Sitting and Breathing: Day 29

I know, I know – it was supposed to be a 28 day program, but I didn’t do anything yesterday so here we are. Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate it.

As the photo here shows, I occasionally let my dog play too rough. I have fun, he has fun, but often I get a little damaged. That photo was taken about a week ago, right before I found out I was getting the barbacking gig at the fancy place (my first day is today, by the way). Since then, I’ve been careful to only use his tug-of-war rope so that my hand had time to heal. For the most part, it worked very well and he was very cooperative.

Then I got home from work last night, and after walking him around the block, where he both peed and pooped, I returned to my room to find a large poop in the middle of the floor. Now, I move my bed out of my room and lock up all my things each time I leave the house so he has a decent space to play in, and also to account for his mishaps. So really, this is kind of par for the course. But yesterday I was really looking forward to coming home, putting my bed back in my room, and getting a good night sleep in preparation for today’s shift, which I’ve been a little nervous about.

The poop in the middle of my floor meant that I had to clean the floor, but the smell clearly meant I was sleeping on the couch, and that pissed me off. I punched the wall and opened up two of my knuckles in the process. So now, not only was I not going to get a good night’s sleep, but my hand also had two fresh wounds on it because I couldn’t control my anger in that moment. I did not go to sleep in the best of moods.

I also did not wake up in the best of moods. The couch just isn’t as comfortable as my bed, and it smells like dog, and of course, Maximus woke me up like fives times this morning asking to go outside.

So! I finished reading the last bits of Real Happiness, and sat myself down for some good ol’ breathing. Holy crap did I need that. In the last bits of the book, she discusses how the point of continual meditation practice is not to become better at meditation, but to become better at life. I don’t sit and breath so that I can master sitting and breathing, I do it so that it connects me on a deeper level with myself, my emotions, and the events, people, and dogs in my life.

My practice itself hasn’t improved much over the course of the last month. I still get easily distracted, I still get washed away by torrents of emotion, I still get bored and restless just like I did on day one. But I will say that minus punching the wall yesterday, I have a much different way of interacting with my emotions. Meditation has, of course, made me no less of a human being – no less prone to the ups and downs of my own mind or less likely to experience positive and negative occurrences – but it has given me a powerful tool when it comes to my perception of those things.

So ends my series on Sitting and Breathing, but my journey on the road to better understanding the intricacies of my world feels like it’s just beginning, or at least beginning anew. Next up on the reading docket is Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Enlightenment by Joseph Goldstein. I will keep you abreast of what I learn there, and regale you with more tales of my nonsense going forward.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to read about my journey thus far, and I look forward to continuing it with you.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 23

I skipped over Lovingkindness Meditation for Caregivers because, well, I’m not one. So today’s practice was a Meditation On Seeing The Good, which I honestly feel like I do much of the time already, but I felt like it couldn’t hurt to have some dedicated time for it in my day. As evidence of my regular use of this tactic, I was able to come up with multiple examples for each of the types of person I was to focus on (I’m not sure if that’s what I was supposed to do, but it’s what I did).

First up was me, and some of the good things I did for others yesterday. I didn’t really go anywhere or do anything outside of my home yesterday, so I mainly focused on things like taking the trash out, cleaning my apartment, taking my dog on a longer walk than usual, and doing this whole meditation and writing thing.

Next up was a benefactor. The obvious candidate was my mother, who regularly helps me both as a financial safety net and confidant when I’m angry or sad or happy about something. My focus flitted around to some of my other family members – suffice it to say, I get a lot of help from my family, so it was easy for me to come up with some names on the quickness.

Next on my Lovingkindness To-Do List was a good friend. Three names came to mind almost simultaneously (well five, but I focused on three): Greg, Bryan, and Monica. All of them took time out of their busy schedules to help me edit, revise, and rewrite a recent short story I submitted for a contest, and provide meaningful and insightful feedback. I think that’s why they all came to mind at once, but there are a litany of other ways they’ve been wonderful people to me, and I was happy to spend time today sending some positive energy in their direction. Between this bit and the benefactor bit, I was feeling a lot of gratitude today.

“Someone you know who’s having a difficult time” and “someone you have a bit of difficulty with” were the same person for me today: my aunt. She’s had a lifelong struggle with addiction (the alcohol and heroin kinds, mainly), and as a result, I’d say she isn’t the easiest person to deal with. It’s hard to know when she’ll be where and if what she’s saying is true or not. But! My grandmother recently passed away, and while I haven’t checked in with her personally, I can’t imagine she’s having the easiest time in dealing with that.

I’m not going to pat myself on the back for sending her lovingkindness today because I think I’ll need a few more sessions with her as the direct object of my meditation before I’m ready to cross that bridge and reach out to her. I can, however, now see that that is a bridge I must cross sooner than later because who knows how much longer it’s going to be there?

Aaaaand then my focus was back on me and a difficulty I had in my day. Specifically, I got mad at my dog on our walk yesterday which resulted in some leash jerking. I’m not proud of it, but I also don’t know how to deal with his unmitigated energy expulsion when he sees a squirrel or another dog or a human in winter clothes or some shit blowing in the wind. I spend some time focusing on how that was only a moment in time, and it has passed, and I love my dog and I always will (the adorable bastard).

Finally, I sent some lovingkindess to everybody like this, All beings want to be happy, may all beings be happy. I inhaled deeply on the first part, taking in the weight of the desire of all beings to be happy, then exhaled on the second part, pushing my positive energy out with the breath.

I finished early and my mind did some wandering. I got mad with myself for not being able to stay with the breath right when my alarm went off. I couldn’t help but laugh, because there I was, sitting in a meditative pose, huffing and puffing, pissed about not being able to focus on the good for just 20 minutes, RIGHT when the soft bird chirping and water noises that I have for my alarm started in. That’s just funny.

Week 4 involves practicing 6 out of 7 days, so we’ll be back for more tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 10

It was back to the sitting and breathing today for Body Sensation Meditation. For somebody who humble bragged (maybe just outright bragged) about their body awareness just two days ago, today was strong dose of reality. The point was to just sit cross-legged on the floor, back straight, and focus interchangeably on breathing and each bodily sensation that arose during the session.

Based on the sensations I felt today, I am pushing my body really hard lately. I was to focus on pleasurable and painful sensations alike, and today was largely filled with painful sensations. I felt the tension in my lower and mid-back from work and my litany of personal projects. I felt the tension around my knees and the muscles immediately around my knees, likely from the same activities. I felt the soreness in my shoulders from playing with the dog.

What I found most interesting is how my mind was able to so thoroughly and completely lose itself in thought today. On a day when I was supposed to be focusing on painful sensations, my brain kicked the imagination into overdrive, and I’d catch myself in very different times and places every time I’d return to my breath.

I gotta get to work soon. I wonder who will be there. I wonder what I’ll be doing today.

Then I’d imagine myself already at work, talking with my coworkers. Then I’d imagine getting off of work at 1:30am, and the long public transit route home, and how shitty it would undoubtedly be in zero degree (or under) weather. Then I’d feel how cold my toes were, which would bring me back into my body, and back to my breath.

Ow, my back is really hurting. Probably from all the bending over and weird angles I put myself in to finish the bar for my living room.

Then I’d wander into a hypothetical conversation with my mother about how I’m spending money frivolously, and should really be focusing on other things right now. “I spent as little as possible making this thing!” I’d argue. Then I’d play out the rest of that conversation, and I’d work myself up into a tizzy over a conversation that never happened. By the time I remembered I was supposed to be focusing on my breath, I was already pretty agitated. Then the pain came back.

I wonder to what extent I’m doing this with other pains I’m experiencing, both physically and emotionally. I wonder if my mind’s tendency to experience pain in the form of a drive to distract myself with something – anything – else is bleeding out into the rest of my life. I bet it is! I have no concrete evidence for that, yet, but I’ve got a hunch, so now I’ll be on the lookout for it.

Returning to the pain (burning, dull, aching, stiffness, soreness, tension), I was reminded of the time I modeled in the nude for a painting class. I chose what I thought would be fairly easy positions to hold for 20 minutes, and realized on the first attempt that it was harder than I anticipated. Even sitting cross-legged on the floor, on a pillow, can ware on you after a while. I started anticipating my alarm, largely because it symbolized the end to my pain, or at least the potential pursuit of another distraction (namely, writing this).

Funnily enough, when I finally surrendered to the ideal that there would be no alarm, and that the future was irrelevant to my current experience, the alarm went off. Luckily (after writing this) I have to start getting ready now, otherwise I’d be strongly inclined to do my ab workout before work, which I don’t think would do much in the way of easing my muscular tension. Maybe I can squeeze in a routine before work tomorrow, though…

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 7

I did not start the day well. I woke up a little later than I anticipated, so I rescheduled my first free trial class of Jiu Jitsu at the gym I had found close by. The dog was getting on my nerves a little more than usual. I was upset about the trash and the lack of groceries and the tree outside (I just took down my Christmas tree, and it only made it as far as the fire escape). I started reading my meditation book, but I just couldn’t focus. I was hungry, and I hadn’t had coffee, and I was frustrated – my attention was all over the place.

I decided to get up and do something about all of those feelings before I began my second week of meditation practice. I walked the dog around the block. I walked to a local cafe I’d been meaning to check out to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while just being present, a task I usually love, but today it didn’t work quite like I wanted it to. The music in the small shop was some sort of Ukrainian pop house music, which isn’t ideal for relaxation. Financial news was running on a TV at both ends of the place, with tickers and scrolling headlines and a general jumble of nothing but incredibly important information. The coffee was good, but they brought it in a foam cup, which to me negated the point of me ordering it for there.

In my haze of frustration, I decided to use Dr. Brené Brown’s voice and resonant worldviews to soothe me. First I looked up her bio and found out that she hadn’t even gotten her bachelor’s degree until she was 30, which immediately put me at greater ease. Okay, I thought, I can still do this. After settling into the first few minutes of her audio book and finishing my coffee, I wandered to the two stores I had to go to in order to get everything on my list, and a few extra things determined by whimsy (like strawberry jam cookies).

After I got back home, put away the groceries, and had a snack, I felt ready to pick up the book again. Like in Week One, I read all of the material associated with Week Two first, then went back and reread the meditation instructions for today – Body Scan Meditation. I set myself up on my yoga mat, reset myself up after my dog whined outside my bedroom door and I brought him in and put him in his kennel, then reset myself up a final time after removing the bones he was banging against the sides of the kennel.

I closed my eyes and mentally scanned from the top of my head down to my chin, then down the back side of my head and neck, then along the sides. I moved my attention down my arms and felt each finger tip individually. Then I went down my torso, all the way to my feet, where I primarily noticed the pressure of my heels against the mat.

That journey throughout my person wasn’t quite as straightforward as that, though. I spent what felt like a lot of time lost in my thoughts. I’m infatuated with a coworker, and I kept seeing her radiant smile. I kept enjoying my stored mental loop of her gait. I replayed little tidbits of what she’s said to me or in groups that I found funny or endearing. Then I’d spend time thinking about how I was going to tell all of you about those thoughts and their intrusion. Suffice it to say, I worded it better before I sat down at my computer.

My coworker appeared a lot today, but there were other distractions, too. Fantasies about the lunch I’d make for myself, confusion about whether or not the gentle water noises and birds chirping was the alarm I had set, or just the outside world, thoughts about when this lying down thing would be over. I was, however, able to continuously bring my focus back inside my body. Feeling my the contact points with the floor, feeling what was getting heavier and what was getting lighter after the 18 or so minutes I had been there.

Finally the alarm did go off. I opened my eyes and slowly rose form the mat. I will say that much of the stress inhabiting my body earlier has vanished. I am presently more relaxed and less heavy. I don’t think that any of my problems were solved in those 20 minutes – they’re still waiting for me now, actually – but I am able to consider them as truths, and let them stay there. The fact about most of them is that their existence doesn’t adversely impact this moment that I’m in, or the next.

I’m not going to ignore them because they all very much need addressing, but I’m also not going to let them ruin whatever I’m doing right now, and I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point. Or at least that’s what I’m getting from this experience so far. I look forward to upping it to four sessions this week. Until tomorrow!

Sitting and Breathing: Day 5

I’ve considered coming up with more creative titles for these posts, but meh…

Anyway, today went (in my opinion) really well. I felt sort of frenzied beforehand because I’ve imposed a lot of deadlines on myself for getting certain things done (planning to move to Europe and get an advanced degree apparently involves a lot of steps), and today was going to be my day to knock some of those things out.

Given that I work at a bar that doesn’t close until 4am, that usually means I’m not home until at least 5:30am, which means I’m not asleep until 6:30am, which means I’m not awake until 12:30pm. By the time I’ve walked and fed my dog, made coffee and breakfast (lunch) for myself, and settled into any kind of head space for getting things done, it’s already 2pm.

I put my anxiety about my to-do list aside (my realization that it was MLK Day, and many things are closed today helped), and reread the directions for the Letting-Go-of-Thought Meditation on my schedule for today. I put my dog in his kennel, set my alarm for 21 minutes out, and sat, and breathed.

In essence, the task for today was to say, breath to myself on every inhale and every exhale. When a thought or sensation arose – positive or negative – I was to label it not breath and return my focus to the breathing. I found it to be fairly easy to return to my breathing today. I’m not sure if that’s a cumulative effect or today was just a good day, but it was heartening.

Likely as a result of my time in JROTC and ROTC, I have an internal voice that calls me Farrell, and when it chides me it sounds a lot like it’s a drill instructor. Honestly, though, the drill instructor voice was pretty quiet today, and didn’t add much to my experience. The soft-spoken hippie woo woo voice that I’ve developed internally over my years of exposure to counter culture was much more chatty today, and surprisingly, more difficult to shut up.

My mind would wander to things I was upset about, hippie voice would say, “It’s okay that you feel angry.” Then I’d imagine myself in a field lightly scattered with trees, sun shining, wind blowing through my hair, and he’d say, “It’s important to stay in the moment, remember, the point of…”

“Shut up, Hippie! You are ‘not breath!'” I finally told him. Then I laughed, and focused on my breathing again. While I appreciate his input, he makes it difficult to concentrate on a given moment with his kind, considerate prattling on. We get it, you eat organic and recycle, and you dole out self-love like it’s going out of style. Thank you, now shush.

The time seemed to fly by today, which I attribute largely to my attention on each breath component, as opposed to the experience as a whole. I’ve also been able to pepper in some mini-meditations in the past couple days. I’m a doorman at the late-night bar, which means I spend a lot of time by myself in a foyer, staring out a 1′ x 1′ window.

As you might imagine, this allows for a lot of reflection. When I’m not interacting with guests, I spend a lot of time lost in my own thoughts, but last night, I also spent some time here and there just focusing on my breath and on the individual sights and sounds being presented to me. I let them enter and exit my consciousness, then put my attention back on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling (my left nostril is still fucked up, if you were wondering).

Last night, I pondered whether or not my years of exposure to hippies or studying psychology put me ahead of the pack when it comes to self awareness, but I think it ultimately doesn’t make any difference in this endeavor. The truth of the matter is that everyone – from monks to plumbers – can improve on what they’re working with. The practice of meditation is not a cure for the human condition, but a coping mechanism that we can always be better at employing right now. Or now.

Or now. Especially now. Point is, I’m enjoying this.

Clever Title Re: Online Dating

Nothing says, “your life is different than it was” like walking your previously nonexistent dog down a snow-coated alley surrounded by tightly packed brick buildings. It’s so counter to what kinds of things filled my senses four months ago, that it’s comical and jarring and beautiful. On the flip side, nothing says, “your life is the same” like my restless right and left swiping on dating apps.

As it happens, I spend a fair amount of time each day on Tinder or OKCupid doing not much of anything at all. I swipe left and right based solely on a three second judgment of a person’s appearance. Sometimes, if I find their photos particularly attractive, I’ll take a second to read what they have to say about themselves. Then I find myself falling in love (maybe only to a small degree, but that’s definitely what the feeling is) with a person I’ve never met, based on five photos and an elevator pitch.

Brief aside: get your artsy landscape photos out of your profile pictures. That’s what Instagram is for, and you’re slowing down my rapid-fire judgments of a person’s potential for connectivity with your bullshit about flowers. 

Anyway, I don’t spend much time talking to people on dating apps. Presently, I have 215 matches on Tinder and more on OKCupid, and I’m only passively engaged in one conversation and actively engaged in none. I find that my reasons for being on the app as opposed to seeking out dates in a more “traditional” fashion, are the same reasons that I don’t end up actually dating or establishing a meaningful connection with these people – lack of money, lack of time, or lack of emotional currency.

I can’t tell how upset I am about that. I feel like I want a connection with someone. I feel like if my brain is trying to tell me anything with all of its daydreaming, it’s that having a partner would be nice. Then I think about it more, and I find myself wholly satisfied with the quality time I spend with my dog, the quality time I spend on Pornhub (separate quality times), and the quality time I spend with myself, writing or reading or doing whatever random thing pops into my head.

I like this life, and it feels like adding another human to it holds the potential to bring all that enjoyment to a screeching halt. Then I’ll have to deal with a whole other person worth of nonsense, and I just don’t want to. If history is any indicator, I’ll do a complete 180 on that pretty soon and dive headlong into a doomed-from-the-start relationship with someone who would have been perfectly happy having never met me. I’ll make it through about a year of an emotional whirlwind of happiness, anger, and ultimately sadness, and the cycle will start anew. 

Ah well. *SWIPE*