When we create intentional space in our lives for stillness, we are better able to meet hectic or even unpleasant moments with the gift and perspective of presence.
On Tuesday this week (as I write it’s Friday morning), I diligently got up at 5:30 a.m., dressed in workout gear and headed to the gym for a morning circuit workout. Normally I feel pretty happy with myself for rubbing the sleep from my eyes, giving my teeth a quick brush and heading out the door into the fresh (and lately very cold) morning air while my husband and kids sleep in. I feel like I have a head start on the world.
Not this past Tuesday. This past Tuesday I could not get it going. I was dragging all the way to the gym. I felt like a sloth through the whole work out and wanted it to just be over. Not usually how I feel.
After slogging my way through, I headed home for a quick shower and breakfast with my family before heading back out to an appointment with my care provider. By 9:30 a.m. somehow the office was already running behind and so I literally waited for AN HOUR before I left without seeing anyone. I figured it would be better to let them catch up on the time rather than take more of mine. I also knew I had run out of patience and that my snippy irritation even if I did understand that these things happen would be unpleasant for everyone. (I rescheduled for the following day, things went like clockwork and I was in and out in 30 minutes).
Upon arrival at home, I ate a quick late-morning meal, and rather than get to work finally, like I wanted to, I shut the door to my room and collapsed on my bed in a state of ennui. I had a whole list of things I could get to but by this point I had a pinching headache, I didn’t want to rest, and I was in a foul mood.
I glanced at the Reiki book on my bookshelf that's been waiting to be read for nearly a year. I picked it up and started thumbing through it. Maybe I could glean something here that would inspire me to get my energy moving in the right way.
I landed on the opening meditation and thought to myself, what the heck, let’s do a long one this morning. I rarely give myself the time to do a long meditation in the morning, the pressure to get out before I get sucked in to other things is strong. I love meditation and the benefits it brings me and I have had a consistent meditation and mindfulness practice for a number of years now, but rarely do I give myself the joy of doing a 30 minute sitting practice at home in the morning.*
I was really inspired by the description of the breath for this meditation. The book describes the breath as a vehicle for our life, which people know of as chi or prana in Chinese medicine or yoga traditions. For this meditation, I had the opportunity to imagine that life force energy entering into my body through the crown of my head and filling me down to the area of my womb, and when I exhaled, the energy went out through my legs, feet, toes, arms, hands and fingers. It was such an excellent visual for the energy that I’ve never played with before.
I sat for 30-minutes this way, focused as much as possible on the point where my middle fingers touched as my hands were in prayer, and imagined my breath and the life force energy pulling in and through my body, in and out.
After my meditation, I had lunch, got some invoicing and emailing out the door, and by 3:30 I was back at it with the kiddos. I didn’t feel excellent, but I felt a lot better. I was tolerable, to myself and with others. I did the meditation once more before bed, without falling asleep, and woke up the next day refreshed.
The meditation was an excellent check in. As I experienced the rest of my days this week, which was not without drama that could have pulled me in, I found myself tapping in to my breath and imagining life force moving through me just as I moved through the day. It helped me deal with a surge in a mentally ill family member that came pounding through my phone via a slew of texts, and by yesterday, yesterday I literally had a smile plastered on my face while just breathing intentionally.
What’s the lesson here? Patience, practice, and consistency.
Part of it for me is even writing about this experience, it keeps me accountable to the work that I know does me so so so well. From the day to day, to the surges in family drama, to the fact that there are some days I just feel like a bear who should stay in a cave. Even as a coach and professional who uses mindfulness actively in my work, meditation brings me the presence of mind in a busy day and reminds me that all is well. Meditation and mindfulness give me space from sensations and perceptions of urgency, need, and desire. It helps me find firm footing back into myself, where I can draw from within, and not from something external to "fill" what feels empty.
When I rest and settle, I am able to part the curtains of my stream of thoughts to the stillness inside. This reminds me that there is nothing but now, and that all around me is an extension of my thoughts and perceptions. All are manageable, and more enjoyable, when I am present in the moment. I am less carried away by thoughts, emotions or sensations, and more curious about how I’m feeling in the present, and allowing that inquiry to bloom into an authentic experience of the present moment. Nothing more.
Had I remembered this when I sat for an hour in wait while nothing but my blood pressure was taken at the clinic on Tuesday, I may have had a better morning, but it’s fine that it happened when it did. As I reflect on it at this moment, my feet are planted firmly on the ground and I can feel how my boots wrap around my feet and legs, the snugness of my sweater, the cast of morning sun peeking through the cloudy December Portland sky.
Folks around me in the cafe chatter animatedly and it’s 9:35 a.m. Sunny pop tunes play overhead from the speakers and I feel good, strong and fresh after my circuit workout this morning. I’m ready for what’s next, and I'm here, now.
If you’d like to take a few moments to try the meditation I’ve been playing with this week I’ll outline it here.
Find a comfortable seat where you can hold your spine and neck straight/erect. Not by force, but with ease. If holding your spine straight without leaning or tilting your head for long durations of time isn’t comfortable, create a sitting situation that supports you. Sit in a chair with your legs uncrossed and feet flat on the ground. Put as many props / cushions / rolled up coats (if you’re at work and without cushions) or what you need behind you to support you. You might have a fancy chair and can adjust the back of it to support you.
Get a clock, watch, or timer and set it for the amount of time that you’d like to sit. If you already have a meditation practice, you can set it for a longer time, maybe 15 - 30 minutes if you have it. If you’re newer to meditation, try 5 or 10 minutes to begin.
Hold your hands in prayer in front of your heart and close your eyes.
As you breathe in, expand your belly. Imagine breath and energy coming in with the breath, through the crown of your head and filling you from the low belly up.
As you exhale, compress from the belly and imagine breath and energy leaving your body through your arms and legs and out the tips of your toes and out your fingertips.
You may focus on your breath through the course of the meditation, or if it helps and that feels too much, you can just breathe gently and focus on the tips of your middle fingers where they touch.
When your thoughts start to carry you away, it might be a to a to-do list, or noticing sensations you have in the body, gently acknowledge the thoughts and sensations, then bring yourself back to the breath.
If you notice yourself getting tight or over focused, gently move yourself to release the tension, remind yourself meditation is always practice and never perfection, and come back to just a gentle breath without visualizations. Keep it as simple as you need
I hope you receive the benefits of slowing down if you try this as I did this week.
Until next time, Namaste.
(Namaste means “I bow to the divine in you” or also “the light in me meets the light in you.” in India, Nepal and other areas of south Asia.)
*Where do I practice and when, you wonder? Most often I'll do a sit between events / appointments, either in my car, at a park, or just a sunny spot on a quiet sidewalk or bench in a neighborhood I might be in at the time. I'll carve out the 15 - 20 minutes and sit with my eyes closed for a session. I've gotten over the "feeling awkward" of my sometimes public meditation sessions. Most folks just ignore me. One time, while doing a meditation walk with a client in the park, a group of schoolkids were interested in our very slow pace. "What are you doing?" they asked. "I'm in a race to be the slowest," I responded. They liked that.
May we all be in a race to be the slowest this holiday season.