Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Meditate

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been sick with a fever and unable to attend last Saturday’s bout, but I’ve been dreaming about derby a lot lately. Up until now if you had asked me “Do you miss it?” I would have said “No.” And it’s been true; I don’t miss the attendance requirements, and I don’t miss feeling like a stranger in my own home. I do miss the camaraderie, I do miss having something to push myself for, and I really do fucking miss having an outlet that lets me full-body slam into a bitch in a controlled and acceptable manner.

Since retirement I’ve joined a recreational kickball team (aka, beer league, as far as I can tell). This past weekend we had our first meet-n-greet/practice, and I found myself both overeager and somewhat annoyed. I was annoyed that the “girls” bunting line is like 2/3 closer to home plate than the “dudes” bunting line, and I was annoyed that there’s two first bases, so you don’t accidentally collide with the person trying to get you out. I was overeager to participate, because, well, I don’t know why, but I wound up continually offering to pitch so I would stay active and so I was forced to stay accountable to my team. Since retirement I’ve also joined a nicer gym, going to classes and running, and I’ve been going to yoga outside of that, but still something seems to be missing.

I left derby to focus on writing, but in all honesty I’ve written less since I retired than when I was skating. Instead, I’ve taken up sewing. That is, I’ve bought a shitload of fabric and started 10 million different sewing projects (999,999 of which I haven’t followed through on). I’ve also started compulsively buying Pyrex in an effort to set up a vintage housewares store on Etsy, but you can probably guess where that stands as well ($500 in with no more than a storefront to show for it!).

I’ve been spending a lot of time at my house, which is a stark contrast from where I was this time a year ago. I love my house – I really do – but now it seems it takes an act of congress to get me out of it, which is probably as equally unhealthy as never spending any time in it.

My big accomplishment since retirement has been my garden, which in all honesty has been a booming success. The woman who mows our lawn tells me that it’s the best garden she’s seen all year – that she’s amazed it was my first time vegetable gardening, and my garden could be featured in a garden magazine. Now, however, fall is near, and the vegetable production is slowing and so is my interest in watering and weeding and fertilizing. Le sigh.

Right about now you’re probably thinking that I intended to write about meditation and instead decided to whine about roller derby retirement – that you caught me fucking up. You’re wrong! (Haha!) Hold onto your trousers, folks, and I’ll explain the super long-winded intro…

Since I was 19 and practiced meditation for the first time I knew it was a powerful thing – a beneficial thing and something that would benefit me if I were to do it regularly. That hasn’t stopped me from not doing it, especially during times where I desperately need it – like now. For me, meditation is like a light cutting through the fog – the more regularly I meditate the more able I am to see things for how they really are. Without meditation I get easily confused, and my all-or-nothing personality darts full-speed ahead in many different directions, hoping I’ll hit and land on something that makes me happy, and I’ve been doing a lot of darting lately. Without clarity it’s hard to tell one way or the other what’s right and what’s wrong – what makes me happy and what makes me miserable – so I’ve decided to challenge myself to meditate regularly for one month to bring myself back to a coherent state of mind (a state that’s desperately needed right now).

So, this blog is for Biroller Disorder (my friend Rob), who both nagged me to blog more and asked me to teach his ADD brain to meditate. I couldn’t find anything online that I felt both explained meditation the way I do it and offered some candor about meditation that I’ve learned over the years.

Simply put, meditation is the act of not thinking. We all go around occasionally explaining stupid behavior with the phrase “I wasn’t thinking”, but that’s an incorrect excuse if you ask me, for if you hadn’t been thinking for about 30 minutes on a daily basis leading up to now (aka, meditating), you probably wouldn’t have done that stupid thing to begin with (and yes, I’m ending this sentence with a preposition). Contrary to popular belief, not thinking is actually really hard. REALLY HARD. So, if you’ve attempted to meditate before and failed, congratulations, you’ve started your meditation practice in the same place as every successful meditater – it’s all downhill from here!

How to Meditate:

First, eliminate distractions and set a time goal. For the time you’ve allotted to attempt to meditate (30 minutes should be good), turn off the phone, lock up the dog, and if you’re like me, make sure the housework is out of the way and the bills have been paid as well. It’s hard enough to focus on not thinking that you want to do your best to nip any nagging thoughts or distractions in the bud. It’s for this reason that I actually find it way easier to meditate anywhere but my house, because there’s always something else I think I should be doing when I’m there, and these thoughts can consume me. Many cities have group meditation sessions. If you’re entirely too distracted at home, try a group session. Regardless, it’s best to approach your time goal with the mentality that this amount of time has been dedicated to meditation, and regardless of your perceived success you won’t do anything else but try to meditate during this time. We allocate time each day to shower (ok, some of us) or eat – don’t feel selfish or guilty taking this meditation time for you. For many of us it really can be an important element of daily self care.

Second, find a comfortable position. When I first began to learn to meditate, I was instructed to always sit – for the love of Buddha, don’t lay down!!! I then felt guilty several years into my practice that my primary meditation locale was horizontal. That’s right, I was a meditation bad-ass! Well, that is until I recently attended a group session and the instructor taught a lying down meditation. Finally, vindication! In all honestly, I can see why noob meditaters are encouraged NOT to lie down: you can easily fall asleep, especially if you’re attempting to meditate right before bed. Do yourself a solid and try sitting upright for a week. After that, consider your dues paid and lie down if you want. Personally, I find it more comfortable, but I do still occasionally meditate sitting up with my legs crossed. When I do, I sit on a thick pillow, which makes things more comfortable. The goal here is comfort. Choose a position you can sit in without pain for the duration of your practice. This actually goes back to distraction – you don’t want to be distracted by pain or discomfort that will make you need to switch positions. Sitting in a chair is acceptable too. Shit, any position is acceptable – just find a comfortable one!

Third, close your eyes. There’s many different types of meditation, and some have you keeping your eyes open, but this ain’t one of them. Again, this relates to eliminating distractions. If your eyes are closed there’s less stimuli to distract you.

Fourth, attempt to meditate – attempt to clear your mind of all thoughts for your specified period of time. If you take nothing else from this “how to”, take this: meditation isn’t a flawless accomplishment – it’s an attempt to hush the mind. An ATTEMPT. Because thoughts enter your mind doesn’t mean you have failed at meditating – in fact, this is a part of every meditation practice! Listen, thoughts are going to enter your mind, and your focus may drift away to hearing a garbage truck outside or a barking dog or the phone, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. There is no fail in a meditation practice. If you find yourself in the middle of thought, acknowledge that you’re thinking that thought without being hard on yourself and let it go. Go immediately back to attempting not to think, and continue to do this as many times as you need to during the timeframe you’ve allotted yourself to meditate. Everyone has good days and bad days – even seasoned meditaters (mmm, why am I craving homefries now?!). In every type of meditation practice I’ve been privy to, there is no good or bad – there just is. No judgment. No accomplishment. No failure. Meditation just is, so find comfort in the fact that you really can’t do this wrong as long as you’re trying to do it.

But how will you know when you ARE doing it??? Well, there is no ethereal state that you’ll enter that will let you know you are successfully meditating. A really good session for me is losing track of time – having 30 minutes (or an hour or so) pass that have felt like 5. Meditation isn’t meant to be done once, so over time you’ll be able to judge what a really good session feels like to you, and over time you’ll also begin to notice the benefits of a regular practice. For me, I’m not as quick to anger or stress, and my mind is clearer, which means I’m generally more happy when I do meditate regularly.

For those of you who maybe have meditated in the past but haven’t lately (although you’ve been meaning to get back into it) and for those new to meditation, I’d like to encourage you to be a positive influence on me and join me in a 30-day meditation challenge. Starting today, set aside time each day – be it 10 minutes or an hour and a half – to meditate. Let me know how you’re doing with it, and I’ll share here as well. Feel free to send questions my way. I’m certainly no meditation guru, but I have been doing it for (gulp!) nearly 13 years, so I’d be happy to share my experiences with you. It’s easiest to reach me on Twitter (@cindylop-her), but I’ll post any Q&A on here as well – you know, to also encourage my writing J Good luck!


DayGlo Divine said...

So, this blog is for Biroller Disorder (my friend Rob), who both nagged me to blog more and asked me to teach his ADD brain to meditate. I couldn’t find anything online that I felt both explained meditation the way I do it and offered some candor about meditation that I’ve learned over the years.

Here's some candor.

For a lot of people with ADD, the standard definition of meditation is a pointless and frustrating waste of time. It doesn't work for us because it goes completely against the way our brains work. Ultimately, it's more of the same thing we're so often asked to do, and so often struggle to do, in real life -- pigeonholing ourselves into other people's ideas of "acceptable" behavior, instead of just going with the flow of who WE are. And that completely defeats the purpose.

Speaking solely for myself, I find meditation through chaos. It's a big part of why I ref, actually. There's always something happening on the track that needs my attention, and when I'm out there, everything else gets pushed out of my head. And later, on the drive home or whenever, I come back to that stuff with a little bit of mental and emotional distance and a lot more clarity. Other people I know have found the same release through other, similarly all-consuming activities (a lot of us seem to end up becoming drummers or getting into extreme sports). It might not be other people's idea of meditation, but meditation is a subjective process, and one thing just isn't going to work for everyone.

Cindy Lop-her said...

The meditation I described is how I primarily meditate. It's but one method. I get what you're saying about reffing being meditation, and I wonder if a walking meditation wouldn't be a separate form that you could do when alone. In walking meditation you focus on the small movements that incorporate walking and focus on saying (in your head) the action you're performing as you're performing it. I'll write up a piece about walking meditation and post it as a separate entry.

DayGlo Divine said...

Looks interesting!