In case you are unfamiliar, this is the second in a series of blog posts aimed at capturing my experience following the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s 90 Day Commit-to-Sit challenge. Each day, I have been sent an email that contains an excerpt from Maezumi’s Appreciate Your Life with a brief reflection afterwards. My intention is to share my experience each week to foster discussion, illuminate the process of working on a practice, and reflecting on a excerpt that stuck with me from the week.
Whew! I made it through 11 whole days of a consistent meditation practice. Though I didn’t mention this before, one of the things I wanted to do was increase the amount of time I sat each day. Since I wanted to set a modest goal, I set a daily increase at just 10 sec. 10 seconds seemed like enough to make a difference, but not enough to really feel like I was sitting longer.
My partner is also joining me on this 90-day commitment and she thought 10 sec was also a good choice – until it wasn’t. Somewhere along the line she expressed that 11 min was good enough for now and didn’t want to increase.
This was great to hear.
Since I am the kind of person that will force myself to move forward and keep pushing, I often don’t listen to that inner part of me that says ‘This isn ‘t a competition, it is OK to take it easy.’ Her reminder that we should check in on our practice, that it is organic and evolving and open to change was just what I needed to hear. My goal with this blog is to relate the real experience of this practice, not the perfect one we convince ourselves that it should be. I am happy to report we are staying at 11 min for now, which is just fine.
The other major thing that happened this week was the rising of irritation. I have had this happen before, but it catches me off guard every time. I think it is because I get into the mindset that I described above: keep moving, don’t mess up, better, better, better. I have no doubt that the irritation coincided with stressful days, nagging obligations and plain irritability, but the truth is that I let myself get out of the practice by focusing too much on the practice. What I mean is that I let my sitting become an object to acquire, a tangible thing that I could lose or fail to grasp. I think this defeats the whole purpose of sitting, of meditating, of falling away from those self-imposed expectations that imprison us in our own not-enough-ness. Which brings me to the quote I wanted to share:
“In art, in sports, in music, in anything, we practice basic things over and over. When we do this kind of practice we become stronger both mentally and physically. Even with all this practicing, I am still a rough man.”
This excerpt really got me at the right time. With a few difficult days on the cushion, I was disheartened, I felt “rough,” but in a way that carried a lot of shame and feelings of failure. After all, I was supposed to be doing this whole thing to show how accessible and achievable meditation was, right? How could I not sit through 10 measly minutes? After this excerpt however, I sat with this in mind: You are rough, and that is ok. Being rough is the process, this is about the form, the doing, not the finished product. With this, I let some of the expectation fall away.
This is a good reminder for anyone going through this process: the practice is the work. If we sit, and we breathe, and we try to let thoughts be, we are dong the work. Some days work is a breeze, and we wonder why we ever felt any other way, while other days, we wonder what the point was of showing up in the first place. Both are normal, both are expected and most importantly both reflect our truest, roughest, nature. Which is great.
As always, I am looking forward to what the coming days bring. On a final note, I wanted to say that I have found it really beneficial to write down my thoughts right after sitting, before much else has had time to vie for my attention. If you have your own practice, consider starting a brief meditation journal, you might be surprised by what comes up.
Be well, friends.