From the age of five all the way up until college, I went to LDS church every Sunday, and every Sunday I “partook in the sacrament” by eating a piece of Wonderbread and taking a shot of water in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
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I guess this is how I go...
Helpless in the backseat on the treacherous drive from Madurai to Fort Kochi through the steep, jagged mountains of Kerala, my death contemplation practice has been taken to a brand-new level. And not by choice. We're driving at top speed on a winding one-lane road with no rules and too many impatient drivers. And every time we overtake a bus on a sharp curve, blind -- which is every few minutes -- I'm convinced it's about to be the end of me. I look out the window and see nothing on the side of the mountain to stop us, with one wrong move, from flying down into the deep valley below.
I clutch my new skull necklace close to my heart. I bought it just before India to support my death contemplation practice by reminding me that everything and everyone will die, including me, and it could happen at any time (so I remember to treat each moment as the precious gift it is). And just yesterday I initiated a year-long Kali sadhana to deepen this practice by directly pursuing death of the ego and death of attachments, including to life itself. I feel like Kali's in the car with me now, saying, "This is what you wanted, right? The real stuff?" (She's the Dark One, so it's no surprise she has a dark sense of humor.)
Something odd arises in response. At the height of my conviction that this is the end, I'm surprised to find myself overcome not by a highly amplified version of the gratitude I feel and express on a daily basis, but rather by a deep sadness and disappointment. "So this is it, huh?" I think. "What a bunch of pain and suffering this life has been." Not exactly the thoughts I would have expected from myself.
Now I see that through this experience, Kali was simply reflecting just how much my ego is still in control. I was having what I assume from the viewpoint of the separate self is the inevitable experience of immanent death: Either fear born of attachment to the impermanent (invented meaning) or complete meaninglessness. For me it was a combination of the two: "I'm going to lose the things and people that make things matter" and "Nothing at all has ever mattered." These beliefs were fueling my fear fire. (And, man, did they burn!)
You're reading this blog post, so of course I didn't die. Somehow -- after eight hours of nonstop honking, innards clumping, head throbbing, and teeth threatening to slice off the tip of my tongue -- somehow, I made it out alive. I'm still integrating, but I know I was given the gift of seeing where I really am and the work that's left to do. And I know my skull necklace, after passing through this fire, holds greater meaning than before. There's a sense of greater urgency behind the need to live now. In every moment. And always. (More to come on what that'll look like.) And I have to wonder...though that wasn't the end of me, perhaps I'm one step closer to the end of "me."
Damn it feels good to be home. After an action-packed Advertising Week in New York, I almost cried with joy as I stepped out of the airport and into the clean and crisp San Francisco air.
Between work and weddings and learning and teaching, I've been on 19 flights over the past three months. I've spent far too much time on the road for my taste and far too much time DOING, not enough BEING. And it's been cramping my style. Because though life's offered a lot of stimulation with all its recent assignments and activities, it hasn't been very spacious.
In fact, I've been feeling anything but spacious. Over the past few weeks, swept up in the throes of life's intensity and movement, I've felt overwhelmed, distracted, agitated, and rather confused. In fact, I even feared I'd gone backwards on the spiritual path.
Faced with all kinds of deadlines and deliverables, I've been stress-eating like hell (all paleo intentions out the window), overdoing it with coffee, grinding my teeth, waking up sweating, skipping practices, and constantly judging myself and others -- mind always racing a million miles a minute. And whenever I did find myself with free time, I usually chose to spend it either numbing out or trying to fill it with more activities, when what I really longed for, what my intuition softly called for, was presence, inquiry, and self-compassion.
Yet I didn't give myself any of that until things hit a breaking point in the Newark airport this morning, when I broke into tears over breakfast. Sadness + eggs do not mix in my world. I realized it was time to hit pause.
So I dropped the drama and sat in stillness for 30 minutes, allowing myself to get intimate with what I'd been avoiding for weeks: my own feelings, raw and unadorned. Then I reread my notes from a recent meditation immersion, relishing each insight, remembering who I am. Finally, I chose my themes for my upcoming yoga retreat -- not because I thought I should, but because I felt genuinely inspired. And as I slowly went through these three activities, as I turned inwards, all crescendoing angst, clenching, and desire to escape my life dissolved.
The fact is, I've been wanting out. But today I was reminded that the only way out is in. There's no chance of escape by numbing out, or powering through, or sensory distraction, like I'd been attempting. That only prolongs suffering and creates more anxiety.
Suffering won't go away until you go right into the center of it and be with it like you'd be at the bedside of someone you love if you were tucking them in after a tough day. With compassion. With presence. With love. With "It's going to be okay," but, more importantly, with "It's already okay, and it always has been."
Because it's okay to forget what really matters. It's okay to float out to the periphery and away from your core. It's okay to be human! It's more than okay, really. It's happening, so it's perfect.
And by the way, there's no going backwards on the spiritual path. There's no falling off it, either. We're never NOT on the path, and the path leads straight in. In other words, you're already home -- all you have to do is recognize it and remember.
I'm recently back from my very first meditation retreat, the one I've been "training for" by sitting (almost) daily each morning for the past few months. The 6-night silent insight meditation retreat was at Spirit Rock (just north of SF), and the theme was "Mindfulness and the Spirit of Creativity." It totally rocked my world.
Before diving into a day in the life, I should note that everyone I've spoken with about the retreat asks if I was really in complete silence for the whole week. I wasn't. On this retreat, we were allowed to speak in our writers' breakout group as well as after the dharma talks if we wanted to ask a question. I also confess I engaged in some chatting during my work meditation. So go ahead and sue me :P
One of my fellow retreatants hits the bell outside the meditation hall as part of his assigned work meditation for the week, waking me out of a light sleep in my twin bed in Karuna. I remember that I woke up belly-laughing in the middle of the night from something in a dream and this causes me to laugh again, though I can no longer remember specifically what was so funny. My roommate (who I can't talk to, of course) must think I'm completely bonkers. I'm too full of joy to mind.
In the dark I collect my toiletries and head to the bathroom down the hall to quickly wash my face and brush my teeth before shuffling through the pre-sunrise cold, misty morning to the first sit of the day.
Insight: I'm excited to meditate(?!)
What I think about (or rather, what thoughts arise, some of which I pursue) as I sit in silence, trying to keep my attention focused on the sensations of breath at the tip of my nose: Broad City, whether or not my out-of-office message successfully turned on, the hard-boiled egg (with salt, pepper, and hot sauce) I plan to eat at breakfast, the fact that I should bring more socks, a blow dryer, and my own ground coffee next time, and what I might write a memoir about.
Insight: Things I do NOT think about: alcohol, meat, social media, my cell phone, or my upcoming yoga retreat. (Okay, maybe I think about the retreat for a second.)
After breakfast I wander up the path into the hills above our dorms. My first intention is to give traditional walking meditation a go, moving ever-so-slowly and focusing on the feeling of my feet rolling over the earth with each step. But after about six steps it's clear this isn't going to work. I could have forced it to, but it would have been a travesty to subdue the pure bliss bubbling up from the core of my being at the opportunity to go on the first solo nature hike of my life and EXPLORE. After all, my element is there in the beautiful, vibrating surroundings of the trail and it's calling me to come be one with it. I take the Tantric approach and embrace all of my senses. I don't regret it.
I climb into an ocean of fog and inhale eucalyptus. I'm buzzing as I take in all the life and sights around me. The energy in the land is palpable. Whenever I feel the urge to stop before a tree or lizard, I stop. I wonder. I bask. When I emerge from the fog I look around to see a breathtaking kingdom of nature below me, above me, and around me. I continue ascending to the peak and directly into the sun in outright ecstasy, laughing and crying at once, alone but also not alone at all.
At the top of a mountain I close my eyes and breathe, allowing the sun to soak into my skin. I've got nowhere else to be and nothing to do. But soon I feel a presence, so I lift my lids. A giant hawk has landed five feet away from me. We watch each other for a while. I recall Walt Witman's words. "Don't be afraid of the merge."
"Did someone spike my coffee this morning?" I wonder. Or is this kind of bliss always available inside?
Insight: My hiking experience reinforces that nondual Tantra is the path for me. I don't want to renounce my senses, for THROUGH my senses (just as well as through withdrawing them), I experience the Divine. It's everywhere. All we have to do is pay attention.
The second sit of the day is an hour long. After about 20-25 minutes every time I sit, without exception, my right outer hip area starts to scream a song of hot, hot heat. I try to tough it out for a few minutes, but eventually it's so distracting I stop reaping the benefits of meditation. So I transition to a hero's pose (kneeling), still seated on my two zafus. No big deal.
This week I've introduced so much more compassion for myself in my meditation. When I want to check if it's a spider or a hair tickling my neck, I go ahead and check. It finally dawns on me that a little movement during my sits won't prevent my Awakening.
Insight: I've been too rigid with my practice for too long. Especially for a recovering uber Type A, an unforgiving, rule-obsessed approach to practice doesn't serve as much as a tender, merciful one does.
I practice yoga in my room. This isn't my usual home practice flow. This is 5X slower, with way fewer warriors and way more hip openers. I don't do a single chaturanga. I practice with my next sit in mind.
Insight: I'm practicing yoga the way it was originally meant to be practiced: as a preparation for lots of sitting. It feels amazing.
We reconvene in the meditation hall to listen to the daily dharma talk, which is led by a different teacher each day of the retreat. Today's theme is how mindfulness and creativity are connected.
At the end of the wise, wonderful teaching, an old man from the painting group asks about why creativity seems to come in bursts, even for great artists. "How can we sustain creativity?" he asks.
One of the teachers responds beautifully, likening creativity to a peach tree. We want to make a peach pie, so we're always waiting for ripe peaches, she says. But peaches ripen according to a process. And every aspect of the growth of the tree is just as important to the peach pie as the moment the peaches are ripe for picking. Creativity is a practice, just like yoga, just like meditation, just like enlightenment itself.
Insight: Awakening is an accident, and meditation makes us more accident-prone. Similarly, a creative bust is an accident, and mindfulness makes us more accident-prone.
"The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement."
I smile at this quote on my teabag tag as I nurse a mug of echinacea. I've just finished eating a bowl of warm potato leek soup one sip at a time, eyes closed between spoonfuls in order to better savor all the flavors and textures and in gratitude for the food itself and those who prepared it. This is how we eat here, and I love it.
I glance up at the clock and realize it's time to gulp down the rest of my tea. Because I ate dinner at such a leisurely pace I don't have much time left before I need to go back into the kitchen to start my daily work meditation shift as a dishwasher. All day, I've secretly been looking forward to this moment.
There's something so satisfying about getting my hands dirty after all this time "just being." I enjoy my role of soaking and spraying down dishes, then passing them into the powerful speed dish washer. Also, this is my time to bond with my fellow shift-worker, Carolyn. It's the first time she's ever lived alone, she tells me today. I wonder if her partner has recently died, but I don't ask.
Insight: There is bliss in simplicity. And if I may go one step further, simplicity is bliss.
The second creativity breakout session of the day begins. (The first was before the dharma talk.) I'm in the writer's group. The other option was painting (which I might try next time). Thus far on the retreat I've written an ode to Shakti, several haikus, and many stream-of-consciousness recollected memories from youth. I've also free-written on many themes, including:
- "The Song of Myself is the song of _____." (I filled in the blank with "the color orange.")
- "A time I was lost" (inspired my an excerpt from Cheryl Stayed's Wild)
- "That autumn night..."
Tonight our teacher kicks us off on a free write with the prompt "What will I miss when I die?" The only rule is to keep the pen moving. After about five minutes his duck alarm quacks. Time's up. He opens the floor for sharing, and it quickly becomes clear that the prompt was a triggering one for our group comprised mostly of Buddhists.
"I won't miss anything when I die," someone says. "I'll be dead." Five more people agree.
Then one woman who has been grieving the death of her mother raises her hand. In tears she talks about how difficult the prompt was for her because of her fresh loss. But then she notes that recalling details about her mother as she wrote almost brought her mother back to life for a moment. "I realize that's both the pain and the pleasure of memory," she says, smiling through the tears. "And that's the pain and pleasure of writing."
Insight: When we write from a place of truth we write with one foot in samsara and one in the stream of the Divine. Details make the writing powerful. We should notice the images, thoughts, and emotions they evoke, but we don't need to get attached to these.
I get ready for bed after the 9pm evening group sit, the last sit of the day. Before I turn off the light on my nightstand and do my pre-sleep dream yoga, I jot down a few more insights:
- Anyone who cultivates mindfulness and openness can tap into mind-blowing divine creativity.
- Meditation isn't boring and practicing it doesn't make one boring. Quite the opposite, it seems.
- Life makes sense, even if we'll never see or understand all its ruling principles.
- Who needs Burning Man when such deep connection, ecstasy, and transformation can be found in a week of renunciation and simplicity? Yes, I think I foresee a three-month silent retreat in my future.
When I think back to my very first meditation retreat, I'll think of tissues, knobby hands, yellow gloves, mugs, vinegar spray, socks, shawls, fog, bees, and wild mindful turkeys like aging pharaohs. I'll think with tenderness of my dishwashing partner and the many times I saw her sitting on a bench alone, baking in the sun and basking in the moonlight. I'll think of the beautiful humans I danced with in silence on the last night of the retreat and the hug I shared with a friend whose voice I'd yet to hear and name yet to know. I'll think of Anna's words: "Things come to you as a child, and there's no way to say 'No thank you.'" I'll see bubbles of disappearance and laugh at the memory of waking up to my own laughter. But mostly I'll think of the boundless love that I felt and that I intend to make it my practice to offer more of, more often.
One of my teachers is currently writing a book about yoga philosophy. I was chatting with him about the book's content earlier this week and he said there's a memoir element to it that he's trying to approach carefully. He explained that yoga teachers tend to publicly share only experiences in which they learned, overcame and grew -- in other words, experiences in which they came out on top. Because nobody relates to perpetual triumph, my teacher said he is consciously striving to include stories of failure as well as stories of success in the personal parts of his book.
That makes sense. Enlightenment isn't an effortless pursuit, after all, so why do we yoga teachers keep acting like it is? So let me tell you about something I'm struggling with, for once, versus something I've achieved. Wouldn't that be a nice break from all the self-congratulations that flood your social media feeds each day? Wouldn't a splash of vulnerability be refreshing?
Now this is far from the biggest struggle of my life, but it's one I'm dealing with right now and it directly affects my yoga teaching: I teach mindfulness but I'm not always mindful. I should, but I don't meditate regularly.
Why not? Well, one, it's freezing in the mornings -- the only time I ever really successfully meditate -- and, two, I don't want to give up any sleep: those are my two pathetic excuses. Seems like they'd be easier to overcome, right? Especially when you compare the list of Pros to the Cons.
What are the Pros, you ask? Why do I want to cultivate a daily meditation practice, anyway? To become more mindful, certainly. But also to no longer ever feel like I need a drink or a vacation or any kind of bigger retreat from what is. How crazy would that be? To have every day truly count, and not just the weekend days or those days spent "away from it all." And, of course, to more deeply embody what I already preach: presence. Yoga asana alone isn't enough to grant any of these benefits fully.
So here I am, still working towards warming up my sitting cushion, one day at a time. All it takes is a choice and I've been working on making the cold and sleepy choice for a while, with several previous blog posts about my intention to cultivate a meditation practice as proof. There are many weeks my butt never touches the cushion once. I'm not perfect yo. But I always set it out for myself with plans to return.
Much like the practice of meditation itself, it's about recommitting over and over again. Recommitting to the cushion each time I observe my focus has strayed, my mindfulness has slipped -- perhaps when I catch myself checking out of conversations or reacting quickly and angrily at work or on public transportation -- just as while meditating we recommit to concentrating on the breath each time we observe the mind wandering somewhere else.
So at least I'm being mindful about the need to be mindful. (See how I snuck that pat-on-the-back in there? After all, yoga teachers have egos too, if you haven't noticed yet.) But intention, sankalpa, isn't enough here. I know this. My work when it comes to meditation practice continues to be discipline. It's time for tapas, and I'm not talking small plates of delicious food. I'm talking sitting still and breathing and being bored and dealing with whatever shit comes up that I've been avoiding facing. That's my work right now. What's yours?
I'm gonna soak up the sun
While it's still free
I'm gonna soak up the sun
Before it goes out on me
The sun's still shining, but the end is near. Every third day or so the wind stirs along the streets of the Mission and I wish I had a scarf wrapped up to my nose. At night my wet hair chills next to the window I should have closed. For a few weeks already, the flower stand along my morning commute has been selling pumpkins instead of roses. Any day now, it seems, the cold will renounce for good our lingering honeymoon with summer and the sun will take back its generosity. So I'm savoring summery ales, sweaty Sunday strolls and the freckles on my face while I can. While they're still in season, thanks to San Francisco stretching this one.
It's so easy to miss something when it's gone, but it takes a greater awareness to appreciate relationships and experiences in the moment. I recently read an inspiring article in Mantra Magazine about living fervently. In essence, the takeaway was that if you're going to say "yes" to something, you better make it a "Hell yes!" This idea, the idea that when we choose to do something why not choose to do it with our full soul, really resonated with me. How often do you RSVP to a social event, for example, only to spend most of your time on your phone or wishing you were somewhere else? What if instead you really committed to being where you were at all times, dialing in rather than checking out? What would that be like?
Back in my Idaho days, I competed with students from other schools in Idaho and its surrounding states in both speech and debate. The realm of speech comprised many categories, including humor and improv. My favorite category though, the category I competed in, was Original Oratory. In "OO," as we called it, the topic was up to the participant who was also responsible for composing, memorizing and performing a ten-minute speech on said topic. My 15 minutes of speech fame came in the ten minutes I performed "Live It Up," a motivational speech inspired by the wild adventures of my best friend Lacey and myself. In this oration I encouraged dancing with abandon, embarking on spontaneous road trips and playing elaborate pranks on teachers. These were examples of how one might live life more fully, I explained.
Now, despite what one might guess upon seeing the hairdo in my current corporate headshot, I'm still a young person. But even a decade ago I was already contemplating the fleeting nature of our days in this life (or at least this lifetime). The difference is now I understand "living it up" doesn't mean doing anything drastic or even doing anything at all. It's both easier and more difficult than that. To live fully is to live presently. To savor what's there when it's there.
Meditation is helping me do this more consistently. I used to be THE poster child for FOMO but, thanks to the work I've been putting into strengthening my presence muscle, I'm getting better at following Sheryl Crow's advice and "wanting what I've got." (And I'm much happier for it.)
And on the mat I've been trying something simple that has made a significant impact in terms of enabling me to stay present. I've keep closing my eyes as I flow. I'll open them through jumps back to chaturanga and during balancing poses, but I try to keep them closed (or almost closed) more often than not. As a result, I feel like I'm savoring the breath and the movement and the sensations like I'd savor a rare cheese. It's blissful to practice this way and it's my version of saying "Hell yes!" to the practice. It lets me squeeze all the benefits out like I'm squeezing the remains of summer out of SF.
Soon I'll be savoring fall. I bought a pair of cold weather boots this week. I'll start getting pumpkin ales when summer ales are off the shelf, and I'll enjoy them. But while I've got it, I'm, I'm guna soak up the sun (with my eyes closed). I've got my 45 so on I...can rock on!
After The Incident going out to brunch proved too big an ordeal for Gita. The bottomless mimosas and chicken-stuffed waffles at Benny’s, our old Sunday “church” of choice, weren’t worth the accompanied stares. We couldn’t focus on gossip, especially Gita, with every pair of trendy eyeballs in the place shooting curious (and slightly repulsed) laser beams our way. So I came over to her house last Sunday morning and we cooked our own brunch. I cooked. Gita just laid there. (Obviously.) But in exchange for the blueberry French toast I whipped up for her, she finally revealed how it was that she had reached nirvana so early on in life. Ready to let her feel like a guru, I fed her while she talked.
Gita had been experimenting with yoga for about a year when it happened, she said. The teacher responsible for putting her into this state wasn’t a regular at Gita’s studio – he was only visiting to put on a workshop he called “The Bliss of Letting Go.” This teacher was world famous for transforming people from Type As to Type Bs within ninety minutes for only $35, and Gita wanted to see for herself what all the hype was about. The workshop was just around the corner from her house and all participants received a free T-Shirt that said “Let.” on the front and “Go.” on the back. Needless to say, she signed up.
The rest of her body soggy and immobile, Gita widened her eyes in the direction of her French Toast. So engrossed was I in the story that I hadn’t realized I had been neglecting my feeding duties. I wiped her drooping mouth of syrup and fed her another bite.
From the beginning of his class, Gita resumed, after a burp, she found that she was able to connect to her breath, to some deep and happy emptiness inside her Self, like she never had before. It was as if she was blossoming into her own aura for the first time. It was as if her job, her relationships, her accomplishments could all dissolve and she’d still be Gita.
There was just something about his voice as he guided her prana, she said, and every cue he used was right on point. His adjustments were heavenly too, and after the third round of Sun Salutations, Gita began to feel her body detaching from itself. As the physical sensations fell away, she said, her spirit soared. Pose after pose, vinyasa after vinyasa, something was unravelling within Gita. “It was as if I was finally ‘getting’ yoga, you know?” she said. I didn’t know, but I nodded. I was more into TRX-type workouts than stretching.
At this point in the story Gita paused to let me know the rollers were coming soon. She asked if I wanted to stay and watch them work for a while. I still had an hour before I was supposed to meet my brother in the park for some beers, so I said sure, why not.
“But wait,” I said, eager to get back to the events in question. “It’s still unclear to me when you actually melted. Like at what specific point in the flow did it happen?”
Gita looked at me as if she could have judged me for the question but chose not to.
It was during savasana, when the workshop participants were lying in pools of their own sweat, exhausted, that it happened. Gita’s body felt electric, she said, energy pulsing in her palms and at the soles of her feet. For a few minutes everything was quiet exceptfor the sound of breath. Then her teacher suggested, “Imagine your body is made of ice. A mass of ice the hardest that exists. Ice that’s been frozen over multiple times.”
As her teacher spoke these words, Gita said she found her body quickly becoming a block of white ice. She found herself unable to move her neck or her fingers, or even her eyes. All she could do was shiver in the slab of her body and emit an icy steam from her still-smooth breath.
Rapt, and suddenly cold, without taking my eyes off Gita I picked up my mug and took a sip of my coffee. (It was lukewarm, but hazelnutty.) Gita’s tongue sloshed around in her mouth like a freshly caught fish. I tipped my mug to her mouth so she could try it too.
But just when Gita though she was about to shatter into infinite chunks of ice, she said, the teacher changed gears. “Now feel your body melting,” he said. “And with it, all the karmic ties you have to this world. Let yourself melt back into the earth from whence you came.” These words pushed Gita over the edge of solidity and Gita began to melt. She imagined herself melting in her mind and she melted in her skin, like candle wax. “This,” the workshop teacher said, just as the newly-creamy Gita merged with her mat, “is the bliss of letting go.”
Gita’s phone began to ring directly after this climax, and I answered it. “Hello?” I said. “It’s probably the rollers,” Gita said. It was. They said they were just outside. I opened the door to three long-haired white men in “Let” on the front “Go.” on the back T-Shirts. Their faces were gaunt but their eyes were bright and smiling. “We’re here to roll out!” one of them joked as he bowed to me, hands in prayer at his heart. I let them in.
In Gita’s sunny bedroom the three men - boys really - put their palms on Gita and worked them in gentle circular motions to mold her body back into human form, breasts and all. Gita explained that they came over and did this for her every day at the same time. It was part of their practice. They would work for ten minutes, break for two, work for ten more, break again. Each time they stopped rolling Gita, though, she would melt back into a blob. “You’re entitled to the labor, but not to the fruits of that labor,” one of them explained. The other two nodded.
I watched for as long as I could before I had to go meet my brother. On my way out, after the five of us chanted “Om” together and embraced in a group hug, I discretely swept up a drop of Gita that had fallen onto the floor during rolling. Outside, I closed my eyes and licked my finger. It was sweet and salty, bold and subtle, smooth and sharp -- the perfect balance of sthira and sukha. And the perfect post-brunch dessert.
No need to announce the future.
This now is it. This.
Your deepest need and desire is satisfied by the moment's energy here in your hand.
Throughout teacher training "live in the present," "there is only now," "just be" and other versions of the same rallying cry were fed to me without pause in my lectures, course books and daily yoga classes. And I joyfully aligned myself with the yogic concept that presence unlocks fulfillment.
Then I finish my 200 hours and revert immediately to my old ways, to "What's the plan? Where do I need to be that isn't here? How do I get to the next level?" mode. To updating my living list of what to ditch and what to acquire. To scheming up new ways of producing a more gratifying, more perfect life for myself. And that's okay. (Coming back to the real world was a bit of a shift, after all.) What isn't okay is how long I've let myself marinate in this "lacking" mindset before taking a step out of my ego to instead become the observer of my ego. (Months.)
Why did it take so long? You see, at this this point I have to admit something. Though it was a foundational component of our program, along with all the assigned reading and asana practice hours, I did not do the required meditation work. I didn't put in my stillness time, didn't quite deliver in the sitting department. And, truth be told, I believe that is the main reason I still have so much work to do.
I recently finished the best book on writing I've ever read, Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. In it, Goldberg claims her writing improved as a direct result of regularly sitting in stillness, focusing only on the breath and the present moment. As Allen Ginsberg once taught her, "When the mind is shapely, your writing will be shapely." At the time she wrote the book, Goldberg had over ten years of zen meditation under her belt. She used it to reveal her true self to herself by patiently cutting away all the jabberings of the ego. Meditation made her writing more raw and true, she said. Reading her words gave me the motivation to get on my own ass and sit. I could use more rawness and truth in my writing!
It's also becoming clear to me that lucid dreaming - my other passion - can be improved through a regular meditation practice. I've been reading about lucid dreaming every night and every morning for the past month or so, and the more I read the more I realize I need to meditate if I want to thoroughly explore the subconscious and unconscious via lucid dreaming. After all, it's hard to remember within a dream that it's a dream and it's hard to maintain awareness once lucid. But awareness is a muscle that can be developed. The stronger the awareness muscle, the greater the capacity for profound lucid dreaming experiences. Meditation cultivates awareness like nothing else can. Thus I sit for dreamsake as well.
In a way, then, ironically it is my tendency towards aspiration that is making me get serious about meditation. I'm looking forward to applying its benefits to my writing and to my lucid dreaming practice. But on a deeper level, I'm looking forward to the simple bliss of present living that meditation helps create. I know it's fruitless to spend time wallowing in the past or anticipating the future (trust me - I'd rather not anticipate the root canal I have to get tomorrow morning). But it's one thing to know this and quite another to live it. Meditation will make it easier to reside in the now. So I'm starting now (with 23 minutes a day).
Because this, now, is it.