1.24.2011

a successful meditation practice is one in which you show up

Do you meditate? Have you ever had a meditation practice?

I recently resumed meditating after many, many years. Ever since starting graduate school, I've had an increase in anxiety. I take anti-anxiety medication as needed, and I have no issue with that; as far as I'm concerned those babies are little medical miracles. But it's not safe to take them too often, and with my addictive personality - and having had a parent who was a substance abuser - I have to be careful.

I already know how to control my anxiety so it doesn't escalate into a full-fledged panic attack - how to slow my breathing, begin an inner dialogue - how to change the subject, so to speak. So while doing this a few weeks ago I suddenly realized that I could be doing more.

Sometime in the mid-90s, Allan and I took a meditation class together. I had a lot of trouble sleeping in those days (undiagnosed fibromyalgia), and found that regular meditation helped. Once or twice I even felt I had entered some kind of different level of consciousness, neither awake nor asleep. But once the class ended, I didn't continue the practice. Allan stayed with it longer than me, but eventually we both lost the habit.

That was a long time ago, and I wasn't sure I remembered how to go about it anymore. I found a wealth of meditation resources online, and that served as a good refresher, enough that I felt I could get started. Then it was just a matter of taking the plunge - always a little more difficult than we think.

This is my third week. I'm finding it much easier to do now, compared to my mid-30s. In those days, I had to be busy every moment. I had a packed calendar of work, writing, social life and activism. As I mentioned in the "on becoming a writer" series, I had to be writing one story, pitching another, and following up on three query letters at all times. Sitting still and letting my mind empty was very challenging. It's much easier to sit still now!

What is challenging this time around is approaching meditation without judgment. I am so accustomed to mentally assigning a grade to everything I do. "I had a great swim today." "We had a great meeting." "I had a terrible writing day today." To carry that approach to a meditation practice would be self-defeating.

There is one bit from that meditation class that I remember very clearly, one phrase from the instructor that has always stayed with me. When I said this to Allan, he knew immediately what it was. (Kudos to that teacher, wherever he is.) He said: "A successful meditation practice is one in which you show up."

A successful meditation practice is one in which you show up.

Not how long you sat there. Not whether or not you entered any particular state of consciousness. Not if conscious thoughts popped into your head. Not how you did today compared to how you did yesterday.

The idea is not to judge or analyze or evaluate or improve or refine.

Just show up.

And something occurs to me, something I completely missed back then. This approach of No Judgment could be applied to many other areas of one's life, with potentially healthful results.

So now I am going to sit in a darkened room and breathe.

23 comments:

Amy said...

As I mentioned recently, I have found both yoga and meditation very helpful for relieving anxiety and remembering to "live in the moment." I started yoga last fall on the recommendation of three different people, including my doctor. The meditation came last spring when the yoga studio ran a 40 day program of yoga, healthful eating, and meditation. I was skeptical about the meditation, and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be feeling at first. But the teachers were wonderful and delivered the same message you heard (in different words): it's not about achieving anything or doing something right. Just do it. (My apologies to Nike. :) )

I did it daily until a month or so ago, but lately have just felt rushed in the mornings (which is my preferred time). Thanks for reminding me not to let it slide!

laura k said...

That's great, Amy. Now yoga, I seriously dislike. Yoga and I do not get along! I have tried several different kinds, but always with the same results: pain and suffering! But I know many people who live by it.

I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be feeling at first

Interesting! "Supposed to be". Mine was more "Am I good at this?" Either way, not where you want to go.

Amy said...

Our damn type A personalities!

I wasn't sure about the yoga either at first, but after three different people gave me three different reasons to go, I had to try it. I went only to gentle classes for months, and the message there is always---Don't do it if it hurts! Modify the postures or don't do one at all if it hurts. Maybe you just had teachers who were too aggressive. Was this in NYC? My daughter went to one class in BKLYN and found the class very intense and competitive. So maybe it was a NY thing?

Mike said...

Hmm... I've been meaning to quit smoking for quite some time, I wonder if meditation would help with that...

johngoldfine said...

I spent two hours alone (with a sick dog) in a vet's examining room Saturday--nothing to do, nothing to read, nothing to hear, really nothing to think. I couldn't even mess around with my poor unhappy dog.

Not a situation I would ever willingly put myself in--as in so many marriages and LTRs, my wife and I split the various chores: she meditates (she's a Quaker), I mutter, kick cans down the road, and let my mind spin along trying to catch up.

laura k said...

@Mike, it's supposed to help. I've never smoked, so I have no personal experience with that, but I've heard from others that meditation helped them get through things like that.

@Amy, yoga is just not for me. I had no reason to be skeptical, and I've tried several different types. Nothing is one size fits all, and yoga does not fit.

@John, I'm not sure if you're joking or not, but what you're describing has nothing to do with meditation, as I understand it. Getting through annoying periods of waiting has little in common with a daily regimen, a time set aside specifically to be alone with one's breathing.

So sorry one of your dogs is ill. Best of luck with it. I'll be thinking of you all. Please feel free to email me if you want to talk about it.

laura k said...

she meditates (she's a Quaker)

Also, this has nothing to do with religion or spirituality of any kind!

laura k said...

I wasn't sure about the yoga either at first

I was quite enthusiastic, willing and open to it. I love trying new things, and so many people I knew at that time did yoga with excellent benefits. It's not that I was skeptical or needed convincing.

I just wanted to be clear about that. :)

johngoldfine said...

Not joking, no--but as I say meditating is so foreign to me it's no wonder I can't even get the outlines right.

Keep showing up, Laura K.

laura k said...

Right, I gotcha. One person's meat is another's poison.

Amy said...

Gotcha, Laura. I am not trying to proselytize!!

John, I hope your dog is okay.

Mike said...

So maybe not Yoga, how about Yo! Gah!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Zfwqr_K2uU

Dharma Seeker said...

Your title says it all. Body scanning is also a good intro for people who are interested in getting started.

I completely respect that yoga isn't your thing but it's also good to note that if yoga hurts yer doin it wrong! There are a number of gentle/restorative practices out there. There are also several types of yoga that have nothing to do with asanas (postures) - breathing techniques (pranayama for example). I know have to deal with chronic pain, I can totally understanding staying away from something that hurts! I'm curious did you have a teacher or were you doing it on your own?

laura k said...

Ha ha, when I first read your comment, I thought it said "I completely REJECT that yoga isn't your thing". I was like, wha??? Then I re-read. :)

I've only done yoga with instructors, a few different kinds. It was all pretty gentle, but I ended up in pain anyway.

Besides the pain, I really didn't enjoy the experience - ever. I have so little time for physical exercise, and I'd much rather spend it swimming, walking or hiking. It is just Not For Me.

Dharma Seeker said...

Lol! I totally get it. Running is like meditation for me. My doctor keeps trying to get me to give it up but it's just something I love and something that works for me. We all have our own "things" :)

laura k said...

Oh, I get that! Swimming is very meditative for me. I am on a campaign to get the Y to stop the lifeguards from blaring music at the pool! Not very meditative, that!

Why give up running - bad knees?

Dharma Seeker said...

Exactly. But in addition to being something I love, and something I can do with my dogs it's also a huge mood stabilizer. My shrink is all for it, my GP not so much. In a cost-benefit analysis the benefits far outweigh the cost - right now anyway. In ten years I might be singing a different tune.

laura k said...

Right. If you have bad knees, chances are one day you will have no choice, you will have to stop running. Might as run until then. :)

27thstreet said...

Quite a number of years ago, I practiced Chen Style Tai Chi. My routine was to do a standing meditation followed by a Chi Kung set followed by the form. I liked doing it a lot but one day I stepped away from it for reasons I don't think I can explain. Looking back, I think I filled that void by taking up button accordion (also hardly explainable to be sure). I only mention this because I'm considering returning to some form of Tai Chi practice.

laura k said...

Hello, my accordion-loving friend!

I liked doing it a lot but one day I stepped away from it for reasons I don't think I can explain.

It's funny how those things happen. I think we need change to keep our tools effective. Although the routine is important too. Somehow we have to balance those.

impudent strumpet said...

It's so interesting how people do and don't find different things useful! I find gaming meditative, and exercise angering. I've become addicted to yoga though, and I don't like that. I can't get through my work day properly unless I've had my yoga fix, and I really resent that I'm so dependent on something that's so time-consuming.

But I can't stand actual proper meditation. If I'm going to sit there in a dark room with my eyes closed and my mind either blank or wandering freely depending on whom you listen to, I want to be curled up under my duvet. The internet says that the Dalai Lama said that sleep is the best meditation, but I somehow doubt that's true.

Amy said...

For me, yoga is more meditation than exercise. I exercise to get my heart rate up, to work off calories, to feel physically healthy. Yoga works more on my brain than my body. I find that my head is more clear after yoga than after regular meditation.

To each his/her own! That's what makes life interesting---we each find our own paths.

laura k said...

Being addicted to yoga sounds so healthy! But I can see it would be annoying, too.