Mindfulness Diary: Sitting is hard

I will start by warning you of the proselytizing that is about to happen. I can't help myself. It's that good.



 About a year ago I started meditating once a day using the Headspace app. You should go watch this before we go any further. You will love Andy's voice. His soothing voice is probably why I stuck to meditation in the beginning.

 His voice is awesome, right!? My cats agree.

So I did that for a while and then I stopped doing it for a while and then started and then stopped. You know the drill as well as I do, I bet. Habit formation is hard. You really can't will yourself into it, unless you are one of those Obligers who can.

About a month ago, I realized one of the reasons I wasn't consistent was because I didn't have a place that was the meditation zone. I was meditating in the living room or my bed, and often got interrupted by a family member with some urgent whatever. I felt like I was occupying their space and I needed a space of my own. A space just for meditation and contemplation. So I made one. I have a tiny little cabinet that houses some treasures. I threw some orange fabric on it and collected my Buddhas from around the house, made me an altar. I found a sitting cushion/ottoman we had down in the basement. Voila, meditation zone

Having this dedicated space has helped me so much. I wake up. I walk ten steps to my cushion and sit for 10-20 minutes, depending on the day. At the end of the day, I go up to my room, brush my teeth, and sit for 5-10 minutes. Getting to the cushion hasn't been hard. The sitting has been really hard.

Sitting for 10 minutes at a time and not fidgeting is enough of a challenge for me. But to sit and note the breath for more than like 3-5 breaths is almost impossible. I got to 10 breaths this week (I rarely count but that was the task that day), well I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to start over at 1 and erase all my hard work. But the most important work of meditation is letting go

Over and over and over again. 

Letting go with compassion and forgiveness? A herculean task. I know I'm not supposed to be allowing these thoughts to take control and occupy my attention when I sit. So every time that happens, about once every 6 seconds, I have to realize it, let go of the thought with kindness and forgiveness, and go back to mindfulness. I'm getting better at realizing my attention has drifted and getting back to resting my attention somewhere in my body, but the forgiveness and compassion part can get tricky for me. This morning I was using a guided meditation by Sharon Salzberg (thanks 10% Happier app - more about them another day) and she said something that was like a giant searchlight in the darkness of my self-loathing -- paraphrasing here:

You will experience more growth with compassion than condemnation.

Funny thing is, I already know that. Intellectually I understand that part of human behavior change. But applied to the dark circus that goes on inside my head 24/7? Crazy talk. Self-compassion is something my therapist has been working with me on for a year. I'm pretty self-aware most of the time (ok, some of the time). I know when I am being a jerk or jumping to conclusions, etc. I can call myself on it. But forgive myself for it? Not so fast there, Pollyanna. I need to spend at least a few minutes (hours, days) berating myself, just to make sure I understand what a terrible person I am.

Not nice. I know.

So that's why I meditate. To quiet the mean jerk who lives in my head (my roommate, as Michael Singer says in Untethered Soul) who tells me no one likes me and I'm never enough. For at least a few minutes, sometimes only seconds, my spirit gets a rest. And then when I'm out in the world walking around and talking to people, I am more able to pause and reflect before reacting to the situation. Those dark feelings don't have quite as much power over my speech, my thoughts, or my conduct. There's like a 15% greater chance I will react with lovingkindness. That 15% is worth my time sitting. I hear that percentage will grow the longer I practice. 

Who knew sitting and resting was such hard work?

Arena of love

Having a person who is your person to count on makes all of life better.

I had forgotten. I had gotten used to being the one who did everything, worried about everything, washed all the dishes. A significant part of my identity was tied to being the one in charge here, of going it alone. 

Everything is easier with a partner.

Having a partner makes the little things easier like cleaning the house and making time for exercise. It also makes the big things easier like confronting this fear of abandonment that has dominated my life. 

The only way to conquer a fear is to face, to live through it. To take a deep breath and step into the arena. In this case, my arena is intimacy. To be honest and vulnerable is to seek connection. it is also opening myself up to disappointment and pain. It's fucking terrifying. I'm much rather face a charging bull.

 I can thank Brene Brown's Daring Greatly for giving me this image. In that brilliant book she relies on the inspiration of Teddy Roosevelt (my favorite President):

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -- Theodore Roosevelt

I never ever want to be a "cold and timid soul". Never. So I keep brushing myself off and stepping back in the arena. Because I'm worth it. Because love and connection are worth it. 

And he's worth it.

Stories we tell ourselves

Last week I was working out in my group training class when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was stroking away on the rowing machine, half hating it and half loving it - like I feel every time I exercise. I saw a woman working hard. I saw a woman concentrating on her form and getting as far as possible down the imaginary river she was rowing. I saw someone who belonged in a gym. I didn't recognize her. Aside from the red bandana and the overtly American tank top worn half-ironically, that woman didn't look like me. She wasn't uncoordinated and fat and lazy. This woman was pretty badass.

I laughed at myself. It clicked. My Story about Me needed some fact-checking. In the chapter, "Exercise", the first line reads, "I hate exercise because I'm too fat and lazy to be any good at anything." Closely followed by, "People will laugh at me if I try." And yet here I was working out in a room full of other people of various shapes, sizes and abilities, including our very fit and handsome trainer and not a person was laughing at me. Or paying much attention to me at all. They were busy working hard. Just like me. 

After a tearful ride home, which is fodder for another day, I told my boyfriend about my experience. I struggled to find the words to describe how I felt when I realized that what I have been telling myself for so long was utter bullshit. I felt like I was "home" and safe. I felt free and comfortable in my skin. When I told him that I have always thought of myself as  lazy he laughed and said, "I have seen you relax sometimes but I would never call you lazy. You do a lot." He was right. I do a lot of stuff. 

Photo credit: Nicole D Johns 2015

My story of Me was written long ago. It was written by my parents, advertisers, Disney, the Catholic Church, my teachers, my brother, my friends. Some silent editors lurked about the room while we penned this Story of Me. They don't show their faces very often, but they are omni-present for many of us. 

Shame and Fear

Shame and fear are liars. They are not reliable narrators. Don't believe them. They want the Story of You to be small and easy. Fear and Shame write boring stories. Don't let them in your writers' room.