Sitting and Breathing: Day 24

I got home from work around 6am this morning, walked and fed my dog, had some concentrated petting time so he knows I love him, then passed out. I woke up at 2:30 this afternoon (also 10:30am to feed him and take him out again), and in order to make it to work by 6pm, I need to leave the house around 4:45pm (a bus and two trains, and a little bit of time buffer to account for how temperamental public transit can be). After showering and getting dressed for work, I took him on a 30 minute walk, and handled some finance nonsense.

Given that this is my schedule much of the time, I feel like I am usually in a sort of waking dream state. I also feel like I don’t have a whole lot of me time, no less time to read instructions and meditate. So today I decided to break away from the guided meditation laid out in my book, and do a little mindfulness session of my own making.

There’s a little hipster coffee shop right next to the station where I catch the train, and I’m a big fan of it. The coffee is artisanal, the food is clearly made with a passion, and the staff is always friendly, but my favorite part about it is the atmosphere created by whatever interior designer that these folks had the good sense to employ.

All of the light fixtures are the kind I chose for my bedroom – modern LED lights made to look antique that give off a soft, yellow light that’s even pleasing to look at directly. Tens of them hang from the ceilings on long wires, and some are arranged in two fan-like sculptures with long bulbs that have helical innards.

The wall opposite the coffee bar is lined with a fake ivy, giving it a natural and calming feel. The tables are all dark wood, and they’re fit tightly (but not too tightly) in the small space so even when you sit by yourself, you feel like you’re in a small community.

The bar itself is tiled along the bottom in a way reminiscent of the mosques-turned-cathedrals-or-palaces that dot southern Spain (and other places, but I’ve seen those ones, so that’s what they remind me of). The ornate patterns are supposed to replicate the are starry skies, and were used as meditative inspirations by their designers and whoever hired those designers. Along the top is a two-foot wall of glass, and a lineup of small indoor plants blocking the pipes and wires of all the coffee-making machines.

I ordered a little loaf of bread with feta cheese, tomato, and egg, and a cold brew coffee. I sat at a table at the back of the dining area that looked out at the other guests and the street beyond (interestingly, this is the same spot I sat in last time I was there, and it was the only spot open that time, too). I shed my many layers of winter clothing, set down my backpack, read a little of Real Happiness, then just focused on being there.

I set my fork down between bites. I chewed with awareness of the texture of the bread and sesame seeds along its top. I sipped my coffee, then set it down and closed my eyes, swishing it around I’m my mouth. If I breathed out while chewing on the bread, I got delightful coffee aromas to mix with the savory flavors of the bread.

Occasionally my mind drifted to the other things going on in my life. Occasionally I thought about how cute the young women were in there, some studying, some chatting amongst themselves, the younger ones snapping pictures and giggling loudly. Occasionally I thought about how weird I must look with my hands on my knees, chewing with my eyes closed. But mainly, I was calm, I was relaxed, and I was present, and it was beautiful.

Snap! I finished writing this RIGHT as I arrived at my stop for work. How cool is that shit?

Sitting and Breathing: Day 22

Slow start today. I’ve been trying to take advantage of the fact that my cousin is out of town for the month to catch up on some deep cleaning. The apartment looks great, but – in part due to his absence, and in part due to the fact that I was busy and on my feet all day – my dog has been particularly anxious.

When I decided to take advantage of a short break in today’s rain, so too did every other dog owner in the neighborhood, so we did a lot of turning around and my body ached from trying to restrain him. Also, he was already amped up because there’s this rabbit that lives right outside the apartment next door, and once Maximus spots that little bastard, it’s nearly impossible to get him to wind back down.

I’m totally gonna kill that fucking rabbit, you guys/gals. I haven’t decided how, though. I don’t want to put out poison because I don’t want my dog or any other household pets getting ahold of it, and I don’t think bringing a gun out into the streets of Chicago is a good idea. Still brainstorming. Feel free to put in some suggestions.

Luckily, today’s meditation session was titled Lovingkindness Meditation for Times of Emotional or Physical Pain, so I got to pretty directly deal with some of the emotions that cropped up earlier in the day. There were a few different options for mantras, but I chose, “May I accept my anger, fear, and worry, knowing that my heart is not limited by them.” I was to start by repeating that for ten minutes or so, then switch to breathing meditation.

As I meditated, I customized the phrase bit by bit until I felt like it fit me a little better.

First, it became, “May I accept my anger, fear, and worry, knowing that they do not define me and my heart is not limited by them.”

Then, “My anger does not define me. My fear does not define me. My worry does not define me. I am not limited by them.”

Then I added sadness to the mix. I repeated the mantra again, but got overtaken first by anger, then immediately by sadness. Sadness took hold, and it took me about a minute to bring my body out of its physical response to the feeling. This seems to be a recurrent theme – the “sadness underlying my anger” thing.

I read an interesting article recently about how angry outbursts can be an indicator of depression. Apparently, nobody’s really been looking at anger as a marker for depression, but there’s a fair amount of evidence correlating the two. I can say with certainty that I related to the subjects in the article as I was reading it, and the things I’m digging up in this meditation practice seem to support the main point of the article (at least for me).

After I pulled my body back into the proper position for some intentional breathing things evened out again.

Earlier today I heard back from the admissions folks at the University in Vienna, and they seem to have confirmed that many of my plans are viable (still not assuredly in, but it was good news). I also got a job offer to barback at a Michelin Star restaurant on the weekends, so that’s pretty fuckin’ cool. As I write this, I’m sipping scotch and thawing a steak to enjoy in my clean apartment.

Life is alright, but clearly there’s some stuff that needs sorting out. More tomorrow, probably. And the next day. And the day after that.

And probably the day after that, too.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 15

I can’t say I was pumped to start today’s meditation, titled Meditation On Calling Up Negative Emotion (doesn’t exactly “call up” a lot of enthusiasm, right?). After procrastinating in the form of the Ted Bundy documentary out on Netflix, I finally sat myself down, reread the instructions about three or four times so I was doing the right things in what I imagined would be turbulent waters, and dove in (or sat, rather).

Per the instructions, I spent the vast majority of the time trying to conjure up emotions by examining my memories of the recent and distant past, and replaying those scenes in my head to try and illicit an emotional response.

My dog being a dick on our walks? Well he was just nervous and excited. The recent passing of my grandmother? Well she lived a long, happy life, and she knew I loved her very much. My personal and professional failures? Well I was young and I feel like I’ve learned a lot since then. My meditative practice over the last two weeks had me shooting myself in the foot today. Each time I put myself in a time and a place where emotions ran high, my mind quickly followed it up with a rationalizations, justifications, or explanations of circumstances. To put it differently, I wasn’t feeling anything.

FEEL SOMETHING – ANYTHING – GODDAMMIT! I heard my inner voice screaming.

Finally, I got angry with myself for not being able to do this right, and I pounded my fists on my thighs and exhaled violently. That break in my physical composure (up to that point, I had been sitting with [nearly] perfect meditative posture and stillness) was enough to let the emotion itself run through my body. My shoulders tensed, my brow furrowed, I clenched every muscle in my body as hard as I possibly could. Rage ran freely inside of me, then I was exhausted by the effort, and allowed a moment to refocus on my breath and come back to center.

My back straightened, and after some doing, I was able to relax all of my muscles throughout my body and face. Huzzah! I thought to myself. I gave myself a little mental pat on the back, then focused on my breathing again. If it worked with anger, maybe it’d work with another emotion. I gave it a shot with sadness, but I got nothing. So I reworded it as loneliness, and that struck a nerve.

I felt my insides hollow out as I repeated the word to myself. I imagined the loving embraces I’ve experienced in my life, and thought about how long it’s been since I’ve had that, and how nice it would feel. There’s a sweetness to that sadness, in that it’s centered around a beautiful memory and a warmth that aren’t present in that moment. I felt exhausted again, and I let my head droop down. One single tear streamed down my right cheek (like in a fuckin’ movie), and I brought myself back to center.

I finished my meditation just focused on my breath. I felt lighter than when I started – more airy. Also thirsty. Tomorrow will be positive emotions. I’m excited to see if I will have similar difficulties tomorrow.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 3

I’ll admit, I didn’t put a whole lot of sitting and breathing into my day yesterday, but I did regularly think about today’s practice session with eagerness and excitement. Today was 20 minutes of Hearing Meditation, which involves (for me) closing my eyes and actively listening to the world around me.

I was nervous about setting myself up not to hear the alarm again, so I put extra effort into choosing the right sound (I landed on Sun-Shower which has some running water noises and some birds chirping and shit), and I went with Airplane Mode over Do Not Disturb. I set the alarm for 21 minutes, spent some time situating myself on the foot of my bed with my legs crossed, my back straight, my hands on my thighs, and my attention on my first few deep, intentional breaths.

About a minute in, some sort of lawn mower machine (I realize it wasn’t actually a law mower, as the winds outside are currently quite high, and there’s like 7 inches of fresh snow on the ground). This machine ended up taking a lot of my attention at the start, and throughout the session, which I found slightly aggravating, but mostly amusing.

With my eyes closed, I imagined myself suspended in nothingness – a boundless white space – and let the sounds around me populate that space as they rose and fell. My radiator squealed, popping suddenly into my consciousness void, then it disappeared into the whiteness again when its work was done. The wind whipped against my window, momentarily bringing both of them into focus in my mind’s eye.

I felt myself looking toward each of them internally, or to put it a different way, I felt my shapeless self awareness physically drift through the nothingness toward them. Focusing on my breath again after I drifted, brought my attention back to the center of my being/awareness, so I better understand why people say it’s “centering.”

Then some douchey itch popped up in my left ear. I refocused my attention on my breath for some centering. Then the little bastard moved to the left side of my scalp. Breathing. Then the right side. Breathing. Then it settled in on the right side of my penis for most of the rest of the time, before finally landing in my right nostril toward the end.

“Fuck, am I doing this right?” I thought. “What defines doing this right?” I played myself the memories from my readings and some videos I’ve watched on meditation. “Everybody strays, everybody has intrusive thoughts and emotions. The point of meditation is to keep refocusing your attention on the present. What are you hearing right now?”

Of course, I had recurrent, fleeting anxiety about whether or not I had done the alarm right this time. I also kept envisioning the alarm going off – anticipating the end of the session. Otherwise stated, I spent quite a bit of time not adequately focusing my attention on the present.

Interestingly, I noticed that much of the time that that was happening, I was also unintentionally leaning forward. My body was contributing to the anxious, future-driven feedback loop my mind was in. Breathe in… Breathe out… I sat back again, and focused on my breath, then found myself in void again, ready for auditory input.

My cousin was walking my dog, and returned toward the end of the session. His excited footsteps brought him in and out of my void. His crying did, too, but the crying was different. Instead of popping in and out like with all the other things I was hearing, the crying solidified him in my mind’s eye. Even when he stopped actually making noise, I could still see him in my blank space. I wondered what he might need, and lent him a lot of focus despite my best efforts to stay in the moment.

My guess is that the noises he uses to tell me he needs things resonate more with my innate nurturing side. I’m programmed to lend him – the creature I care for – more attention emotionally, physically, and mentally. The question that I have as a result of that is, “To what extent is that playing out in the rest of my life?”

I don’t just mean with him. I mean, to what degree am I allowing lingering thoughts to eat up my ability to listen to the rest of the world? How much am I missing out on because I’m not living in a moment while I’m plotting for my future or dwelling on mistakes I’ve made in my past?

I guess that’s one of the points of meditation practice – answering those questions by continuously refocusing my attention on the shit going on right now. Per usual, I would prefer to have my answers right this second, but that seems to happen less and less these days, and I’m slowly coming to acknowledge the power of delayed gratification.