Saturday, August 18, 2012

A week - and a blog post - full of challenges

The events of the past week have encouraged me (in a loud, coercive kind of way) to start meditating again.   For a while, my life consisted of a regular daily meditation practice that combined classes and workshops several days a week with meditating at home by myself in my quiet apartment on non-class days.  I found both experiences helpful in my quest for the relaxation and focus I hoped to achieve, as meditating with others is a very symbiotic experience of shared space/shared breath/shared energy, while meditating alone offers an opportunity to tap into one's own presence in a profound and necessary way.  Given the many benefits of meditation, I have no logical explanation as to why I simply stopped one day, though I do have an explanation: I felt better.  Not unlike a medical condition, that sense of "all better" that often kicks in when the treatment is doing its work often lends a feeling of faux recovery, as if anxiety and feelings of imbalance are curable and the desire for a more focused, more holistically healthy life has a definitive endpoint. 

But here's the thing: There is no "Wellness Finish Line."  Or, if Maslow is more your thing, no "Self-Actualization Finish Line."  All those sayings about life being a marathon and not a sprint, and about living through the journey and not living for the end result aren't only great tee-shirt and bumper sticker slogans - they happen to be true.  Overused, but true. The road to "Optimum" is endless, and in our goal-driven, time-sensitive, do-it-yourself world of 24/7 non-stopedness, many of us become anxious at the mere thought of any pursuit that doesn't have a measurable outcome or a final destination.  Certainly things would be different if life were like a Thanksgiving turkey and came equipped with one of those little white poppers to let us know when we had reached our full potential. But would things necessarily be better that way?  Is it possible that what keeps us reaching higher is the lack of restriction that a finish line presents?  I wonder how many marathon runners could keep running (and/or would keep running) if they were aiming for something a lot further away than that ribbon waiting just past the 26th mile.

So here is my first challenge:  I want you to use my slightly "out there" Thanksgiving turkey popper example above to learn something about yourself (and others).Aside: this is probably most naturallly done at Thanksgiving, while the turkey is cooking, but get creative and do it now if you can.  First ask yourself this question, and then ask others:  When that popper finally pops, do you say (either out loud or to yourself) the turkey is "done" or do you say the turkey is "ready"?  (Or do you use some other term/phrase for what that popped popper signifies?)

I only pose the question and point out the two answers I typically hear because I think "done" indicates that some extrinsic element has determined a thing to be over.  Ended. Finished.  "The turkey is "done" mentality signifies that the cooking of the turkey was the main event, and that the Thanksgiving dinner, the moment we believe we long for all year (those of us who love Thanksgiving anyway), is actually the denoument.  How depressing! 

Yet for those who say the turkey is "ready," the fun has just begun.  The dinner is the beginning of something, and the turkey (and all it signifies and symbolizes)  still holds a promise, rather than a past.  I don't know what all this means in the larger macrocosm, certainly, but I do find it an interesting experiment, and one that crept into my consciousness during a Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago, when I realized that the people in my life tend to be "The turkey is done" people, while I am a "Turkey is ready," despite the fact that I am a vegan.  As is probably clear by now, this is not really about turkey.

I think this challenge and this examinantion of how we think and speak and act is all significant as I  approach meditation and begin again.  I have decided to start with the basics by turning to the book I used last year - Real Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg.  In her book, Salzberg - a meditation teacher for decades and an amazing woman in general - breaks meditation down into its most basic components, dispelling meditation myths (i.e. "Meditation is too hard for me" and "I'm not the type of person who meditates") and guiding practitioners through various types of meditation from breathing exercises to hearing and walking meditations and beyond.  More than anything, Salzberg encourages meditators from the novice to the experienced to make meditation part of everyday life by scheduling time and arranging a place and giving ourselves whatever we have - an hour, fifteen minutes, a few deep breaths - to connect with ourselves and simply settle in.  I encourage you to go to Salzberg's site for more information and helpful resources:

I think, if nothing else, that meditation is simply a way not to zone out, but to look inward without judgement, without that hurried, chaotic numbness that often pushes us through each day from one task to the next, so that for at least a few breaths, we are grounded firmly in the moment - which is a place we rarely give ourselves permission to stay for long, if we are even able to find our way there at all.  When we sit and breathe, we are not stopping anything.  Or, to put it in turkey terms, we are not done, we are ready.  We are not looking back, we are looking forward.  We are beginning something and we are hopeful even though we can't possibly know or predict what the outcome will be. Even though we are sitting still and quiet, we are moving forward.

I am going to be posting parts of Salzberg's 28-day meditation challenge here over the next few weeks - pieces I find helpful as well as things I find difficult. The goal for the first week of this challenge is to meditate for at least twenty minutes, three times during the week.  I find it helpful to have Salzberg's voice to guide me through these sessions on her audiobook version of Real Happiness, and though I encourage you to go directly to the master herself, you can also find free meditation podcasts online to help you, too.

I hope you will join me and post feedback here when you can.  I am interested to know both the outome of my little turkey popper experiement, and more interested in what you think of meditation and whether you think you will try this 28-day challenge - or any pieces of it that appeal to you.  "Progress, not perfection,"  they say.  Another great tee-shirt/bumper sticker slogan, and a perfect way to meet yourself in meditation one breath at a time.

Happy breathing until next time,
~~ Hasky

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