Well it’s been a real trip so far. Here we are at the halfway point.
After a rocky first week, I’ve settled into a comfortable groove. But it took a bit of trailblazing. About a week ago I decided not to follow a prescribed traditional method. I didn’t want to compromise it with my own assumptions. I wasn’t comfortable with written or prerecorded instruction. I felt an intense need for a flesh-and-blood teacher to show me.
And I will find a teacher, either in a meditation class, or on some sort of retreat, but not during this experiment. I decided to take a more free-form approach to my daily sessions, and it’s beginning to pay great dividends.
My homegrown method
Firstly, instead of one twenty-minute session, I’ve decided to do two ten-minute sessions. I found the initial 20-minute denomination to be too intimidating. I just really didn’t want to sit when I knew it would be for a full twenty minutes. Initially I would sit in spite of this aversion, so I’d be beginning each session with negativity towards the practice, and often it ended that way too.
A ten-minute commitment made it far more attractive to sit down and let the murk settle in my mind. As well, doing it twice really helped to prevent mental noise from accumulating between the sessions, which improved the quality of my day that much more.
I sit in a chair, and begin by placing my attention in my hands. This was derived from a technique from one of Eckhart Tolle’s books for returning yourself to the moment. I close my eyes and become aware of the sensation of life in my hands. There’s almost a tingling, or a ‘buzz’ that seems to permeate the whole body. It’s a very distinct feeling, but it’s easy to miss when your attention isn’t on it.
So I locate it first in my hands, then once I feel it clearly, I look for it in the rest of my body. It doesn’t take long before I’m able to feel it throughout the full volume of my tissues. With my eyes closed, I continue to focus on the feeling, and release any images or concepts I have of where my body is in space, I’m just looking at that feeling of aliveness.
As per Tolle’s suggestion, I then look for the boundaries of that tingling, and find that there is none. It is not contained within the confines of my skin or tissues, it’s everywhere. In a very real sense I can feel that I am indeed boundless. It isn’t just new age mumbo jumbo; this is a direct observation.
Once I’m resting comfortably on that feeling, I open my eyes. And I sit.
I look around the room if I feel like it, though I don’t often feel any inclination to. I’m just sitting there, feeling my body’s weight and the running of my fridge and the hum of traffic outside.
A strange paradox arises (I love strange paradoxes!) when I’m looking around in that state. Everything I look at is neutral and plain. I guess it’s missing its usual ‘costume’ supplied by my judgments and commentary. Everything is naked, but at the same time it’s imposing and significant. Sometimes it’s like I’m in a gallery of the truest, most unpretentious art I’ve ever seen. Even window smudges and painted-over lightswitches look beautiful.
The intensity of this feeling varies. One day it was really spectacular, other times I just get a hint of it. I’m very excited to explore it more.
Once I end the session, I am calmer and slower. I actually feel the dishes as I wash them. I hear the tiny creaks of the keys of my keyboard as I rest my fingers on them. These sensations seem so obvious, it’s scary to think of what else I’m unaware of when I’m in my usual, preoccupied state.
Most importantly, my mind becomes still enough to serve as a clean slate for thought. Whenever a train of thought arises, I can see it clearly because it’s not camouflaged by other thoughts. I know what triggered it, and I’m able to see what it’s doing — what it wants me to do, what it suggests is important. This is very revealing, because I find most thoughts are conditioned reflexes that don’t necessarily send me on any useful course of action.
For example, sometimes my brain says “check the stats for your blog.” In more muddled moments, my hand would already be on the way to the mouse, but when I’m fresh off my meditation, I stop first, and look at the impulse. If I do end up following the mind’s instruction, it is with awareness. Just as often I’ll decide it’s not important and ask The Big Question, which is always a smart thing to do.
When thoughts occur against a background of relative stillness, they have a harder time sneaking up on you. I’d like to carry a fairly clean slate all the time, if I could. Maybe I’ll add in a couple 5-minute sessions at work.
I am sitting in a clean apartment right now. That’s new. Even my faucets are shiny. I seem to be placing greater importance on staying away from physical clutter as I pay more attention to removing mental clutter. Each one reinforces the other.
I’m fairly organized productivity-wise now. I’m not being pulled away from important tasks as easily, because I don’t have as many chaotic thoughts going on most of the time. I’m not getting everything done I’d like to, but I’m not missing as much, and I don’t feel like I’m spinning my wheels, like I did last week. Look at Day 8 in my experiment log. I was really floundering.
I was working on both of those things before the experiment, but my ten-minute sitting sessions have definitely been a catalyst.
Pitfalls and other lessons
Well, I certainly understand a bit more about what doesn’t work so well for me, at least not at this time.
- Do it early. Not to get it out of the way, like it’s a chore, but just so that my mind is fresher and more receptive. When I do it earlier, I’m less likely to think about everything else I need to spend time on as the remains of the day shrinks.
- Unlike exercise, I can’t begin meditation when I’m tired and still hope to be effective. The ability to concentrate is the first thing to leave me when I get tired.
- Physical interference (as I mentioned in my Bad Moods post) can really derail an attempt to concentrate on something, although it can also be a good lesson in acceptance, if it isn’t too bad. A mild stomach ache can be a good teacher.
Well, I’m pleased things are getting along better; for a while I thought this was going to be gruelling. Quitting wasn’t really an option because I had committed to it publicly, but I thought I might have been counting the days until I could go back to normal. Week One sucked, not that I have anyone else to blame for it. I learned I have a long ways to go to be as patient as I’d like to be. I guess that’s good news though, because I feel pretty good already. The sky’s the limit.