My but it’s been a while since I’ve posted! This is largely due to the prevalence of the flu (I’ve been through two strains of it), wrenching my back (which I’m still recovering from), and the loss of our car (there was an accident – Maur is okay but the car is gone. Soon to be replaced, we’re working on it). So this has been a disappointing and rough holidays. I’ll take a moment to express gratitude that we’re alive, mostly whole, and recovering.
So, on to only slightly related topics – Meditation. I started studying it intensely when I was working on a writing project and chose it somewhat randomly as the subject I would use.
The benefits of meditation are so well-documented that it hard for even the most staunch skeptic to discount them at this point. There are many, many meditative practices, but the one that I keep finding myself drawn back to is Zen Meditation, also called “mindfullness” or “sitting”. It is the one that has repeatedly shown the most widespread benefits, is one of the easiest forms of meditation to do, and has helped me through some of the more difficult periods of my life recently.
As I said, it’s simple. You sit in a comfortable position, spine erect (if possible) with your tailbone elevated above your feet (this helps to keep them from falling asleep). Relax your eyes and let them have a lazy focus on the tip of your nose, and pick a portion of your body and focus on it as you breathe (I use my solar plexus/diaphragm). You will be distracted – that’s part of the process, because when you become aware that you are distracted, you draw your attention back to the point of your focus and keep going.
You can’t fail at it, although you can certainly have more and less intense sessions. I’ve known a lot of people who claim that they can’t meditate, and I honestly think that that’s because expectations that have been built up by media and people’s assumptions. When they sit and try to meditate and their mind doesn’t stay purely blank or they aren’t whisked away to the Seventh Heaven they think that they’re doing it wrong. That’s not the case, though. All it takes is leaving aside the distraction and going back to breathing.
There are a few different kinds of distractions that occur. Physical ones can be the toughest to deal with. I’ve always had an itchy nose, and when my nose starts twitching I have to scratch it. When I do, I scratch, put my hand back down and go back to my point of focus. Sometimes I’ve been able to ignore the itch and breathe through it – that always feels like a small victory for me.
The thoughts that rise unbidden in your mind are by and large going to be the biggest distraction that you encounter. Sometimes your session will consist of little but your inner babble and occasional attempts to steer back towards your focus point. If that’s the case, as long as you notice it and draw your attention back to your focus, you’re doing the work and you’re doing fine.
The most interesting distractions are what I like to call “dreamlets”. I’ve heard that Zen practitioners call them makia. Instead of your mind just chattering at you, you’re thrown into a dreamscape where you are taken far from where you are, just as though you were in REM sleep. No matter what you see, hear, or feel in them the important part is to follow the refrain – disengage and go back to your focal point and breathe. These are mind-conjured illusions, and doing the work consists of rejected them, backing off, and going back to the quiet place.
I try to engage this practice for twenty minutes a day. I’ve tried other meditative practices, including mantra meditation (repeating words of significance and power and focusing on them) and metta meditation (opening the love in your heart and sending it to people) with varying degrees of success, and I still do sometimes, but my regular practice always goes back to mindfulness. It feels like I’m doing housecleaning for my consciousness, and all the little toxic bubbles rise up and are washed away in the stream of my mind.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because while I was sick and laid up with the flu and back injury, it was about the only practice I could engage in. Mindfulness has shown to help with inflammation, and my poor, wrenched back always felt more limber and less painful afterwards. I credit it to some degree for my quick recovery from a stomach flu that had my lovey and his son laid out for several days (I went through the cycle of it in about twenty four hours) and to my back recovery.
I don’t know any serious practitioner that doesn’t recommend regular meditation practice. I don’t know what it is about meditation, but it helps you be more of yourself and clean out the confusion and dross. It improves your senses, and your ability to distinguish internal dialogue from external communication, which is invaluable to someone who works with deities and spirits regularly.
I take a shower almost every day. I brush my teeth daily. Meditation is part of that routine of basic human maintenance, too and I live the positive results. It doesn’t make me a superwoman (that comes naturally) but it does help me through.
Here is a link to an excellent article by Ram Dass on meditation, one that helped me to pick my practice back up back when I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Try it out – you won’t be disappointed once you put some time and effort into it.