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.