I tried intentionally meditating for the first time in my life about a year ago. The experience I had was mostly positive and I kept up with it for a bit, though slowly but surely, I practiced it less and less. Meditation is hard work, and I don’t mind that, but this work didn’t always feel like it was paying a fair wage. I know it has power though, and I’ve still been curious, so I set out to dig a little deeper.
I spent some time in September exploring some more, and took Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Masterclass on mindfulness and meditation. The guy’s a character, and I enjoyed it. A lot of the course was high level and easy to understand, like the idea of mindfulness being the awareness that arises from being present. A lot of the course felt very nebulous to me though. Ideas that are hard to grasp by simply listening or even doing. One of the more potent things that stuck with me, was the work he’d done teaching mindfulness to prison inmates. Particularly how the men reacted, which led him to describe the experience as if “he were giving food to starving people.” Such a powerful idea. It quickly had me looking inward, wondering what parts of me are dying of starvation and atrophying, even while my body outwardly stands tall and strong.
I took this course months ago but have managed to maintain practicing mindfulness regularly. The trick in making this work sustainable for me this time around, was realizing that sitting or laying meditation, which is what I’ve typically practiced, is just not for me. Instead I’ve found walking meditation, in part thanks to my friend George. I find it much more natural to be aware and present when in motion. Always have. Don’t know why it took so long for me to put together that I’ve had more success entering a state of mindfulness running my third mile than I ever had laying on my back with my eyes closed. Now a few times a week I listen to guided meditation while I walk a few miles through my neighborhood, in the middle of my workday. I often feel refreshed and clear headed after. It’s not a silver bullet that works every time, but this time around, it at least feels like work that pays a fair wage.
My curiosity over meditation has steadily built year by year. The more you learn about it, the harder it is to ignore. Even if I might’ve been in a meditative state before, by whatever means, I certainly never got there deliberately. So I finally set out to give practicing meditation an honest try everyday for a month. One thing for sure is, sitting still and quieting your mind is much easier said than done.
My first two weeks I tried a bunch of different guided videos on YouTube to get a sense of some of the different styles and practices out there. Some focused on what my body was feeling at any given moment. Others were more about shining a light on some positive affirmations that felt important to me, no matter how big or small. I liked those days. A universal common thread across anything I tried though, always was a focus on your breathing. The sound, the cadence, the physical rise and fall of your chest. It really does help to keep the mind from wandering. I did get a little carried away with it though. On two occasions, after 15 minutes straight of forceful breathing, my face went numb and my eyelids started twitching. Pretty sure I was just shy of passing out and was basically just hyperventilating. You live, you learn, and in this case you have a good laugh.
I also found myself visualizing a group of lines while I meditated. Similar to what I’ve illustrated. Maybe one representing work. Maybe another is desire. Maybe fear, maybe anxiety. Regardless of what’s what, they’re all fighting and competing for dominance at any given moment. If I could quiet my mind, the lines distilled down to a circle. But if my mind started to wander, it all broke loose and I’d just see a bunch of spaghetti. It started to become like a target I was aiming for. Probably breaks a few rules, but it was helpful for me and I suppose that’s all that matters.
By the end of the 31 days, I can say that practicing meditation makes me feel better than I did without it, but I’m not sure yet if that’s from the meditation itself, or just from knowing I’m deliberately trying to do something that’s good for me. In any case, I feel better than I did, and that shouldn’t be ignored. So while this challenge officially ended over 3 weeks ago, I’ve kept up with it nearly everyday since. After a little more time and effort I’m excited to see where this one takes me. Hopefully to higher ground.