Friday, January 8, 2016

On Meditation: The View of Rage Mountain

For the last month, I've been dedicating anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes a day to meditation practice. Sometimes I follow a recorded guided meditation; sometimes I sit on my own. Sometimes I sit with my eyes open, but more often with my eyes closed. Sometimes my left foot falls asleep and sometimes I can work with that without moving and sometimes I quietly shift position and spend some time noticing the blood rushing back into that foot. Sometimes the cats rub against me or sit with me in solidarity.  Sometimes, I almost fall asleep and come back to myself as my posture is collapsing. Sometimes I can focus on my breath comfortably for long chunks of times, counting my breaths from one to five over and over. Other times I realize that my autopilot counting has misfired and I'm on six or seven; once I drifted so far off course that I didn't realize until I hit seventeen, so busy was I with the other thoughts I was simultaneously exploring, the bass line forgotten because of a temporarily more absorbing treble clef.

As a writer with interests in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, character, art, creativity, and social, environmental and biological sciences, mediation crosses over into most of my fields of interests. You could make a fair argument that many of my hobbies over the years have elements of meditation, from obvious choices like yoga and distance running to the long open highway of road trips or a particular mind flow while painting. If, like me, you have a busy brain, finding ways to let it settle and turn down the excess noise is a welcome respite.  And yet this is the first time I've been consistent about meditating.  In our world of productivity, sitting around and doing, well, nothing, seemed like something I already did too much of.  Despite all the numerous well-publicized benefits, and my own positive experiences, on some level it felt counter-intuitive.

Voices
acrylic on canvas board
2014
The brain is always wandering from thought to thought, reviewing the past, experiencing and sorting emotions, planning the future, wrestling with problems from the personal to the professional.
Stepping back and stopping to watch the parade of activity can be illuminating.

Recently, I had the experience of becoming overly impatient for the meditation to end.  As it turned out, there was cause for this, as I'd set my alarm incorrectly and so it hadn't gone off. It wasn't just that it felt like I was sitting for a longer time; I actually had been.  But behind my closed eyes, I didn't know that, and I just assumed it was my busy brain being uncomfortable with the extra space. I became more anxious for it to be over, to get back to my usual living. Soon enough, it became clear just why I wanted out: I could see a nasty storm of self-loathing coming down the pike to get me. The thoughts that I had an increasingly hard time of letting go of, of just letting them pass through, were mostly of myself screaming at myself on how I couldn't do anything right (starting with meditation) and I should just suck it up and learn to deal with discomfort and if I couldn't even meditate, well...it cascaded into a longer and excruciatingly detailed listing of every possible wrong move in my history and projected on into a future riddled with failure. As I described it to my sister in an email, it was Rage Mountain, with accompanying visuals not unlike the Bald Mountain scenes of Disney's Fantasia.

Rage Mountain was a view unexpected.  Knowing intellectually that you sometimes do something (awareness of my overly loud inner critic is not news) is different from sitting ringside and watching it in action with such explosive venom, of feeling both sides of the equation, the vicious anger and the crippling shame. It became easier to see them, that is, myself, with compassion, something I was not as aware that I needed more of from myself.

Starting meditation, I thought it would be a way to calm my mind and find more focus and balance. And in even such a short period of time, I am finding that the case. A center calm feels more available than it has in other times in my life, tied as it is to the consistent necessity of breathing.  I didn't anticipate the arising of harder moments of emotions -- rage, grief -- and yet, there is relief in seeing them clearly, letting them be heard and scream themselves out until the quiet metronome of the breath returns.

Free Guided Meditations (UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center)http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22

2 comments:

  1. This is your blog, Cynthia? It didn't have your name on it but it sounds like you so I'm assuming it is yours. This is just an excellent piece. Normally I wouldn't suggest this because writing should be for yourself, not for any thought of publication. But this little essay on the beginning of your meditation should be shared. I identified with what you said, and I know others would too. Kay C.

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    1. Hi Kay, Yup, this is me, and my name is on there is you dig around to find the About tab. Thanks for the kind words! I do (obviously) write primarily for myself, but I'm often also secretly hoping someone wants to share things with larger audiences. Maybe someday a post will go viral!

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