starstuff in Sheffield is doing 43 things including…

meditate daily

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starstuff has written 6 entries about this goal

Exhale

In the light of December (when I toyed with the idea of this goal and thought it all flim-flam and fantasy) it is actually amazing that yesterday I completed nine and a half hours of meditation across January.

My original goal was to meditate for five hours. I have achieved almost double that.

(I sincerely think that my silly sticker system has made a massive contribution in postponing procrastination!)

Nine and a half hours. I’m really proud of that. I have meditated almost everyday, and occasionally two or three times a day. I want to gradually make my practice more regular though and even out the peaks and lows: it would be better to meditate for 10 minutes a day, as opposed to 60 on one and 5 on another. In the last two weeks it has become more regular, and regularity is going to be key if I’m going to succeed in another goal – pacing myself.



EQ Part 2

Today I marked hour number six with a jolly yellow star.

I meditated everyday bar one last week. Originally I thought I would focus on my breath each time, but I came across an interview on Buddhist Geeks that changed my mind. Jason Stiff is the author of Unlearning Meditation and, during the interview, proposes that constantly bringing your awareness back to breathing can be a form of emotional avoidance.

Bzzzz bzzz bzzz!

These are the two buzz words of the week!

I hadn’t considered Stiff’s proposition before. It’s true. It is only superficially calming to watch my breath while anxiety clatters in the background. It seems un-meditative to let monkey-mind wander, but I noticed a huge benefit from doing so during times of worry. While it wandered, I followed.

If you draw no distinction between heart and mind, when your mind wanders your heart is wandering too. Follow your heart! Follow it into the pain-filled places.

I’m really starting to enjoy this goal.



4.15 Hours

In Buddhism, the mind and the heart are considered as one. Not all languages separate the two. This means that mindfulness meditation is also heartfulness meditation, and that watching your mind is also watching your heart.

In the West, we don’t think of our thoughts being in our hearts. Thoughts are heady, not hearty. We forget that we are not divided so easily.

There is a great tradition of dualism:

Good and evil
God and Satan
Light and dark
Matter and spirit
Heart and mind
Mind and brain
Humans and animals
Masculine and feminine
Yin and yang
East and West
Rational and intuitive
Cat people and dog people.

Life happens in the grey shades of ambiguity. We are constantly in the process of recreating our perceptions of reality. Language actively colours your experiences – it is not a passive vessel for thoughts, rather it shapes them and it shapes you.

I like to meditate against the beanbag squashed against the radiator and my back. It molds itself around me. I put my feet on my thighs and place my hands on my knees, palms facing upwards. Sometimes I bend my knees (feet flat on the floor) and fold my arms over my stomach. In this position, I can feel my breath rocking my body, moving in and out, in and out, and the beans in the beanbag sound like the sea.

I am tense. I am wearing a mask of tension. My head hurts. Little muscles twitch as they relax. I imagining them pinging like elastic bands as the energy releases from them.

Breathing in and out.
In and out.
I am the sea.
In and out.
An inevitable dualism.
In and out.
Ping, ping, ping.

I realise, this is a also bodyfulness meditation.



6am stream of consciousness

At midnight, I went outside with a yellow candle. It was midsummer’s midnight. The air hung as a warm veil of humidity. My cat Max joined me. We walked to middle of the lawn: me feeling the grass without seeing it in the dark, and he with his nose and teeth on my bare feet, gentle but pointy. (A game that started that night and continues whenever I walk on the lawn with Max now, biting each foot alternately as I walk).

I placed the candle beside me on a stone and took out the pen and unfolded the paper from my dressing gown pocket. I resolved to meditate everyday from midsummer until the autumn equinox, and sealed the deal by dripping the candle wax onto the now folded paper. It made a pool of molten yellow.

That was 2010. The resolution actually lasted about a week – I was too ill to carry it through. The whereabouts of the sun or stars didn’t change an awful lot. I had written about the resolution on 43Things but was so discouraged I deleted the entry a few months later.

At New Year I resolved again to start meditating, this time not exactly daily but for five hours for the first few months. So far I’ve meditated for over four and I think I can happily exceed my original goal.

Throughout December, I listened to people talk about meditation, about what it is and why they do it. Geshe Thupten Jinpa is the Dalai Lama’s principle English translator. He says he doesn’t like the word meditation: it is an English word and doesn’t quite share or capture the meaning used in the East. He suggests that cultivation or familiarity are better words. You want to become familiar and make friends with your mind, but also you want to cultivate certain states.

This idea has already helped me a lot. When I sit down and think I am meditating, it feels different to when I sit down and think I am cultivating. You immediately think, well what am I cultivating exactly? It’s a quiet prompt to clarify your intentions. I am cultivating a calm mind. I am cultivating relaxation. I am cultivating a generous mind.

Familiarity too feels much more open and at ease than seeing meditation as, say, stopping your thoughts or as paying attention to your breath. The idea of familiarity allows a lot more. You don’t have to stop anything. You’re not trying to impose anything or crack the whip of authority over your monkey mind. You’re just becoming familiar with it. It reminds you (or presupposes) that you might not know your own mind.

And, I guess, I am becoming familiar with meditation in general too. You’re not just doing meditation because that assumes you already know about it. The thought of becoming familiar with something implies a kind of newness, a carefulness, that you’ve only just met and haven’t been here before.

A place I have been before – many times – is making goals and not following through. That’s why I want to start with achieving 5 hours a month: my midsummer goal was too lofty and didn’t survive the setbacks. (In this instance my health was so bad it would have annihilated any goal anyway, but my too-high expectations was like being shot with the second arrow of regret when the first expectations didn’t come true.)

I think success is something you have to practice: if you practice succeeding with smaller goals, you have a better chance of succeeding with bigger goals. Practice makes progress.



It Will Pass

A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”
“It will pass,” said the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’
“It will pass,” said the teacher matter-of-factly.



Things I want to say, just to get them out of the way

Meditation is something I want to do but never do do. A friend said to me once, “I often feel like I don’t do anything but I’m still unable to sit and do nothing!”

A few years ago I was on a healing quest. I changed my diet radically, read about and tried many alternative therapies, drank weird green drinks and meditated every day for about six months. The “quest” lasted about two years but looking back it was obvious why I couldn’t sustain that kind of meditative practice: most of the alternative therapies I tried were bunk and my drive for meditation was fueled by a thought I’d picked up from New Age “healers” I’d encountered through books, online and in person: that all illness is a manifestation of an imbalance in your mind/body/spirit.

It began to feel like my illness was a fault of me personally and that the fact that I wasn’t getting better was proof that I had deep seated negative beliefs.

I still come across people who suggest or outright state those ideas about my health, but a massive burden was lifted as soon as I let them go. If you’re suffering with an illness you don’t need fixing or correcting. You’re not especially out of balance and your illness isn’t a manifestation of some sort of badness in you. I sometimes think that society creates these myths about illness (or things they fear in general) as a way to feel safer: you feel a certain amount of control if you believe that chronic illness is something that follows a formula or that you are healthy because you are balanced and they are ill because they are not. When it comes down to it, isn’t that what most alternative therapies are? A way to help you feel more in control? On the one hand that alone can be incredibly helpful, but on the other there can be an incredibly destructive element too. I certainly frequently encountered and internalised that element.

Meditation (as I understand it) is about letting go and being in the moment. Don’t be five minutes away or with your body here but your head in last week: just sit and be aware.

I had to drop meditation while I recovered from various alternative therapy memes that I’d caught like a cold. Then… when my mum had the heart attack she came back from hospital a week later and said she was told to meditate for ten minutes everyday. That’s enough to relax your body, slow your heart and lower your blood pressure. It made me realise how much I wanted to do it too but that I’d been avoiding meditation because I was trying to avoid the stigma attached to my illness. I meet so many people who, when they find out I have ME, tell me I should meditate because they knew someone, or knew someone who knew someone, or something like that, they can’t remember, but anyway, this person started meditating and they have what I have, or something like it, they’re pretty sure it’s the same, and this person started meditating and…

You get the picture.

It was a strange relief to know that my mum was told to meditate. There are some people who will say that her heart attack was brought on by stress but few people would read much further into it than that. I’ve been patronized and hurt so badly by people who have said to me that if I was braver or if I changed my thoughts or put my mind to it or was more dedicated or found the limiting belief that, while hidden, I so obviously must have or else I wouldn’t be ill+… then I’d get better.

No, I’m fine as I am. But I would like to sit and just be every now and then.

+It’s all about the illusion of control, I swear.



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