for around two hours. It was remarkable to spend this time in imaginary alignment with a group of fellow humans that I normally cultivate disgruntlement and tension toward. The difference in the experience was striking. I gained the opportunity to begin considering that, like me, these fellow humans hold their beliefs strongly and wish to act on them in service to the world. In that broad sense, we are not so different after all.