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.