I am one step past the starting line.
And typical me, I am diving in fully. When it comes to the balance I am ultimately seeking, the irony of this does not escape me. But I am me, and becoming a better person requires that I do not try to wholly change my basic self, but adapt the best characteristics of myself while the slow transformations occur. Core components will never change, and my process must be to use or temper the use of those ingredients to create the maximum positive outcome.
For the past three weeks or so, I have engaged in daily meditation. I often meditate several times during the day. The signal to do so is usually a growing knot (or a growing “not”) in my stomach, which is the physical response to some environmental stress or internal rehashing of a conflict.
I wrote in a previous post about a three-phased approach (removing power from negative emotions, clearing my mind and relaxing my body, and empowering the positive forces of decision, control, and action.) The results of this process have been mixed, depending on the situation. In my further reading on meditation, I have realized several features that are present in the actual practice of this method:
- Removing power isn’t so easy. Often, this delays my getting to the physical relaxation step. The reason this step has been placed first is that, often, I cannot truly meditate. I am occupied. I have been removing power from negative emotions through verbally telling them that they are done receiving attention; that they have been dismissed. I do this in the car, under my breath at meetings, while on mute during a phone call, and before meditation. The very act of identifying the stressors has been enlightening and helpful from a mindfulness standpoint, and I do this even without meditating. It requires honesty and a commitment to facing fear. But the list can be long, and the reception of an explicit acknowledgment of negativity can have the effect of bringing the conflict to the front of mind, increasing the stress level. I’d rather do this after I have relaxed a bit, so sometimes, it’s step 2-step 1-step 2, time permitting. Still, life remains after meditation.
- Clearing the mind and relaxing the body isn’t an exact science. The body is easier. External bodily stressors, like caffeine, must be eliminated for me to do this correctly. I notice that coffee or soda can make meditation impossible, though exhaustion screams for them in order to keep up momentum. Exercise has never resulted in a negative mindset (though sometimes results in physical injury or discomfort), and I view this as necessary.
- Clearing the mind is a fun test, but my mind is never truly clear. At most, temporary silence is found, and the rest is a constant refocusing on my visual clue: a simple flame. I can hear kids, the dog panting, and my mind wanders a lot, especially back to the mental lists. Re-focus, again and again. And that is the point, right? Not to be cleared, but to be clearing, all the while getting more relaxed. Best practice: turn my mental lists into paper lists before meditating. I can symbolically and actually put them aside at the same time.
- Once relaxed, assessing the required movements forward and empowering the specific actions can bring the stress back. I look at it this way: better to deal with these in a less heightened state than the alternative. My practice has been one more akin to avoidance: I usually just reinforce vague positive qualities: confidence, power, intuition, my own value, and my ability to deal with whatever comes. I think that is fine. I will deal with the specifics later, more empowered.
Some qualities that I have noticed my form of meditation lacks can be realized by modifying my meditation practice as required and trying new methods:
- Mindful acceptance of the situation around me through actually noticing the thoughts and deciding to give them the proper space, all while breathing and relaxing. This requires a flip flopping between the thought and the breathing/flame, and more or less constant modulation. Dismissal wholesale is very difficult, so this might work for me.
- Use of a simple mantra, perhaps a tone or word. Engaging the auditory part of my brain reduces self-talk, and the repetitive nature of humming or chanting creates rhythm and predictable simplicity in the process.
- Focusing on floating, in my body, but separating from my environment. Sure, this is another item requiring thought energy, but it reinforces the relaxation and pulls me into my physicality in a way that is removing the outside world.
- Picking a specific thought to meditate on and using my creative and ever curious brain to focus on one element at a time. This is not unlike the religious meditation of monks and mystics. Turning a basic concept around and around, like gravity or touch, is satisfying, in the way a good meal is satisfying, and yet keeps my brain moving through ever more abstract relationships. I have tried this once so far, and “touch” was my touchstone. I found it very difficult not to get too academic and to stay put. I wanted to chart my thoughts, journal them before they dissipated, write them here. Too advanced? Perhaps. I just don’t feel that this type of exploration through meditation is what I’m looking for right now.
All told, the practice has been revealing, and (perhaps) oddly organizing. I have identified aspects of myself that keep causing me trouble, and have pulled them apart from the chaos for special consideration. The parts that are working well are then allowed to move on, less fettered and more free.
I don’t expect that meditation alone will give me answers, but it has helped show me where to look today, this hour, and even this minute, for release, relief, and improvement moving forward. My relationship with this practice is far from mystical or connecting with the cosmos. It is more about building a relationship with my life, my loved ones, and my future self.