Sitting and Breathing: Day 8

Today I was antsy (I decided to throw a party, and then decided I needed to build a bar in my living room, so my brain is swimming with ideas), which inhibited my meditation’s beginnings, but I seem to be able to pull my shit together by about 2pm every day. The program recommends choosing a consistent time of day to meditate, so at least my nonsense is punctual. Today’s was a Walking Meditation, which started with an awareness of my stance, then moved to a gradually increasing awareness of the movements involved with propelling myself forward.

From the beginning of today’s practice, I couldn’t help but wonder who doesn’t do this on a regular basis? Doesn’t everybody slow-motion walk for funsies from time to time?! They should. Your body is telling you a lot if you’re willing to listen to it (thank you Erin Burch for that phrasing). Based on the verbiage in this section of the book, people clearly aren’t listening, so my mind wandered around trying to figure out exactly what got me listening in the first place.

I took martial arts as a kid, which is probably the first time I had to pay any real attention to the way I stood and why. “You need to have your feet angled like this so you can kick like this and return to your center of gravity like this.” Honestly, I don’t remember that lesson, though. I mainly remember my sensei allowing us to punch him as hard as we could manage in the stomach (he clearly had time-tested faith in his abs), and the blonde black belt (that in retrospect, couldn’t have been more than 14) who was so much older and more experienced, and who I had a very powerful crush on.

My first concrete memory of these lessons was in JROTC in high school. Military drill teaches you to stand and walk in a very particular way – heel-to-toe with your back straight, your shoulders back, and your head level with the ground. If you don’t do it right, you get yelled at, which acts as some pretty immediate, indelible feedback. Then I joined the armed and unarmed drill teams, and color guard, where I fine-tuned those marching styles. Then I lead those teams, and those techniques to other people in a way that maximized uniformity.

That’s about the same time that Erin (please check out her website here) came into my life, and taught me her reasoning for focusing so heavily on my gait and what it was telling me. Just by watching me walk, she was able to figure out quite a lot about the way I interact with the world, and advised me on how I might go about fixing things. Ever since, I’ve paid very close attention to my weight distribution, how long my strides are, where I’m holding tension, etc.

Anyway, back to today’s session. After the requisite rereading of the instructions, dog distraction five minutes in, and restarting the 11 minutes of audio guiding the meditation, I did a total of 16 minutes of walking meditation today. Most notable to me was the sensation of my feet flying through the air between steps.

As I lifted my heal to begin a step, all the muscles in my leg tensed to push my weight to the opposite foot. Then, as my toes left the ground, each of those muscles relaxed as my foot glided to its new position. I felt my weight shifting more fluidly the slower I walked, each small movement acting as a counter to the movement of the muscles in the other leg. I also felt the floorboards of my apartment pushing back on me with the same amount of force that I was exerting on them.

Once again, in spite of my initial reluctance, I am very happy that I made time for meditation today. Taking the time to be present seems to relieve a lot of the stress I’m waking up with in the mornings. I obviously still need to figure out why I’m waking up with so much stress in the mornings, but ya know… One step at a time.

Author’s Note: I was neither sitting, nor focusing on breathing for today’s practice.

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.