Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meditator Wannabe

I understand that it takes a smoker an average of six serious tries before he or she can kick the smoking habit for good.  I've been keeping this in mind the last few mornings as I try yet again to develop the meditation habit.

How many times have I attempted this?  I can't remember--probably more than six.  I started meditating sometime in the 1990s, and I must have tried at least once every year since then.  Sometimes I manage to meditate almost daily for a couple of months;  sometimes for a couple of weeks.  This time, I'm hoping it will stick.

I've read lots of instructions on how to do it.  It's not hard:  sit comfortably, close your eyes, relax, and focus on your breath.  A mantra is optional.  Your mind will wander, and you will bring it back gently to your breath.

I follow all the above to the letter.  I sit on a yoga cushion on the floor in a half lotus, which feels comfortable to me.  I close my eyes, relax, and focus on my breath.  And my mind wanders.

I think about the dog--big or small, Wolfie or Bisou--that has snuggled right up against my legs and is now snoring softly.  I think about my mother.  I think about the next clay piece I'm going to make.  I think about spring.  Ideas for blog posts cascade through my brain.

I return gently to my breath, and next thing I know I'm planning next season's garden, and worrying that it will soon be time to retire (i.e., kill) my three old hens to make room for new ones that will start laying next winter....  But back to the breath.

While my, as the buddhist call it, monkey mind careens through the jungles of my brain, I notice a familiar tingling sensation in my right leg.  That's the one that always goes to sleep first.  Soon the left one will follow suit, and by the time my thirty minutes are over, it will take me another five to regain full mobility.  But never mind.  I should focus on the present, on the breath that has been going in and coming out of my body the whole time I've been ignoring it.
 
And so on and so forth.

Meditation is supposed to do wonderful things, both mental and physical, for you.  If you do it faithfully, thirty minutes every day, it will actually change the structure of your brain, for the better.  I can't imagine how something that feels so like nothing can be that effective.  It's kind of like drinking green tea, which is full of amazing antioxidants but tastes only like slightly bitter water to me.
  
I do both--meditate and drink green tea--once a day, on faith.  But often I can't help wondering whether both the tea and the sitting still aren't a huge joke that the inscrutable East is playing on us gullible westerners.

9 comments :

  1. No doubt you saw this:

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/how-meditation-may-change-the-brain/?src=me&ref=general

    I meditated with a group for awhile, which was really helpful in getting through a depression. But frankly, when I was better, I stopped. I have never seriously been disciplined enough to meditate on my own. I keep hoping occasional yoga and meditations within is close enough... (says the woman thinks she's skipping yoga class today...)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I find this encouraging since I too am a serial beginning meditator. My problem though is that I get so relaxed that it is hard to get my day going afterwards. A few years ago just as the current recesssion was starting to hit artists (everyone else would feel it a year later) I had my most successful period of meditation. I meditated for a minimum of 45 minutes every morning for three months. This put me into a state of serenity so profound that I barely registered that art sales were in free fall. Eventually I came to, realized the universe was not magically righting itself, and started scrambling hard for income. Since then I have pondered whether so much meditation was a mistake since it muffled the anxiety that would have spurred a more timely response to economic threat - or whether the deep rest and calm that I achieved (however briefly) had a benefit in helping me cope with the subsequent stress.

    N.B. Green tea should be slightly sweet, not bitter. Are you using boiling water? The water needs to be cooler than boiling - 180 degrees or so.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I DID see that article, and it spurred me on. I attended group meditations briefly in Annapolis, and they are a horse of a completely different color from the individual kind. I think they can be quite powerful, and have been wishing I could find such a group around here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Elizabeth, rem accu tetigisti, as Jeeves would say (for non-Wodehouse addicts: "you have touched the thing with a needle"). I HAVE to make an act of faith that the meditation helped you not only to survive, but to grow through the stressful time. But it is a distressful question, and gets right to the core of the Western suspicion of buddhism.
    Thanks for the green tea hint--I don't use boiling water, but maybe I should try adding honey.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I like to think that those who stick with meditation arrive at a state of calm alertness - the best of both worlds. It would be interesting to have a conversation some day about the cultural context of meditation and indeed all contemplative religious practices. I have a theory that they arise from cultures where the quality of resignation has a high survival value, i.e., cultures with rigid economic and class structures. In our society alertness has a much higher survival value so I think we struggle to find a place for the contemplative mind.

    But the real question is - why has no one done a study of the effect on the brain of reading P.G.Wodehouse 30 minutes a day? The results would be spectacular.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for the tutorial, very interesting.

    ökostrom

    ReplyDelete
  7. Rem accu again! Your theory sounds entirely plausible to me, although resignation can come in handy in our culture too--when the body fails, for instance.
    About PGW: the minute I responded to your first comment, I thought, "I've GOT to read some Wodehouse today. It will make me feel a lot better!"

    ReplyDelete
  8. "...cultures with rigid economic and class structures"? How about prisons? Here's a relevant story on meditation that was on Morning Edition today:
    http://www.npr.org/2011/02/08/133505880/at-end-of-the-line-prison-an-unlikely-escape

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks! I just realized I didn't have time to meditate this morning.

    ReplyDelete