meditation

Buddha Under the Big Top

How Meditation Changed my Life, One Circus Act at a Time

My dad was a psychiatrist—an old school one who believed equally in the power of medicine and talking things out.  When I was a teen and started showing signs of anxiety and depression the natural course of action as prescribed by my parents was drugs and psychotherapy. These methods helped a great deal early on, but as an adult I found myself overly dependent on tools that no longer empowered me. So, four years ago, seeking something different I found a therapist who introduced me to meditation.

I began a practice as she directed, meditating for ten minutes a day, but it didn’t go as I hoped. I was fidgety and distracted, wanting anything but to sit in that chair. On day two I declared to my husband, “I suck at mediation.”

I returned to my therapist frustrated, and embarrassed.

“Hmm…” she said, thinking for a moment. “Why not try just meditating for a minute a day instead?”

Well this should be easy, I thought.

But about a week into my one minute practice, I still felt itchy and dissatisfied. There was no bliss, no joy, just total frusteration. It had become clear in my mind that I would never be a candidate for Buddhahood. So I quit.

However two years later, still plagued with discontent, I decided to try it again.  I ordered a book from Amazon: Journey of Awakening: A Meditator’s Guidebook by Ram Dass.

The instructions for sitting meditation were simple: Set aside time each day to be alone in the quiet, keeping the length of time and location where you meditate consistent. Then sit yourself in a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe. There wasn’t much more to it than that. Ram Dass suggested at first focusing solely on the air going in and out of your nostrils and nothing else. Every time your mind wandered, bring it back to your breath.

This time I started a practice in a different mindset. I went in to it knowing that a wandering mind was part of the game.  I understood now that there was no such thing as a good or bad mediator. Knowing this completely changed my experience.

So, for the past two years, every morning, I have sat cross legged in my special chair, eyes closed, timer set for twenty minutes, simply breathing.

Usually the first few moments of mediation are quite lovely.  I’m fresh and ready. I’ve got my mind focused on my breath. Life is good.  But then inevitably, a thought wanders in. If I’m going through something rough, this will be the time that that murky, uncomfortable feelings rear their ugly heads and I notice negative thoughts come to the foreground.

But I’ve learned to not give these thoughts or emotions any energy. Like Ram Dass instructed, I simply bring my awareness back to my breath. My thoughts inevitably wander again, so I do the work, bringing them back again, gently, with love. This back and forth may happen ten, twenty times in a sitting, but I’m learning that it’s not the “sparkly” movements  that are important, it’s the returning. I see meditation sort of like going to the gym. Every time you lift that weight, or do another sit up, you’re making yourself stronger.

On some days as I sit, I’ll admit, I feel really good, connected to everything, but lots of times it’s just me with my monkey mind in high maintenance mode. On those days I become convinced that there is in fact a three ring circus residing in my head. Not a real one of course—but some days I wonder.

The trick with my inner circus however is in the awareness. I remind myself that I am in the stands, not part of the show.  On these days, the key is in knowing that the fate of the world is not dependent on whether the tight rope walker makes it to the other side or how many clowns that day will get sprayed with seltzer. It’s all just a show. So, as I breathe I remind myself (no matter how hard those clowns are working to bring me into their antics) that I’m just the observer.

The tigers of my mind may be jumping through flaming hoops and a multitude of mental clowns may be trying to fit into a tiny car, but I gently, through my breath remind myself that what happens down there does not need my immediate attention.

During meditation this morning, in the center ring of my mind was a doozy of a performance. Right there (dressed in a sparkly leotard) balancing on a high wire was a looming thought:

How am I ever going to survive summer break with the kids home?

In my primary reality where I see myself as a writer and a mother, thoughts like this hold a hell of a lot of weight. In this realm, not only do I have a book to write, but I also need to make sure the kids don’t drown each other in the pool or spend the next three months eating nothing but Hot Pockets.

Important stuff, right?

But the truth of the matter is, in the realm of meditation, as I breathe slowly, the identities and jobs I subscribe to are not even real. In the moment I am nothing but my breath, a quiet observer in the stands of an otherwise chaotic big top. How liberating it is to be able to let go of all my worries, even if sometimes it’s only for a moment.

I’ll be the first to admit, lots of days my meditation doesn’t end in sublime moments of rainbows and bliss. Some days I’ll check my meditation timer three or four times, fighting the urge to get my day moving.  As with everything, some days are harder than others, but I am learning that the effort itself is what is key.

In spite of the “work” required for mediation,  good things have come from my practice.  I’m not sure outsiders would even notice, but it seems that I don’t linger on negative thoughts quite so long. I forgive quicker, love stronger. And more often now, when I’m on my morning walk and the light hits the leaves just right, I find myself pausing, quietly watching, wrapped in an effervescent sense of joy.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still be cranky, obsessive, jealous, and moody, but somehow these circus acts don’t last quite so long. Problems arise, but now I’m not as frequently a victim of my own circus mind.

The number one thing I’ve learned with meditation is compassion for the self. For those of us who tend to be self-critical, perfectionists, or fixated on deadlines and time, mediation provides an absolute freedom, as it trains you to forgive and let go. Like a mother gently guiding her child away from trouble, when we wander, we gently bring ourselves back to a place of safety, over and over. In the moment of the breath, there are no standards, no anger, no judgement, just a loving, subtle sense of calm.

I used to take all that noise in my head very, very seriously, but now, during meditation I often find myself smiling at thoughts and ideas that used to be seem like a really big deal. Believe it or not, the pageantry of my own mind is quite amusing. These days, when I see an image of Buddha smiling, I can’t help but wonder if he grins, not because he has reached the pinnacle of self-awareness but because he is also a witnessed of the “Greatest Show on Earth”–I don’t know, maybe these are one in the same.

Many of us put this notion of spirituality on a pedestal. Enlightenment is a serious thing, right? I used to think in order to find inner peace I needed to be solemn and only the right books, the right mediation cushion, and the proper string of mala beads, blessed by the Dalai Lama himself would bring me salvation.  I believed that whatever this ‘bliss and oneness thing’ was, it was far from my reach. But it’s not.

Happiness is always just a breath away. It resides in all of us, in that precious moment of finding our center time and time again. I now mediate when I’m peeling carrots, sweeping the floors, listening to music, kissing my kids goodnight.  All it takes is the awareness that you are not the circus of your mind…just a happy observer, finding joy in the moment of being you. All you have to do is breathe.

Advertisements

Little Did I Know

 

I’m riding my motorcycle down Old Dixie Highway. The trees are arching overhead; thirty feet high. Below, the woods are thick with palmettos, gnarly oaks, and scraggly pines. The air is cool as it courses past my cheeks, across my arms. I am alive with intensity.

I am a new rider. This is the second time that I’ve ridden the historic Ormond Scenic Loop and I’m all in, focused intently on keeping up with the bike in front of me, watching my acceleration, braking when needed, turning with the curves.

As I ride, a funny tune pops into my head “ram, ram, sita ram.” It’s Sanskrit…and actually not a song at all but a chant I had been listening to the previous week, with hopes of gaining a sense of balance and calm that I have sought for a very long time.

So, as I focus intently on keeping my bike rolling and this little mantra chimes in my head, I smile. Here I am a Jewish housewife riding a motorcycle, singing a Hindu chant as I ride to Daytona Beach for a bike rally. But as absurd this may seem, in this little moment it makes perfect sense. I’m exactly where I should be. And although not in my wildest dreams could I have ever pictured myself in this situation, I’m where I always wanted to be. Simply here.

Of course, my mind still wants to rattle on. It wants to think serious, deep thoughts about my “complicated” life. My emotions want to take me on unneeded trips, egging me on with all sorts of drama, but my heart, this little thing in the center of it all, is simply present…there with the road. In this moment as everything stills the only things I know are the actions of my feet…my hands….my heart.

TDA-Buddha-Bike-2013-04-02-600x453

I have recently taken up meditation as a daily practice…and I have to say as difficult as learning to ride a motorcycle has been for me, I think mediation is harder.

Just you try, telling this neurotic, obsessive Jewish girl to not think…to just sit and be. Ha! Preposterous.   But I’m doing it…with the help of my lovely motorcycle rides…and a dedication to end this cycle of suffering, to be the present for the people I love, and to bring joy to this world.

So, here I am, embarking on the hardest thing I have ever agreed to do… making a vow to myself to be with my heart…to no longer live in fear, greed and selfishness. I know I’m going to screw up. Of course I will! It’s part of the learning curve. There’s no exact road map for me to follow. I will make mistakes…just like I know I will probably spend many meditation sessions trying not to attach to the chatty noise in my head. I will still hurt and I will still fall, but I will try my best to do it with compassion, forgiveness and the heartfelt intent to make good in this world.

And so, I plan to write good stories, love my family, be good to my friends, ride my bike, sing goofy mantras, and mediate  all with the intent of doing what I discovered that day beneath the trees on my motorcycle…. Being here now with beauty, love, and joy.

There’s nowhere else to be.

Peace.

 

Life without Exclamation Points

question mark, exclamation point, ampersand, and other punctuation symbols - vintage letterpress printing blocks in small wooden typesetter box with dividers, isolated on white

Life came to halt last week and it was all because of one very tiny computer malfunction…

My exclamation point key stopped working.

Yes, I know in the real world this is no big deal. Its one key out of 30-some, but being without it affected me in interesting ways.

As a writer, I know better than to litter a manuscript with exclamation points, however when I chat with my friends on facebook, I like to do a lot of exclaiming…because that’s how I talk, with lots of drama, excitement, passion. In person I communicate loudly, dramatically, flapping my hands like a baby bird trying to leave the nest, pantomiming life’s dramas with animated finesse.

However with that punctuation mark missing my words just lay flat.

All of this happened at an interesting time. I had been oscillating between really happy and really miserable—singing in the morning, crying in the afternoon, and ready for bed by five. From a psychiatric perspective one might say I was “rapid cycling”.  Personally, I just saw it as growing pains. I was processing a lot of new information and like a teenager exposed to rapid life changes, I was feeling moody.

My friend, who for better or worse, has had a front row seat to the pageantry of my emotional ups and downs found my keyboard predicament amusing. After a hearty dose of teasing (and flaunting his own exclamation capabilities), he paused to point out a possible advantage to my predicament.

He suggested that maybe without the highs (as expressed with exclamation points) that maybe the lows wouldn’t be so bad.

I smiled at the notion that a punctuation mark could change my mood …but then again…I thought. Why not?

And so as a silly experiment, instead of taking that five minutes necessary to fix the key, I decided to let it stay broken.

At this time I was also trying out another experiment: mindfulness—letting go of negative thoughts, letting them pass through me, like watching birds migrating down the coast, each one moving by slowly, silently without significance.

And so the days without my favorite punctuation mark progressed. It was frustrating at first. My words didn’t have their normal power, but something else was happening as the mindfulness began to set in, I was watching my intense thoughts pass through me.

At first this made me feel kind of dull. I wasn’t used to the quiet.  I thought to myself,

What do I fill my head with when the intensity is gone?

The answer was astounding: in the quietness, in this life without exclamation points, there was something hidden…JOY.  Love in its purest form.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if there was any correlation between my broken computer key and my feelings of rapture. Could my missing punctuation make me feel more calm or was it the gentle acceptance that nothing in my mind needed to be grasped so tightly? Or maybe it was a little bit of both.

I do like to think that by removing the exclamation point I symbolically let go of some of the drama in my head. I don’t know for sure, but it’s fun to think about all the same.

I’m just beginning this lifelong path to mindfulness. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve chosen to do, but I’m tired of the roller coaster. Sure, I’d like to keep the nice rolling hills, but I’m ready to say goodbye to the violent ups and downs.

Now, I’m not saying I’ve given up on excitement or passion. I love life and will gladly live it with a happy heart. I just want to start recognizing those overwhelming emotions—the useless, fear based ones that cause me so much suffering.  I’m ready to let them go.

I can do this and I will. It’s going to take a lot of love and perseverance on my part, not to mention forgiveness and a dedicated willingness to change.

Since I started this story I’ve fixed the exclamation point on my keyboard and I’m going back to telling my stories with pizazz, however something has changed. I am now a little more conscious of my highs, my lows, and the glorious feeling of life in between.

Peace,

Becky

Check out my books at www.beckypourchot.com