Okay, here we go.
Focus on the sound of the breath. Inhale. Exhale. Inha—what is that noise? Is that one of my kids? Are they still awake? Maybe if I stay quite enough they will not come down and ask for water or a tissue or their tiara. Maybe my “me” time is over. It never seems like I get a moment to breathe. Oh yes, right…breathe. Return to the breath.
It went something like this most times. An intent focus, with determination to create an astutely aware mind—and then constant interruption of completely random thoughts.
This is how I meditate.
It is truly fascinating to sit in a quiet and still space, under direct fire of self-sabotage. That seems to be the most accurate interpretation of my initial experiences with meditation.
Time moved slowly, my head noise was screaming, and I began to feel anxious about my inability to clear my mind. I heard myself thinking make it dark, blank, empty. I pondered about the purpose of meditation, while I was supposed to be meditating, and began to feel that I was being punished here.
Meditation somehow seemed like a time-out, in which I was being sentenced to sit with thoughts and feelings that I had chosen to avoid. I thought about a mistake I had made or a “yelling” at my kids that I wanted to undo. I thought about clients that I wasn’t able to help and tasks that remained unfinished. I pictured laundry left unfolded and lunches still yet to be made. I relived my over reactions to spilled milk and saw my lack of patience with getting shoes on to make the bus.
I felt sadness, guilt, regret and pain.
I was anything but still and relaxed. I felt that I was failing miserably, with each passing attempt, to become an enlightened yogi. I was going to be left behind, with just my physical practice, while my yoga family moved on to being one with the divine.
Maybe they would stay in touch.
I focused my energy on exploring any and every way to create stillness in my mind. I colored, I walked, I listened to guided meditations of body scans, yoga nidra and “restful sleep.”
I used a single loving word and I played with a mantra. I got on my mat and left my teaching mind and automatic self-adjustments behind. I tried and I tried some more and then I tried even harder. Just when I was coming to terms with meeting my divine self somewhere in the middle, I was faced with a very loud, intrusive and constant distraction: pain. Pain that would not subside and thus interrupted and stole every attempt to allow my mind to practice.
I challenged myself to use the pain as a true test of my abilities, while lying awake at night crying, or in the noisy, banging, claustrophobia of an MRI machine. I had created the habit of practicing meditation while keeping my body in motion or totally relaxed. I was finally making a tiny bit of progress and now I was forced to practice, with incredible discomfort, regardless of which position I choose.
I saw myself waving goodbye to my yogic transcendence, but I stayed true to my promise and I continued to explore.
Although, my meditative practices did not help the pain go away, I did become keenly aware of the fear that accompanied this new pain. Fear that this pain was my new forever, and that all of my hard work over the past year and a half of yoga training would be shelved.
I cried, I got angry and then I got quiet. I remembered the kindness I gave myself by just noticing; not reacting to or accepting any of the thoughts as truth; just simply noticing them and watching them disappear. It did also help to have loving friends in my yoga family offer support and encouragement. I will not say that this injury was some gift in disguise, because I still would return it if I could.
However, I do recognize that it has ignited some useful change in my physical and mental practice. While practicing on my mat, I was guided to notice that I was working all too hard, in all the wrong places. I began to recognize that I was not being as gentle and kind to myself as I was pretending to be.
I was constantly judging myself, my inner thoughts and my every move.
This recurring theme, in my reflections and on my mat, was now finally surfacing. My secret, quiet, inner pain was finally being heard though the noise of my very real physical pain. This greater self-awareness will now require my compassion, love, generosity and forgiveness; the very definition of meditation.
This new experience also brought me closer to rediscovering patience, a quality I feel that I have lost somewhere along the way. Within the past few months, I have been forced to find patience in healing, on my mat, and with the practice of meditation.
Patience, as in the ability to accept and tolerate whatever arrives in my life on any given day, be it injury, wild boy behavior, toddler tantrums, or difficult patient cases.
As I sat in stillness and without agenda, I became very aware of time and my need to rebel against the freedom of it. This awareness always seemed to trigger the same response: go backwards or go forwards and whichever you chose—do it quickly.
I was protesting the here and now, obsessing about past mistakes or things I still needed to achieve. Meditation has illuminated my need to slow down and thus sit with patience. It has become my mantra—whether it’s the word I return to or the purpose for unrolling my mat—meditation has made me receptive to patience and open to healing.
That’s pretty much how it happened; my meditative transformation. I cannot say I reached Samadhi, but I have reached a deeper understanding. It finally made sense, the true purpose of meditation. I see the reason in why we notice, observe and be kind to the thoughts that present themselves. Each intrusive thought, as frustrating as each may be, presents an opportunity to see our insecurities and our misguided attachments.
It is as if the invasion of thoughts represents the code to the “thing” we must truly work on to find peace. If we focus all of our attention on resenting the flood of information, then we are unable to decipher the message. We must notice, simply notice, the thoughts and allow them to race by. Only then will we discover their meaning.
We learn to meditate in order to find genuine peace and happiness.
We meditate for clarity and balance, for control and humility.
Tradition explains meditation as a practice, and thus something that requires repeated attempts for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. I can only imagine where this practice will lead. After just a few months of playing with various ways to channel a meditative state, I am already on my way. I know there is so much more to experience.
My introduction to meditation has been a wild and valuable adventure. I have learned about my insecurities and my fears, my hopes and desire for change. I have learned how to listen and observe. I will continue working on creating stillness in my heart because I know my mind will follow.
Whether it is cultivating patience, opening the hips, or quieting the heart and mind, Patthabi Jois reminds us that, “With practice, all Is coming.”
I can finally now hear him say, “just be patient.”
Author: Amanda J. Zavodnick
Editor: Renée P.
Image: Minoru Nitta at Flickr