I’ve been meditating for over a decade and therefore it astounds me that the majority of the time I sit or lie down to meditate, this question arises:
“Um, what am I doing again?”
And then this one, “And why?”
Sometimes I can find the answers in the meditation itself.
Sometimes I just let a technique carry me; focus on the breath, focus on awareness itself, welcome body sensations, release tension etc. I figure it’s benefited me in the past and people I respect said it would benefit me, so I just go with it.
Other times I sit there for a while, confused and annoyed, then just stand back up and go about my day.
Eventually, I always find myself back at my bookshelf, playing a recording, or signing up for a retreat so someone else can remind me what meditation is and why I do it.
First of all, do any other meditators have this experience?
Until now, I’ve never actually outed this about myself. I’ve thought perhaps I might be the only person stupid enough to be deeply passionate about something but who forgets almost every day what that something is. I feel like the Dori of spirituality.
ANYWAY. About an hour ago when I closed my eyes and found myself asking, yet again, “Wait, what am I doing?” I had a new insight.
So much of our lives are dedicated to trying to improve ourselves and our experience. Every should, shouldn’t, should’ve, and shouldn’t’ve is evidence of that. We continually attempt to manipulate ourselves and others trying to get the approval, control, safety, individuality, and love we so desperately seek. Most of our personalities, mine very much included are like walking maws of lack.
When I am focused on what I am not, not successful enough, not loved enough, not feminine enough, not productive enough, not wise enough, not peaceful enough, not helpful enough, not disciplined enough, etc…. I am avoiding one and only one thing: What I actually am.
So what if meditation is simply a time to stop running from ourselves? What if meditation is just the act of being with one’s self as one’s self? And because most of us experience varying amounts of lack, being ourselves would include allowing that sense of lack as best we can, without trying to fix, change, run away, keep, or control it.
We think we are weak? What does weak feel like? We think we are selfish and useless and empty? So what? What does that feel like? What sensations? What emotions? What thoughts? We feel inferior to others, or superior. What if we are? What’s that experience at the physical level? We sense we are mean, or lonely, or old? We consider ourselves failures, or unattractive, or out of control?
What if we just allow all that to feel as true as it does?
I’ll tell you what if: It SUCKS, but only for a short while. Most of us spend a majority of our lives dedicated to avoiding unwanted feelings. If you ever find yourself saying you are tired, or exhausted, I propose that this never-ending game of emotional hide-and-go-seek is one of the reasons.
We are running from things we don’t even understand because we’ve been too scared to sit still long enough to investigate.
I’ll tell you a story.
Yesterday morning I woke up with a contraction in my chest I might label grief or terror. Normally I would leap out of bed to the coffee maker to get away from that feeling, but the night before, Vince had forbidden me from getting out of bed till 9am because I haven’t been sleeping well.
So I figured, what the hell, as long as I’m stuck here, I might as well look at this. If the feeling could speak it would have said “I’m doing nothing useful with my life,” I felt my throat close. It’s a familiar painful thought that often causes me to run in circles trying to prove it’s not true.
“So what if it is true?” I asked instead. (A question borrowed from Byron Katie). For the next fifteen minutes or so, I just allowed the feeling of total uselessness. Also the feeling of forever that comes with it, because embedded in the fear is that the uselessness will never change. I opened to the possibility of living an entire life of being totally useless. And as I did, I simply observed the sensations, thoughts, memories, and images.
At first, it felt like a humiliating tragedy, an 80-ton monster with its foot on my chest and its big toe pressing down on my trachea. But soon, the sensations abated some, and I saw images of myself taking long slow barefoot walks, touching trees, smiling at people and meaning it, getting lots of sleep, doing long yoga practices for the pleasure of it rather than any motivation, reading and watching fiction without self-judgment, cooking slowly and mindfully, being totally available when my family or friends want to spend time together (because I’m not doing anything else useful). What started as a nightmare blossomed into the life of my dreams. I have tears as I write this.
This letter and story is an invitation to meditate. Or rather ME-ditate. It’s an invitation to spend time getting to know yourself as you are, rather than as you’d like to be. It’s a proposal to spend a little time each day to drop the doing, the fixing, the trying, and courageously allowing and/or exploring yourself as you are, and learning to love whoever or whatever you find.
PS – My current favorite meditation teacher is Rupert Spira, who you can find all over YouTube. If you’d like to join me and about 600 others in re-remembering why we meditate, he has a three-day Zoom retreat coming up on March 19th.