I have heard many of my yoga and meditation teachers describe how meditation quiets the mind and how it can be easeful and grounding. My experience with meditation in the past year and a half of daily practice has been anything but soothing, however.
I read about people’s initial struggles with meditation. They sit and sit, practice and practice, and then one glorious day they connect with the divine (again, not my experience…at least, not yet). When I sit, I wind up agitated and vexed more often than not.
I kind of think of meditation as something to get out of the way so we can read witches (we have been reading the Deborah Harkness series A Discovery of Witches out loud for the past couple of months).
My husband laughed, and I continued.
I feel like I have to “get ‘er done.”
For more than a year, we were sitting just before going to sleep, but I was finding it so difficult to fall asleep because my mind would go on a rampage during the 20 minutes of silence, ticking off one-by-one the checklist of all of the reasons I should spend this time freaking out rather than attempting to attain zen. So, we started sitting earlier and earlier to allot enough time for reading to try ground my system for sleep.
In the glorious sunny afternoon/evenings of late July and August, my husband and I have taken to sitting in the most gloriously peaceful spot in the enchanted forest beside our home in Boitsfort. We walk a few minutes to a clearing in the woods, sit on a blissfully soft cushion moss, and lean back against a smooth trunk of a solid, grounding tree.
I sit still for a few minutes and am then swept off by my thoughts. As soon as I recognize this mind travel, I try to ground myself in the present by focusing on the wind, the sounds of birds, the feeling of the moss beneath my feet, repeating this process over and over again until my meditation timer chimes the 20-minute marker.
On weekends, we eat breakfast in the sunshine on our little terrace. Again, I sit still for a few minutes and then start thinking of things to do.
You know what would make it easier for the plants on our terrace? They make these little circular platforms on wheels, so it’s easier to move them around.
You mean, for people who like to move things?
Yes. I am constantly rearranging the furniture and moving things around to try to create a feeling of spaciousness and comfort in our home. Especially when I feel that I have little control over big elements of my life, cleaning helps me to set myself up for a task I can accomplish in real time.
Anything but stasis, my husband says, laughing. Maybe, this is your family motto?
As opposed to your family motto: Anything but normal?
He’s right, of course. I have a lot of trouble sitting still, and I am hyper aware of this. Sitting still awakens me to the discomfort I experience with this practice. I don’t like being alone with my thoughts because they can become dangerously all-consuming. My mind is ever in attack/monkey mode, and sitting still just gives me opportunities to engage with the monkey. If I keep moving, I can keep the monkey at bay to a degree.
With the additional events of 2017 swirling through my psyche, sitting still has become even more challenging. I do a lot of cleaning and organizing; I go for long walks; and I practice yoga. I also meditate every night before reading a book out loud with my husband and going to bed.
At the start of each meditation, I sit still, focusing on the air passing in and out of my nose or using a mantra and a mala to try to create grounding. Four out of five times, I find myself increasingly agitated and irritated by the time the meditation is over. Even the mantra started stressing me out because I found myself repeating it faster and faster, my heart rate rising with each passing of the bead. I would then move to a snail’s pace, but somehow even holding the mala seemed to cause my hands to tense up.
I want meditation to be blissful, especially because I know my system is on anxiety overload, but it has been anything but this for me, especially in 2017. For much of this year, I thought my lesson was to practice not being attached to outcomes and a heck of a lot of patience. I have meditated on these ideas in meditation, while walking, practicing yoga, playing music, cooking, cleaning, and riding the metro.
In addition to these practices, another practice has been slowly revealing itself to me. As 2017 clears the six-month mark, I am discovering that a very important practice for me to not allow myself to be pummeled by those who choose the demon over the god.
Before I delve into demons and gods, however, allow me to step back a moment. For those of you who have been reading my posts for a while know very well how sensitive a soul I am. Try as I might, the energies of others beings knock me over with very little effort. A strangely worded email will cause me to think someone doesn’t like me anymore. While I realize that most of the time it is my own storied concoction causing my grief, I also know that the nasty energy can be very real.
I am not only sensitive; I have a kind of sixth sense when it comes to character. The trouble is that I often need to be face-to-face with a person in order to get a sense of their energies.
The other problem is that I don’t expect that people will behave unethically or hurtfully toward me. Why would they? I am a good person, and I wouldn’t do it to them. This has turned out to be very faulty logic, particularly with regard to interactions with people from a distance and especially in the tail end of 2016 and into 2017.
My husband regularly asks me, would you rather be right or happy?
Happy, I respond. Duh!
Well, you don’t need to stop living and be miserable just because someone behaves in a way that you have no control over. You can control your own happiness.
I know he is right, and I want to believe him, but honestly, it just slays me when I find myself at the receiving end of an entitled, immature person’s hissy fit. I especially unravel when it affects my bank account.
I know that I should count my blessings and be thankful that all but one of my clients pay on time, but the one who touts their social justice agenda and then doesn’t pay for services rendered makes me want to scream, not to mention the thousands of dollars worth of damage people renting both of our United States homes have caused, without so much as an apology or compensation.
Again, if I were a toddler, I would simply start screaming, but I am 36, so I will make myself a drink and attempt to meditate….again.
Now back to the demon vs. the god. In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes an a yogic idea from Indian philosophy about the human condition:
“The notion is that human beings are born, as my Guru has explained many times, with the equivalent potential for both contraction and expansion. The ingredients of both darkness and light are equally present in all of us, and then it’s up to the individual (or the family, or the society) to decide what will be brought forth—the virtues or the malevolence. The madness of this planet is largely a result of human being’s difficult in coming into virtuous balance with himself. Lunacy (both collective and individual) results” (p. 333).
I am familiar with expansion and contraction. I am a practicing yogi, after all. We expand and contract a lot in asanas, depending on whether we are creating a heart-opening backbend practice or a quiet offering of forward bends.
I am also aware that I have the capacity for expansion of my heart and generosity of spirit just as much as I have the ability to contract and convince myself that I am justified in hurtful behavior. Over the years, however, I have found that my own system—my heart, spirit, and health—suffers when I contract. So, I try as often as I can to expand.
Given my aforementioned sensibilities, I don’t do so well when I at the receiving end of an attack by those who have been steadily and determinedly contracting in a downward, internal spiral. I don’t want to retaliate and risk my own contraction, but I am definitely not close enough to enlightenment to respond by sending them light and love.
When Gilbert asked a Balinese medicine man, “So what can we do about the craziness of the world?”, he responded, “Nothing…this is nature. This is destiny. Worry about your craziness only—make you in peace” (p. 333).
So there you have it. While I would like to crawl into a hole for the remainder of 2017, I know that my own recipe is to continue to expand, to continue to meditate, to continue walking, singing, yoga-ing, and walking through the forest. This too shall pass, and hopefully I will be able to keep a healthy, safe distance from those who insist on contracting and blaming the world at large for their miserable existence.
For much of my life, my unconscious action has been anything but stasis for a long time, but stillness does not necessarily equal stagnation or defeat.
Stasis can take on many forms, such as expansion and equilibrium.
I choose happiness. I choose heart opening. I choose to practice sitting still to create balance and stasis in my soul.