This is the thirteenth (and final) 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 an excerpt that stuck with me from the week.
The end, my friends! It has been 90 days. I was asked recently by a student who knew I was undertaking this challenge, whether I had “stuck with it.” I had to answer honestly: for the most part, yes. Did I miss some days? Yes. Did I meditate when I really didn’t feel like it? Also yes. Do I regret committing publicly to meditating for 90 days? Not in the slightest.
It has been over a week since the 90 days officially ended. I have had a hard time sitting down to write this, the final post in this series. It has felt like I have been doing this for a long time. Perhaps it’s ending has put off my writing.
Hopefully, I have begun the process of charting a path for some of you through the murky waters of engaging in a meditation practice. I know I have begun that process myself. I am still unclear where I am going, but I am at least a little more familiar with what the journey feels like.
As a way of bookending this little experiment, I would like to offer a few of the things that I learned along the way. This list is personal, so your experience may (will) vary.
1) Consistency is Key. I obviously missed some days. What I found was that this was more likely to happen when I got out of the practice of practice. As I have stated in a previous post, I like to meditate in the morning, after a few sips of coffee, before doing anything else. For a while, I got into the habit of telling myself that I would meditate later in the day, or that evening. While I sometimes would follow through, I was much more likely to skip these days if I broke up my routine. My word of advice here is to sit, even if it is only for a few minutes (instead of the length of your regular practice) just to keep the mind and body on a schedule it can grow into.
2) Presence is Passing. I very rarely found myself in the state that one might consider “present.” My mind was a chaotic mess most of the time. Thoughts about the day, my family, my work, the news, it all became a constant parade behind my closed lids. Much of the “work” was just becoming aware that this was happening. I would re-center, focus on the breath, relax my clenched jaw, and sink into an exhale. For that moment, I really felt lighter, and at rest. Then I would think about feeling that way, and off I would go again! I really think this is a “enjoy the journey, not the destination” type of activity. My insights came from doing the practice, not getting to any sort of enlightened state. My advice here is to be okay with the process. Be process-oriented and sit and watch and learn and breathe.
3) The Body Speaks. Sitting still for 10-30 minutes can be a strain on the body. Even if one has mastered the art of aligning the body in a way that this is less of an issue, my experience is that when you aim to quiet the mind, the body’s voice can be heard. In sitting, I became aware of imbalances in my flexibility, aches that didn’t exist previously, the internal sounds that are usually drown out by living and I found places that were doing just fine. Our minds and our bodies are often seen as separate. I found that sitting helped the process of reintegration of mind and body. Emotional thoughts brought tensions in different places. Relaxation was as much held in my hips as in my head. On the days that frustration grew, it was often because I was nurturing a disdain for the body – feeling like the soreness of the knees or back or jaw was a betrayal. It is no surprise that when one demonizes their own flesh, they end up in a foul mood. My advice here is simply to listen. In the same way we should listen to the other people in our lives with compassion and openness, we can extend this practice to our bones, our blood, our joints and our scars.
4) Complexity is Compassion. I am reminded of something a teacher of mine once said (paraphrased): Becoming intimate with anything makes it less personal. My practice opened my awareness to the complexity of my inner life. The dialogues always running in the background, layer upon layer until it all just felt like white noise. By really seeing the depth of that conversation with myself, I gained a much greater appreciation for the dialogue that must be going on in others. If I am this way, then it is difficult to imagine that anyone else is less so. This has allowed me to become more compassionate in my living. Each person I meet has this same cacophony of voices all wanting to be heard. They are complex constructs of experience and feeling and competing desires. Knowing that, makes it all less personal. It reminds me that I am not the center of anyone else’s actions, decisions, and needs. A slight I might feel is more about me than them, and it is my job to remind myself of this reality. My advice here is to be intimate with the world. Know that very little is ever personal. Most people are just trying to navigate their own way, just as you are.
This is it! As far as writing on this experience is concerned anyways. It has truly been an honor to share a piece of me with those of you who have followed me on this path. I will continue to sit, to reflect and to share. I hope you find the time to do the same.
Be well, friends.