All in a Morning’s Meditation

canstockphoto1432692This morning, as I sat in a meditative pose, I could feel the throbbing pain of my knee. I let my thoughts tumble one over another – how I’d failed to do the daily exercises to deal with the injury, forgot to take ibuprofen, took the stairs too frequently. They continued to tumble down on me – I hadn’t met my writing goals for the week. I ate too much. I didn’t spend enough time with my family. I wasn’t patient with the cats. Tumble, tumble, tumble.

When I find my meditation the center of a campaign of me-shaming, I can only practice acknowledging the thought and letting it float by. I try to loosen its grip on my psyche, imagining stepping on its fingers as it clings to the side of a cliff. My meditation is not a peaceful one. A thought steps out of the shadows. No more suffering.

There is pain and then there is suffering. I began to think about the pain I was feeling and how every action I took or didn’t take, prolonged the pain to the point of suffering. Why would I make myself suffer? Intellectually, it makes no sense, but emotionally, it’s apparently my jam.

I come from a long line of martyrs/survivors. It’s a mindset I both admire for its tenaciousness and despise for the very same reason. The problem is when the abusive parents are dead or reformed, when you can stop turning in pop cans for a meal, when you finally stand on your own two feet, find stability and have the potential for happiness less than fleeting, your brain is still in crisis mode, still waiting for the next shoe to drop. And when it doesn’t happen, the brain gets creative.

canstockphoto5504066Even as I write this, I’m chastising myself for writing about first world problems – that all I have to do is watch the news and I’d see real suffering. But suffering, regardless of the source or how minor, does not make someone a better person. Pain is different – pain tells us something is wrong. Pain tells us we are in need of a solution, a palliative, a different direction. Suffering is like guilt or anxiety – only good for the lesson, a reminder to change course. Beyond that, it’s cruel and exhausting and pointless.

I finished reading a book about overcoming perfectionism. I gave it a B- in my notes and that made me laugh. The author’s target audience would not be generous in their reviews. She did a good job of building and explaining scenarios from whence perfectionists emerge. And it wasn’t about people with high standards for their own work. It was about people like me, who nearly choke on the phrases “This is good enough. I am good enough.” When good enough seems like an insult.

Sometimes when I write things, I think how often they’ve been written about, how often I’ve heard “get out of your own way” or “say positive affirmations”. I can hear that advice a thousand times over and I never absorb it. It sits in a mental waiting room. It waits for a connection, like a call on hold. Waiting for me to figure it out.

I rarely read newly published books or go to movie theaters. One day, I’ll be in a bookstore and pick up a book on the clearance shelf. It was published ten years ago. I’ll read that book and it will feel like this new, wonderful discovery that no one has any interest in discussing. It’s mine – an organic discovery. Like most lessons, they don’t take hold until we discover it ourselves.

canstockphoto5927403Meditation can be one of those westernized new-agey things that can come couched in a lot of fuzzy terminology and equipment (you can buy meditation pillows, stools, incense, books, CDs etc.). For me, these are things that give meditation all the appeal of a new exercise class using bowling balls and colanders (I’m sure it’s coming).

There are enough books that tell you how to meditate. There are testimonials that make it seem like you are shortly to be transported to nirvana if you can just touch your fingers and thumbs while sitting cross-legged. But you’ll need the special magic carpet. Or you can read accounts of people who sit and do this for hours on end.

I just wanted to make space in my life to stop everything. I can be very self-assured when I talk about running and gardening and how it’s meditation in motion. And then my body smacks me upside my ego and kneecaps me until I’m shuffling about and wincing at every move. So what are you going to do now, you smug bastard?

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Am I done yet?

My meditation is messy and imperfect. I remind myself to adhere to the advice of Pema Chödrön. Approach it with curiosity and see what arises. So I get up in the morning, grab a pillow and timer and I make myself sit, breathing in and out until the timer beeps. I started at five minutes and now I’m up to a grand total of seven. Seven minutes in which I implore my brain to let the thoughts float by. Seven minutes that I fidget or, as happened last week, begin to snore softly.

Sometimes I imagine it’s like having to watch an entire campaign speech just to get the sound bite for a news story. I have to sit every day, rolling my eyes at my attention-seeking brain, just to find that sliver of light, that second of wisdom or insight. But I’ve made the space and I am curious to see what’s next.

29 Comments on “All in a Morning’s Meditation

  1. As it relates to your knee, I am no expert, but … It is hard to quiet your brain if all you can “hear” and feel is pain. Many years ago I took guided meditation classes. there were quite a lot of us and we didn’t sit cross-legged on the floor, we sat on bridge chairs. Try just positioning yourself inn a way that is comfortable and doesn’t hurt your knee.

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  2. Good for you! I find that the most comfortable position is the “right” one. I agree with the above comment–you don’t have to be cross-legged or holding your hands a certain way, etc. For me, the key is getting to a point where my body doesn’t even exist anymore.

    I’ve been practicing off and on for a very long time, but just recently got back into the habit (doctor’s orders for my recent anxiety and depression). I started with just 5 minutes a day (and it was all monkey-brain chatter!) and now I’m up to a good solid 20 minutes. Some days I sit there and can’t stop thinking while other days I have zero thoughts and feel like I’m just floating consciousness. It’s worth the practice to get to that point. Absolute peace.

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    • I’ve found, especially with my perfectionist must-get-it-right tendencies, that coming to it with no expectations is a practice unto itself. It’s interesting to me that your key is to feel you have no body and I feel the need to reconnect with mine, using the same tool. Another demonstration that being open to whatever arises is important – what will arise for one person will be entirely different for another.

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  3. Thanks for the reminder, Michelle! Might you disclose the book on perfectionism you read? I could use something like that… ;P And I think you may have inspired my next NaBloPoMo post… 😉 Thank you again! Have a great week! ❤

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  4. Knee problems are certainly annoying and inconvenient, Michelle. Last year, I was having issues with mine but I started doing yoga on a daily basis and that really helped. I also make sure that I am constantly moving. Meditation is a very tough discipline. I don’t do it per se but yoga does involve concentration and breath. I wish you success with this new venture. As for perfectionism, I am trying to overcome it as well.

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    • I do yoga a couple of times a week, but this injury precludes that as well. I am the worst about having patience when it comes to healing. Meditation feels like a reset button when I’m getting lost in my own, usually incorrect, narrative – which often involves perfectionist thinking. It’s tough work, but having exhausted most other options (usually self-destructive), I’m approaching it with an open mind.

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      • I hope you find success with meditation, Michelle. I have heard it has changed people’s lives. I have also heard it is excellent for quelling those inner demons & for promoting positive & productive thoughts.

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  5. Always remember being told by a meditation teacher to let thoughts bubble up from the depths and pop before returning to the mantra which helps you dive down again … so I hit him … joking, but the first bit was true!

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  6. Yaay!
    My teacher once suggested that when physical pain is present to just sit with that. Let the pain be the meditation. Notice any changes or shifts. Notice your reactions. Notice what the rest of the body is up to, then come back to the pain. I found this really interesting.

    And might I suggest that when the me-shaming starts, you offer it a compassionate hand-up instead of throwing it off the cliff.

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  7. I’m in the recliner icing my ankle and keying then deleting unclever comment after comment. Perfectionist’s curse. Maybe this one will make it.
    Every day I have to convince myself into the “begin again” posture. Some days I’m more convincing than others. Today is not one of those days.

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    • Today is not one of those days for me. Sleep deprivation is making everything just a little bit worse, but it’s a beautiful sunny day, so I’m upright and hobbling about anyway. Hope your ankle feels better soon!

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  8. The part about finding books and movies in your own time, as an organic discovery seems familiar. That’s what’s so great about Goodreads or similar sites for me, because I can spout my opinion on an ancient book there, and now and again somebody even ‘likes’ my review, validating the effort I put in.

    Reading is probably the nearest I get to meditation. Even if my brain is whirling, if there’s a book that can get my attention, it can slow me down again. Mind you, some books just trigger lots of ideas and I end up writing five half-finished draft blog posts in a row. As for proper meditation, I don’t think I’ll ever feel drawn to it. if I lie still at the end of a power yoga class, listening to the CD of music and natural sounds, I more often than not get the giggles because who on earth thought a seagull or a loon or a frog croaking were relaxing? Ommmmmm….squirrel!

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    • I love reading with an unnatural passion, but it definitely gives my brain a zap. Meditation is one of those things I wanted to do, but got too hung up on the mechanics. Now that I keep it simple, just focusing on breathing, I’m getting the hang of it.
      I used to go to this beautiful yoga center – sunlight would pour in the windows and all the people were pretty, perfect bendy people. Invariably two minutes into the relaxation pose and I’d doze off. And I’m not bendy in the least, so I do it in the privacy of my home, sometimes with videos. It’s much less embarrassing when I grunt from my efforts or fall asleep at the end!

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      • In spite of midde-aged spread, for some inexplicable reason I am bendy. Your yoga centre sounds wonderful. Only so-called power yoga at the gym for me. The main problem with yoga is wobbling or poses where your arms have to be unnaturally long. Some of those poses must have been invented by apes, I’m sure!

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  9. Pingback: On the Second Arrow | Healing Through Connection

  10. Yep, those mind monkeys are pretty hyper. I find that I often need ten minutes just to get my head to settle down before peace sets in. Today, meditation was noisy the whole way through. Ah well, it’s a lifetime process. Peace, John

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    • I missed this comment the first time through, John. Hope all is well. My meditation seems to ebb and flow. I’m having some really restless mornings (fueled by life stuff anxiety), but even the worst sessions improve things a bit.

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  11. I would suggest MSM for your knee, it’s great for the tendinitis in my knees. I know this because recently i ran out and forgot to get more and started wondering why my knees were bothering me all of a sudden!?
    I get you on the perfectionism front too! I’ve tried to explain to my husband the difference between that and the pursuit of excellence, he doesn’t get it. He’s not a perfectionist. I have a boss (at least he’s corporate level so I don’t see much of him,) who is one of those perfectionists who doesn’t recognize that it’s a disease. I’ve learned to be gentle with myself in spite of the men in my life who feed into it!

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    • I’m finishing up a bottle of Zyflamend. It didn’t help, but it was expensive. I’m starting on glucosamine and MSM when it’s done, so thanks for the affirmation that it might be worth a try.
      It is hard to sometimes tell the difference between having high standards and being a perfectionist. I got a lot from reading Hillary Rettig’s “The 7 Secrets of the Prolific:The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block”. She really digs in on the issue and clarified it for me. In my case, it’s not those around me – it’s my old patterns of thinking that really do me in. Really, really tough to make that change!

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      • The old patterns are the core issue, the people around me just make it that much harder! More times than I’d like to remember I decide I’m just going to do a quick job and end up doing all the fine details (toothpicks and cotton swabs?) Every time I hear myself say “Good enough,” I think of it as a major victory!!

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  12. I know that every life story is different. And it is good that we can write and share our own… For me meditation was a more than just some interest, it was a tool that helped me to survive. Seven years ago I knew nothing about meditation, and would call or at least thing about everyone who would meditate a “bad name.” My story is long, and I don’t want to bother anyone with it in this comment. Yet I would like to say that my path took me from a communistic country atheist-raised seeker for Truth, through a conservative baptist church, who marries a Roman Catholic priest. and here I am now: a person who found this precious gift of meditation, when life became hard. I observed some of my Thai students and something about them surprised me. When my health conditions changed for the worse, I lost my job and my house, when my husband and my kids looked at me for help to bring money to the family… I turned to meditation as a tool to stop, calm down, and maybe, just maybe get some insight. I am thankful for that gift that lowered my blood pressure and allowed me to get rid of my panic attacks, taught me to understand my body, my mind, and the life situation better. No, I am not looking for Nirvana in my meditation. I do not search any spiritual experience in it. For me it is a practice. Like yoga: a tool. But it is a tool that works wonders. Thank you for allowing me to share this with you. Peace. (Sorry that it turned out to be so personal)

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  13. Pingback: How mindfulness may ease your suffering - Dr Feel Good

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