You’ve heard like a million different people talk about meditation. They call it a practice or getting on the cushion. Some people do moving meditations, some do it while jogging. People do it in groups and they do it outside, on beaches and overlooking cliffs. People do it on the subway, in the doctor’s waiting room, at the gym after yoga. Some have serious practices, others just do a focus on a candle, or their breath. Eyes are closed or soft focus and down. Some have hands in lap, some on knees. There are tons of formal traditions, and you can find one that works for you.
But maybe that’s the thing.
Maybe you’ve been looking, and none of them are for you so far. You’ve read about the benefits in stress reduction, you’ve seen friends morph into calmer people, lose their road rage and even eat with more peace. But when you’ve tried, it’s been too WHOAed out or massively uncomfortable, in fact, serving to HIGHLIGHT your own discomfort in your own body and just here, on Earth. Or when you’ve gone to groups to get instruction, you feel a “joining” pressure or a keen awareness of how bad you are at it. Or you think you don’t even have the right goddamn outfit for it. Yet again and again, something tells you there’s an important benefit to be had. Perhaps a thousand benefits.
But one thing is that you just never have to be good at it. It’s an entirely private situation. Even in a room on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when I went to a group and cried the entire time because I was such a wreck, no one gave a shit. People are busy with their own practice, finding their own present moment and your experience is all yours. Some days the time will fly by and others it will feel like fucking torture and your back will ache and your brain won’t settle and all will be desperate and sorrowful. That’s just how shit goes. The thing is, you’re only in this life once, and meditation is your practice at showing up for it. So the next time life hands you utter joy or benevolence or beauty, you can sit still for it, take it in. You can be here with people before you get that call that they aren’t here anymore. You can be here, in your skin for all the things the body does. You can have more of your life and less of your fantasy doom. That’s what worry is. It’s living through all the fictional devastations that aren’t really happening and often don’t. But we worry, we focus on them, and live through in a way anyhow, and miss the actual moments we could be living. You’ve heard all of this. And here’s the thing. No one meditates to be become a good meditator. There are no ribbons. No grand prize. There’s just you.
So without claiming to be an expert or a meditation teacher, without claiming a tradition or a particular school, I thought I’d share some of the different things that have helped me to start when I lose my way, which is often, and the reasons vary from convincing myself I have no time to convincing myself I have no outfit either. But I do. I have the time. Any outfit will do. I can do it anyplace and it’s free so I can afford it.
I try to begin the day by sitting quietly for ten minutes alone or with someone else. If I’ve been off my game, I start with one minute. Just One. Little. Collection. Of. 60. Seconds. I do it before I do anything else. Before I brush my teeth or look at my work email or eat breakfast. I just go sit. I made a place in my house for this. I sit facing a little box I covered with fabric and on that box sits a collection of things that remind me I am connected to a larger world. I have turkey feathers from walks, gemstones from deep in the ground, old letters from friends and family, photographs, and a box full of little slips of papers I wrote my nagging troubles on. I sit and I think about my continues blessings and I thank something somewhere for them, and then I think of nagging troubles and I write them on paper and put them in the box. I have been writing some things on those papers for years. Because there is no timeline for healing from things or getting past pain or irritation. Do not let people outside yourself set a timeline for your emotions. Do not listen to the voice that tells you “I should be over this by now.” You’re not over it. It takes how long it takes. Just write it down. Put it in the box.
I set the timer on your my phone for 1-10 minutes. I sit quietly and on a cushion, but you can sit in a chair or even lie down. Most people don’t recommend the lying down because you can fall asleep, but shit, I’ve nodded off sitting up, to so I say whatever gets you there, do that. When I sit, I imagine a red string from my sit bones up through the tip of my hairline holding me steady. I think of the dignity on my body that I am grateful still functions mostly without pain. I let rigidity go. I Relax. I just breathe. I think about the things that happened to me the previous day, collect those images and wrap them up. I mean I literally imagine collecting them and wrapping them in a parcel. I put them down and name them “the past”. Now I think about the million things I have to do today and my worries about tomorrow and next week and when I get old and when the dog dies and I wrap those up. I put them down in their parcel and label them “the future”. Then I am in the present. I try to focus on my breath, (you can also use a candle, a photograph, a drawing, a divination or medicine card, or any point of your choosing). When my mind begins to wander, which is almost immediate and very often, I notice its path, and gently return it to my point of focus. I very slowly breathe into all the parts of my body starting at the top of my head. I move down to my neck and bring breath and attention to it. My shoulders. Ribs. My arms and elbows and fingers. I breathe into my back and my liver, my kidneys, my gut and my butt. I breathe into my thighs and knees and shins and ankles. Finally, I get to my feet and my toes. If at some point I have an itch, which I always do, I try to just notice it and let it pass. It always does. The same with aches: I breathe into them and watch them pass. By the time I finish this process I will have spent at least one and maybe ten minutes or more with myself quietly. Sometimes I use this time to set an intention for the day. Maybe for my work or my relationship. I also might send out love or wishes for people suffering, sick or with loved ones passing.
Sometimes if I feel particularly edgy, I pick a word guide either from a tarot card or this list I keep. Having a solid starting place can help me to find the calm and focus for my breath. You can use these words as anchoring focus for any day you choose.
Imagination Exhilaration Faith
Healing Power Grace
Passion Joy Security
Intention Thrill Acceptance
Vibrancy Authenticity Sympathy
Creativity Fascination Humility
Affection Celebration Confidence
Remorse Gratitude Relaxation
Wisdom Wonder Empathy
Risk Happiness Inspiration
Clarity Kindness Delight
Loneliness Confusion Humor
Abundance Curiosity Exploration
Grief Worry Rapture
Adventure Forgiveness Openness
Success Panic Honesty
Fear Sensuality Integrity
Trust Intimacy Doubt
Release Dread Appreciation
Anger Warmth Renewal
I also really like to listen to recorded guided sits with teachers who have done this a long time. Having someone else keep time and help me to focus is a real gift. You can find all kinds of teachers on the interwebs. I have my favorites and you will find yours. I am not going to suggest any here because I bet your own inquiries will lead you to your own place better than I could.
I hope you try it.
And then again.