Archive for the ‘meditation’ Category

Years ago (shockingly six years have somehow passed since I started this blog!) I wrote a lot about my struggles with choosing a form of meditation and whether that choice encouraged me to keep my eyes opened or closed.

Last week a friend came over for our “happiness project” group, asking if she could borrow a room in our house for a bit before the meeting started because she needed to fit in some meditation.  First of all, I truly admire her flexibility in finding time and space for her practice.  I really need to take that in and try to apply it to my own life (for example, once I arrive at work I act as if any chance at meditation is impossible.  When, in fact, I have my own office with a door at the end of a hall that few people venture down — a completely viable space for meditation to happen whenever I need a quick break and time to refocus my energy).

After my friend wrapped up her meditation in our den, she talked about how relaxing her practice is and how she can get so far into it that the outside world melts away.  I have never achieved this in meditation.  I told her how I am lucky to achieve three breaths before my monkey mind jumps in.  It turns out that she does a mantra based meditation (eyes closed, one sanskrit word with “good vibration” — she didn’t tell me what word — in her head).  This got me thinking about shifting my meditation practice again — back to where I began.

For the past few years, my meditation has been in the tradition of Shambhala instead of the mantra based and metta meditations that I practiced early on.  So for the past week or so I have gone back to doing eyes closed with the mantra –” om mani padme hum.”  This has been going well, but also meditation has been doing the work that it is intended to do by revealing my continued obsession and difficulties with decision making.  While I am meditating, I keep getting hung up on whether or not this is the “right” mantra for me.  Additionally, at night I have been reading Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job.  Her method is metta meditation, which I learned from her on a retreat and found it to be both delightful and truly challenging (compassion toward my enemy = not easy).

I think that my issue with the “jewel of the lotus” mantra is that I have trouble understanding its meaning.  It is difficult to accurately translate Sanskrit into English, and this phrase, for whatever reason, seems particularly elusive.  The 14th Dalai Lama, however, gave a simplified meaning as follows:

“Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[…]”

Ultimately most meditation practices that come out of ancient/historical religious or spiritual tradition have, at their heart, the goals of mindfulness and compassion.  Metta meditation works this directly into the meditation practice, but this does not mean that meditating in a different way somehow excludes that focus or those goals.  So perhaps this mantra isn’t as distant or distinct from my beliefs about meditation as I once thought.  Practicing the transformation into pure body, speech, and mind of a Buddha does actually consist  of mindfulness and compassion toward humanity and all living beings — the same way that another of my favorite mantras does:


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I just finished my morning meditation.  Because my recent resolutions involve both regular meditation and regular morning writing (15 minutes, 5 days/week), I seem to have developed a new form of “monkey mind”:  I call it the “write this” category of “thinking.”  As I meditate, my mind keeps jumping to plans for what I can write about.  As any writer knows, writer’s block is a particularly invasive, pervasive, and paralyzing occurrence.  And since fears commonly rise to the surface during meditation, it makes complete sense that my mind attempts to spend my meditation time trying to deal with this particular fear — especially since I have been writing after I meditate each morning.

To change this, I thought to try to write first; however, my morning goals need be accomplished while also accommodating my partner’s morning schedule.  Then there is my need for my morning cup of coffee (as a side note, I am rereading Sylvia Boorstein’s It’s Easier than You Think, and her opening section is about our conceptions of spirituality and how this doesn’t always jive for people with her own love of morning coffee.  I’ve tried to quit coffee in the past, thinking that it’s bad for my anxiety, but my shiatsu practitioner once described coffee as her “joy,” and I thought, “It’s my damn joy too!”  And joy goes a long way in helping to prevent anxiety).  Dorthea Brande, author of Becoming a Writer,  actually recommends the first thing in the morning approach:  get out of bed, stumble to computer, write.  First thing.  Before coffee.  Before yoga.  Before shower.  But this subconscious writing isn’t really the writing that I’m trying to do.  I don’t have time to continue to write throughout the day, so my morning writing time needs to be rather conscious.

Alas, I don’t seem to have a perfect solution.  “Monkey mind” is an inevitable part of meditation, and I think that being aware of this new category “counts” for something.  That is, part of the practice is about noticing our thoughts and coming back to present/breath.

But before I forget — some upcoming writing ideas (freshly hatched during this morning’s practice!):  my happiness project goals and update, difficulty with “natural breath,” posting about sugar addiction to healthy lifestyle group google page.

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Today was the first day of my new “back to school” schedule, which involves getting up at 5:30 in order to fit in some yoga and meditation before my day starts — only today I didn’t quite make it out of bed at 5:30.  This left my practice feeling kind of rushed, but I got in ten minutes of yoga and five minutes of meditation.  I am trying to heartily embrace the concept of “some is better than none.”  Having long been an “all or nothing” person, this can be a challenge, but I did it.

This was also the first day I’ve meditated since we moved in early October — more than three months without meditation in my life!  During this time period I had all the typical excuses:  no time, new schedule (and therefore no set rituals), no space.  The plan was to have the basement as a kind of workout/yoga/meditation space, but, as is typical, it became the overflow space instead.  The space where boxes that had yet to be unpacked were scattered throughout in no organized fashion.  Despite being finished, it also felt like a basement:  cold, damp, smelly.

Trying to embrace the “some is better than none” mentality, I knew that I could have simply thrown my yoga mat meditation bench down on the floor between the living room and dining room on the main floor.  I even brought them upstairs as a reminder to do so.  I just never did.  I’ve taken enough meditation classes to know that I should be able to sit on the toilet and meditate, if that is what it takes to fit meditation into my day; however, this morning, as I set up my now finished (cleared out and decorated) basement space — lighting candles, turning on the little fire/heater, choosing the “right” lights, rolling out my yoga mat on a clean floor — I realized that space does matter.  This is, after all, why people set up shrines and decorate meditation spaces in vibrant colors — even if the decor is sparse and simple.  While I agree that part of the point of a meditation practice is developing the ability to return to self, to center, to breath — to be mindful — regardless of where one is, there is also something valid in the idea of creating and having a sacred space.  After all, there exist ancient practices like feng shui that are dedicated to the idea of how and why space matters.

The basement still isn’t perfect.  It’s a “rec” (aka “wreck”) room and so it has all those elements to it as well.  I’m sure that no feng shui expert would approve, but it works for me.  I can make it warm.  I have space to move.  I have the gentle light of candles.  I can close the door to the upstairs and rest of the world for a little bit.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a space dedicated to my practice and (hopefully) it will continue to motivate me to get up the morning and descend the stairs to spend a bit of time centering before the very imperfect and very de-centering day begins.

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First off, Johnson & Johnson (or Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. a subsidiary of J&J) has recently been entangled in a number of lawsuits over the drug that I was taking, Risperdal. The claim is that J&J exaggerated the drug’s effectiveness, while downplaying it’s harmful side-effects–specifically, the risk of developing diabetes. None of this surprises me. I’m sure the majority of pharmaceutical companies do the same thing. And the way that med makes you crave carbs and sugar, it’s no wonder people develop diabetes while on it. All of this just makes me more determined to find a way to manage my anxiety without medication. And so far, I seem to be doing just that. It’s not perfect by any means, but it seems to be getting better.

Meditation: I’ve been pretty good with the meditation resolution. I don’t get to meditate on the weekends, and, caught up in my nerves about teaching, I forgot to meditate on Monday. Right now my meditations are very short, but I’ve also been trying to work Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique into my days (twice a day if I remember).

Schedule (maintaining work/life balance): I’m nearing the end of week two, and this seems to be going okay, but I am already running up against not having enough time (a common lament, I’m sure). Week one without student papers to respond to and with prepping only introductory material is easy. Now comes the hard part: lots of reading, students papers, and intense prep. What I am trying to become better at though is compartmentalizing. When I decide my work day is over (and I’m trying to keep this kind of standard 8-4, 9-5, 7-3), then I try to really shut work out and focus on the things I enjoy: currently working on a puzzle that I got for Christmas, crocheting, and my guilty pleasures: American Idol and Biggest Loser.

Last week, I didn’t have time for an hour of organizing and didn’t even finish cleaning the house this weekend. These things kind of aggravate me, but I’m trying not to let them get me down. I did, however, spend about 20 minutes organizing some paperwork, and I spent about the same amount of time with my Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. I think that focusing on the things that I have accomplished is probably a better approach than cataloging those that I haven’t.

I also scheduled a massage for my first Thursday afternoon “hooky” session which is coming up next month.

The next couple of days and upcoming weekend are feeling pretty unmanageable to me at this point. There is just not enough time to get everything done that I want and need to do. This is why life is all about prioritizing. I am determined to cook some healthy food on Sunday, because I haven’t been doing so well with the dietary improvements.

So nearing the end of the first month of 2012, and I’m still getting along and focused on these goals and resolutions. Let’s see what February has to offer.

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It seems like the mantra stuck in my head last semester was, “I’m not doing enough.” This semester, I’d like to try to shift it to: “I’m doing what I can, and it’s good enough.” Maybe it seems like I’m only striving for mediocrity, but if you ask me, that is all I got out of last semester anyway. So what good did all the berating of self accomplish? This shift in thinking goes along with the idea that we are “human beings” not “human doings.” We all need some time to just “be.” If I keep promising myself that I will make room for that this semester, then maybe it will actually happen. This also reminds me of the new year’s resolution that I forgot to put on my list, but which is seemingly most important in shifting my way of thinking: meditation. My goal is to meditate five days a week.

Quick resolution check-in: Not doing so well with the limiting sweets. Had a chocolate chip cookie at the local coffee shop and then baked apple cake last night. Yum!

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Spiritual practices and teachings are filled with concepts about the impermanent nature of life: “This too shall pass.” “Live in the present moment..it’s all we really have.” Etc. So too it seems that my particular types of and commitment to spiritual practice metamorphose.

Today I reopened Jennifer Louden’s The Life Organizer, which I originally purchased for myself and started using in early 2007 and stopped using in 2008 (Wow! Has it really been that long?). Previous to owning and using this book of Louden’s I had really enjoyed her Women’s Retreat Book.

I decided to pick up where I had left off, which was at week 13. The opening reading to weeks 13-16 describes a woman taking quiet time to escape the “shoulds” and “have tos” by lighting a candle and making prayer cards. There was a point in my life when this idea would have seemed very appealing to me. I might even have been inspired and encouraged to scheduled some “quiet candle time” into my own life. Today (three years later) this feels utterly unappealing. The woman describes shifting from a state of “human doing” to our more natural state of “human being,” and this is a shift I subscribe to and feel strongly about. And yet, there is something about it that unnerves me. I have to wonder if this is then something I should push through (e.g. make myself sit quietly with candles lit and arts and crafts) or has my sense of and ways of expressing spirituality merely changed?

All I know is that instead of the urge to spend quiet candle time, in fact even instead of the desire to continue working with The Life Organizer, I had the strong desire to write. This is not new, and I’m not sure it necessarily fits into the realm of spiritual practice (or maybe if it centers and fulfills me, then it does), but it’s what my soul wanted in that moment. A moment in which I turned to The Life Organizer because I wasn’t sure what to do next (or at all for that matter), and what came out of it was this blog entry.

Now this result may initially seem like a “good” thing: I found what to do in moment in which I was lost; however, much of my increasingly severe anxiety is attached to productivity. I haven’t done much in the way of meditation lately, because sitting makes me antsy (which is precisely why I “should” sit). The “shoulds” that turn us all into “human doings” have been chasing me at full speed. But there is another side to this as well: While writing a blog post on spirituality and meditation might feel productive to me, it is also something I’ve been craving and putting off because it’s not the kind of writing that gets me ahead at my job. Writing for a little, unknown, pseudonymous blog without readership doesn’t count toward my tenure file. And so in breaking away from my constant need to be “productive” in one particular way, I’ve made some room to reconnect with my interest in spirituality in meditation in another way–through writing (which was, after all, the point of starting this blog to begin with).

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I have four new year resolutions. One of them to get back on my spiritual path. That entails (most importantly) meditation, maintaining this blog, doing yoga, and staying on top of daily (or at least) weekly spiritual readings. I’ve been feeling very out-of-sorts lately — uncomfortable in my own skin. I know that it doesn’t help that I “fell off the wagon.”

For me I know that without a regular spiritual/meditation practice, I am not as solid a person in this world. It’s the equivalent of an alcoholic’s relapse. I am not conscious of being a caring, attentive person. I just lose my grounding.

Another resolution is to get and stay organized. I got an awesome new book, Sorted: The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Your Life Once and For All!, and I’ve been working my way through its many “recipes.” I’ve been obsessed with eliminating any and all clutter. Trying to clean outside of myself as a way of feeling better inside myself. While I do think that the external environment in which we live is important to our inner well being, I also know that ultimately I need to find inner peace despite chaos. It’s a fine line, and I’m trying to find the balance.

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