Saturday, October 24, 2009

How to Meditate when you just can't

Today I found myself feeling sorry about a woman who left my meditation group years ago because she just couldn't stand that monkey mind. She was in a sobriety program, which she also dropped later. I don't doubt that mind was whispering or shouting things about her life, present and past, that were hard for her to hear, and she didn't have the skills to work with that. Now I wish I had told her, You don't have to sit still in this group and meditate for twenty minutes at a time. You can meditate standing up for five minutes. You can meditate walking alone outside. Or flat on your back, as I was doing this morning when this thought train pulled out.

I was very tired this morning. It's not much good guessing why; I just easily go into this exhaustion. So this morning Tom and I did one of my favorite things, running around doing Saturday morning errands, him driving the Odyssey (nice metaphor), me enjoying the saturated colors of this hazy day following a day of rain. First, to White Castle for breakfast sandwiches and coffee, then to the farmer's market to pick up some unpasteurized cider and our CSA vegetables (more squash!), then to the post office to mail CD's of our teacher's talks to people who had ordered them, then to the local gourmet market to buy a pot roast for tonight. It is hard to imagine a more luxurious life, and my part was pretty easy, but I started our tired and got tireder.

So when we got home I took off my shoes, unrolled my yoga mat, got the timer, put the sign on my study door, and lay down for twenty measured minutes. Right away I found myself thinking, of course, and it went like this: Am I meditating or resting? I recalled how Daniel once mentioned something called "resting in the breath." Sort of like resting in emptiness, I supposed. I tried to let go small mind, the individual Wun that started thinking about blogging on this subject, but that wasn't very successful. I thought, Maybe I'm too tired to meditate.

So I did rest. I don't even do that well, for like many people in whom the element of Air is dominant, I wiggle my toes, rearrange my hands, move my neck into better alignment. No use trying to do it well, no need, no teacher watching over me. I thought about Issan Dorsey, the monk whose death in the hospice he started is recorded in a book about him. Toward the end, he stopped going down to the Zendo to meditate, I gather stopped meditating altogether. It's too hard, he is reported to have said.

Meditation is work. That's why it usually goes better first thing in the morning, when you're fresh. And I had the time last year when infections and low hemoglobin had me too tired to meditate. I thought of Issan then, too, with gratitude.

Maybe he was too hard on himself. Maybe there are ways to meditate lightly, to do what you can, still maintaining the essentials. What are those? The intention, I think. It has to move from being the hope to feel peaceful or to rest to being something more, like the hope to be fully human, to be entirely with it for this moment.

Then what? Everyone would like you to have a nice straight spine uniting sky and earth in your body - but if you can't sit up, you can meditate lying flat on your back. It's just easier to fall asleep. The same goes for the general advice (in the school I've trained in) to have the eyes half-open, the gaze down, soft, unseeing. That, too, helps keep you from drifting away in dreams. And from having restless eyes, always looking for stimulation. Try it, I'd say.

How long to meditate? Everyone's got ideas on that, too - who is this Everyone, anyway? Some people recommend an hour, some several hours a day. You can bounce from one teacher to another and always feel incapable of living up to the thing. I recommend not doing that. Really. The answer is not out there.

An interesting point is that teachers almost never descrube their own practice. Why? Because what's good for them is not good for you. And you should not be imitating anyone, no matter how you admire them, but finding your own way. Maybe that's meditating on the bus on the way to work. And here's a link to someone who describes doing exactly that. p.s. More on getting organized to come. I'm still processing how it has worked for me.
[image: Foliage from poet Karin Gottshall's blog]

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