Meditation will not carry you to another world, but it will reveal the most profound and awesome dimensions of the world in which you already live. Calmly contemplating these dimensions and bringing them into the service of compassion and kindness is the right way to make rapid gains in meditation as well as in life
—Zen Master Hsing Yun
Meditation has become a very important part of my life. It is during my meditative practice that I listen to God, connect with the Universe and find inspiration. I’m calmer and more focused when I meditate regularly. By dedicating time each morning to my practice, I seem to have more time during the day. I do less and get more done. I’m now bemused when I remember how when daily meditation was suggested to me, my first thought was, “where am I supposed to find the time?” Now I can’t imagine not meditating precisely because by doing it I have more time.
I don’t meditate to zone out, escape or tame my monkey mind. I meditate to get up close to the thoughts in my head; the sensations in my body and more fully experience my emotions. I meditate to get intimate with how I’m thinking, sensing and feeling. I meditate to get to know what all of my sensations are trying to tell me. Yet, while I’m doing all that, more and more often, I experience an amazing sense of stillness. Time seems to stop. And I experience longer and longer period of complete tranquility and ease.
What more, while meditating, I often arrive at solutions to often complex, puzzling and challenging problems. I remember the name I’ve forgotten, figure out a solution to problems, or remember where I put the keys. The same thing happens sometimes when I’m cleaning house, but with meditation I have dedicated time set aside to catch up with those magical moments of clarity. Time to connect with my inner insights, memories and knowing are scheduled, not random happening that arrive when I’m often not prepared to take advantage of them like when I’m all wet in the shower or washing dishes.
If meditating is so important, why did I entitle this article “Confessions of a bad meditator?” Well because on April 11 we moved into our new apartment. While we were completely moved in on the 11th, totally unpacked and organized within days of that, between preparing to move and moving my meditation schedule has been shot to hell. For the last few weeks, I’ve meditated only a few times: on Mondays when I lead my meditation group and a few other times when I couldn’t sleep.
But what I’ve discovered through all of this is, falling out of my regularly meditation schedule is a lot like meditating. In my meditation sessions I say, “As your focus wanders, acknowledge where the mind has wandered, notice what the mind is thinking about then gently… and deliberately… return to the object of our attention.” That’s what I’ve done with my meditation routine. I acknowledged that my practice had fallen by the wayside, I’ve noticed what exactly I’ve been doing and I’m gently and deliberately reestablishing my practice.
Being gentle is key. So in the spirit of love and kindness, I’m not beating myself up about it. I am focused without “having to whip myself into shape,” as my teacher Saki Santorelli phrases it. Accepting that life happens, I come back to the practice because it feels good. It is my preference to be grounded and at ease. I like finding solutions easier. Sharon Salzberg is quoted as saying, “We come to meditation to learn how not to act out the habitual tendencies we generally live by—those actions that create suffering for ourselves and others, and get us into so much trouble.” Yes, it feels better to respond as opposed to react. It is clearer than ever that my preference is to be present despite the fact that I fall off the wagon from time to time.
Mediation is a creative process. I’ve read that the creative process consists of six phases: inspiration, incubation, clarification, distillation, perspiration and evaluation, then it starts all over again. Deepak Chopra says, “We can actually accelerate the process through meditation, through the ability to find stillness through loving actions, through compassion and sharing, through understanding the nature of the creative process in the universe and having a sense of connection to it. So, that’s conscious evolution.” Fortunately, there’s no end game in meditation. There is only the present moment.
So what does it all mean? Meditation is as important to me as it has ever been. Sharon Salzberg says dedicating some time to meditation is a meaningful expression of self-care. As our minds grow quieter and more spacious, we can begin to see self-defeating thought patterns for what they are, and open up to other, more positive options. So I acknowledge my experience and I gently and deliberately get on with living. That’s what I call self-love.
But I must admit that over the last few weeks, I’ve gain real clarity and acceptance around the fact that life happens and that’s OK. If being human and therefore imperfect means I’m a bad meditator that’s OK too. I’m willing to live with it. But I won’t quit. I won’t give up on what makes me feel good. Being mindful, living fully and a creating a life I love is a lifestyle. This life I’ve chosen is a marathon.
Just as I will always come back to the breath as the object of my attention when my mind wanders during when I’m on the mat, I’ll return to the practice when life happens when I’m off the mat. Because I’ve learned through my own experience that “meditation is a process of lightening up, of trusting the basic goodness of what we have and who we are, and of realizing that any wisdom that exists, exists in what we already have.” (Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness) Through meditation I can travel the most profound, awesome or even crazy dimensions of the world and find myself in them.
Chödrön goes on to say, “Through meditation we can learn to live “our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing.” This awareness is what saves me from self-criticism. It allows me to say, “Yes sometimes I’m a bad meditator,” without condemning myself. I’m simply acknowledging one aspect of what it means to be me, to be human. In actual fact, this admission is an result of my being more alert, more inquisitive and curious about myself and the world I live in and that’s a good thing.