Monday, December 22, 2014

Breaking free from self-aggression

I’d rather we not meditate than meditate with even subtle self-aggression. Yet self-aggression is what occurs when we sit to be kinder, calmer, more enlightened, more anything. This doesn't mean that we don’t want to apply ourselves toward change or growth, and it’s not to say that meditation doesn’t fuel change or growth, but cultivating a level of okayness with things as they are right now—with ourselves as we are—is at the heart of the practice. 

With this okayness we don’t mind looking back at how things have or haven’t changed. We don’t mind looking at the part we played or didn’t play in these changes. The review is wise and valuable. What isn’t valuable is sitting day after day with the mindset of looking ahead—at the day that we might someday be enough. Again, please, let’s not practice in that way. 
Looking back at our fire circle, aka Dick's Landing
Looking back I discovered that 3 things I had heard about meditation did not come about for me. Instead I found out what did feel true to me. This is the assignment for all meditators: what feels true for you? 

Meditation Myth 1: I will feel relaxed.
What happened instead: I felt awake.
Sitting with my thoughts, my body, and my heart rarely feels relaxing. Sometimes I zone out, which can feel relaxing, but staying present to my mind, my body, my emotions is work. The best description I have for this work is that it feels alive—that I feel alive. Relaxation has me thinking of swaying in a hammock, maybe dozing a bit. And while I’ve certainly dozed while meditating, I’ve never confused that turned down, almost-checked-out state with being fully present.

Meditation Myth 2: I will be able stop my thoughts.
What happened instead: I stopped caring so much about thoughts.
It took me about 10 minutes to realize that if I was going to continue meditating I would have to scrap the idea that I could somehow stop my thoughts. Creating an image of how I might look if I actually did stop all thoughts helped: it’s an image of a frozen-faced me with wide, faraway eyes that leaves me cold. Thoughts come and go. I stopped caring so much about them, which is the truest sense of being free that I ever experience.

Meditation Myth 3: I will feel good.
What happened instead: I felt authentic.
Yes, I hoped that meditating would help me tap into some “feel good” reservoir, at least for a while each day. And while meditation doesn’t make me feel bad, it doesn’t make me feel good either. What I do feel is authentic. So even when I’m sitting with my fear, I’ve become less afraid of my fear. I’m less anxious about my anxiety, less frustrated with my frustration, and so on. 
No. 8, just as she is this time
I can’t say for sure that it’s meditation that brought about these changes. Maybe it’s because I entered my 40s, started running, gave up cheese. But I suspect that meditation has fueled the changes at least in part. I'll keep wondering, ready to change my mind with each breath.

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.