They say meditation is like taking a swirling glass of mud and letting it settle. All the dirt goes to the bottom, and you are left with clear water. It's just so difficult to wait, to wait and watch. My mind is like a river. There's a reason they call it "stream of consciousness." Sometimes it's raging, after a recent storm. Sometimes it's clear and green. But it's always moving. I'm just not always aware of what's in there. I go about my days bustling from task to task. Sometimes I'm distracted or hooked on the anger that's swirling from that stupid morning argument. Sometimes I'm just waiting for the day to end, thinking myself out of the situation. But I'm always thinking, churning.
But lately it's been different. Well, it's been a few years now in development. It started off when I read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. He talks about being present. He really helped me realize the difference between the core self, the observer and the ego self, the self who is swirling in that river of thought, caught with every emotion. I started practicing awareness in little moments. I'd be in the shower and catch myself telling a story or having a conversation beforehand, preparing for what I'd say or how I'd react. I'd be all caught up in emotion I had manufactured. It was easy to do in those quiet moments, but I gradually began bringing awareness in the difficult times, when I was really upset after an argument or in one of those recessions of the spirit when all I wanted to do was eat nachos and watch reruns of Wings. I started becoming more and more aware of my patterns of behavior. Why am I eating this? What am I eating? Where is this tone coming from? Why am I stomping around?
Then, after the babies were born, and the winter came, I was like a mouse in a new maze with no light and no scent to guide me. I'd been in dark times before, but this was something new. Ever before I could just sit down in the dark and sort of wallow in the self-pity. I could stomp about and blame Marco and waste time ignoring my feelings. But suddenly, I couldn't do all the things I used to do. I had three people depending on me all day, every day to feed them and nuture them and guide them. I had followers in the dark. I had to keep going. It made me keenly aware of all those things I turn to for comfort. It made me crave satisfaction. My body ached to do nothing. My mouth salivated for comfort food. My mind was yearning for laze. But I just kept on getting up and being there, because I had to. I knew I needed help, but I had no where to turn. I didn't believe in God. I didn't have a spiritual belief at all.
I went to the bookstore and started searching. I found this book by Pema Chodron called The Places that Scare You. Clearly, the title was what sucked me in. The subtitle is, "A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times." It sounded perfect. And it was. It is. Pema's writing is so clear and honest and easy to understand. I'd picked up books on Buddhism before that just sounded esoteric and boring and so far from waht I was looking for in my life. I wanted simple, clear truth. I did not want to have to learn some new doctrine and believe in something fishy. I just wanted to start to undersand how to deal with being human. That much I know is true, I'm here, existing on this earth.
And the truth, of course, IS so simple. But, as the Indigo Girls said, "The hardest to learn is the least complicated." I've got this body, this mind, this history, this family, this house, and I'm living in this time, now. So, I just need to have the courage to be here, as richly present in this now as I possibly can. Chogyam Trungpa, in his book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, talks about going even further into the moment. Just be still and breath and exist NOW. Be attentive to every detail of what you're doing. It's amazingly simple and beautiful and so very powerful.
Almost an entire year after I first picked up Pema's book, I've finally begun a meditation practice, which is at the heart of the Shambhala path. You sit and breath and focus on the breath. You train your mind to be present. You remain still in that river of insanity. And don't judge. Just watch the junk float on by, all those crazy, wicked, angry, loving thoughts. Don't try to remember. Don't try to hold on. You just sit and breath.
I found that the most peculiar things come up when I'm meditating. I feel like there are three of me. There's the observer, the thinker and the gatekeeper. The observer just alwasy is and always was. There are no feelings, just calm observation. The thinker is always going as well, producing more and more thought, checking off lists, planning and remembering and creating drama. The thinker isn't really right or wrong, it's just busy. And then there's the gatekeeper. This is the part of my mind that reminds me to come back to the breath, to drop that hot iron of thought, that addictiong storyline about how bad someone made me feel. The gatekeeper is like a coach blowing the whistle. Back to the breath. The problem is, the gatekeeper has all the qualities of things I have hated about leaders in my life and things I despise about myself. The gatekeeper is judgmental. The gatekeeper is unkind. The gatekeeper calls names and tries to make me feel bad for thinking. I've come to realize how much of a gatekeeper I am with myself and how much I am with everyone around me. I judge and condescend and demoralize. So, I'm trying to let that go. I'm trying to silence the gatekeeper, or alter my coaching techniques. I'm attempting to be kinder to myself, encouraging even. I try saying, "Back to the breath, my friend" instead of "Goddammit, you're thinking again, you idiot!"
This new perspective on self-love and patience is givng me something to really focus on throughout my day. I'm new, so don't have great expectations of me. Give me some time to learn. When someone asked Pema Chodron how long they would need to keep practicing, she said, "At least until you die." So, I've got some years of learning ahead. But I'm feeling a lot more freedom. If I just drop the storyline. If I just drop the years of guilt and judgment, then the present moment, me here, is quite beautiful.
I looked in the mirror the other day, and my first thoughts were, "You look terrible. Your hair is a mess. What an awful color. You look so tired and dull. You always look bad. You never..." Then, it was like a switch went off, and I just dropped the line of thinking. I let that poisonous fish swim away. And there I was, just me, a face, in the mirror. And I was astonished at my beauty. I was astonished at the loving-kindness that came pouring out.
That's me. That's who I am, here now. And that's a good place to start.