Ten thoughts on my current meditation practice in honor of Meditation Month at Laughing Lotus!
This morning I cleared out a space in my storage closet by the water heater, pulled my bolster in, sat down, and closed my eyes.
Yesterday, I didn’t meditate.
I’m in week 4 of an 8-week mindfulness meditation class. The first week when we were assigned a body scan meditation as homework, much to my surprise, I cried, became despondent, and refused to do it. Such a wild swirl of emotion!
I read that meditation can decrease inflammation at a cellular level and increase the gray matter of our brains. I’m interested in the cooling and calming of my cells. I’m interested in the gray matter of my brain. And that’s just for starters.
I’m also re-reading my very dog-eared copy of Jack Kornfield’s beautiful and practical guide to meditation, “A Path With Heart.” If you are interested in meditation, I highly recommend it. He writes this of meditation practice: “each of us experiences whatever arises again and again as we let go, saying ah this too. That simple phrase: this too, this too, this too.”
I have a meditation app on my phone that is mostly just a timer with an alarm that sounds like a meditation bowl. I like it, though, because it has no other function than to sit beside me while I meditate. It will remind me that I have a “meditation streak” of zero days from time to time. It also records how many hours I’ve meditated while using it as my timer. I have meditated for 9 hours and 40 minutes since I downloaded it, which strikes me as funny: it seems like a lot and like nothing at all.
Of course, the beautiful and essential thing about meditation is that it isn’t quantifiable. It is stillness and fire and quiet and explosions and breath and all of the invisible work inside of our cells. It is ferociously qualitative, giving a very specific texture to our relationship with the present moment.
If I’ve learned anything about meditation recently it’s that sometimes when you sit with yourself unpleasant things arise. That is where the phrase, “This too…” comes in. Because the unpleasant passes just as the pleasant does. When I really, really believe that truth then the result of meditation is a certain softness that arises where otherwise I would have the hardest edges. Sometimes the result of meditation is that I feel no distinction between the air and my skin.
I find myself with that simple phrase, this too, or some version, as an echo in my mind these last few days. This echo encourages me to stand just a bit longer in front of a piece of art and really look at it. It lets me bike against the wind with the fog rolling in and not struggle against the cold and the frustration. It inspires me to walk through my neighborhood at dusk with no destination in mind. This too, this too, this too, my body remembers even when I don’t consciously say the words. There is no end result I’m aiming for; it’s simply a way to be.
One of my favorite meditations recently was accompanied by a mudra (a symbolic and meditative gesture of the hands). It is called the Pushan Mudra. In your right hand you connect the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. In your left hand you connect the thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. While sitting in a cross legged position, allow the backs of your hands to rest on the tops of your legs and keep this connection of the fingertips. While you inhale, imagine that your right hand is drawing in everything you need. While you exhale, imagine that your left hand is releasing everything that you don’t need. Perhaps even try naming what those things are with one or two words. Name what you want to cultivate and name what you want to release.
I think it is important to really think about what some of this means…we talk a lot about letting go but how can we really do that? I believe it is something we can do with the intention, gentleness, and discipline of a meditation practice.
Someone I love wrote this loving-kindness meditation inside a card for me:
May I be grounded in love.
May I feel the love love and support that surrounds me.
May I relinquish fear and worry and find places of rest and comfort.
May I know gratitude, even in the midst of challenges.
May I find that still center of equanimity, acceptance, and freedom from suffering.
May I and all beings be free from suffering.
May I and all beings experience wholeness and healing.
She wrote, This meditation helps enlarge one’s world.
Meditation is, of course, impossible to summarize neatly or succinctly. Our meditation practices are unique to each of us: singular, strange, beautiful, difficult, ongoing. But I do like that definition: that it can help us enlarge our world. We get to return, every day, to a practice that is never the same. We get to return to a self, every day, that is never the same. We get to pause, even for just a few moments, to take note.
The day before yesterday, I sat down, set my timer, and closed my eyes. Immediately, I thought about who I had to email, some responses were time sensitive, others not. I thought about what I had to do later, what groceries were in the refrigerator and what I could cook with them. I thought about meditation and about how I was thinking too much, but at least I was doing it. I thought about how thoughts are supposed to be OK and I just needed to stop worrying about it, and I thought about how ridiculous this particular train of thought was currently getting. I thought about summer and the month of June. I thought about coffee, the next basketball game, my novel. I wondered how long I’d been meditating. Time felt very slow, very sweet, and I suddenly realized I shouldn’t try to rush it, or wonder about how much of it had just gone by. And so I just sat there in my storage closet, very still, very quiet, very present…for at least one whole and uninterrupted moment.
Laura grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and has lived in San Francisco for the past 14 years. When she isn’t practicing and teaching yoga, she is hard at work on a novel. Come practice with her at the Lotus on Tuesday (10:45am Basics), Wednesday (7am Sunrise Flow), or Friday (9am Basics)! More yoga info and inspiration can be found at Yoga with Laura on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/futurecircayoga/).