I started meditating as a daily practice almost a year and a half ago. For me this consists of sitting in silence for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes at night (sometimes more but rarely less). I'm usually on the floor mattress in my "office", propped up by the wall and a bunch of throw pillows. At first I followed the Christian Contemplative model of letting the mind go blank, allowing the layers of my ego to dissolve in order to commune with God from my core. Then I realized this style was too advanced for me. The Zen Buddhist tradition of mindfulness has become the way I "sit". It simply involves paying attention in a non-judgmental way to whatever comes up in the moment. When my mind begins to wander into the past or future I can use my breath (or any of my five senses) to bring me back into the present. The non-judgmental part can say, "Oh, look - my mind has drifted" without getting frustrated that I am not "doing it right". In fact, non-striving is a key element of mindfulness. The Taoists say that by not striving to achieve anything, everything is achieved.
Many people who mediate in earnest call it a “practice”. I have come to understand it in the way that we say “I will practice the piano” or “I’m going to a dance practice”. For me, being mindful in my daily activities does not come naturally – it takes practice. So I do.
Maybe I will write another day about how I came to meditation or how unfamiliar it seemed at first. Today I am thinking of how the quality of my life is different all these hours of practice later. Take the present moment, for example.
I’m sitting at the computer journaling this and Oliver comes in and points a homemade Lego gun in my face. I stop what I am doing and give him my attention simply by looking down the barrel into his eyes. I see mischief. Normally I would be irritated by this “intrusion” but in this moment I feel curious. I feel mindful.
“I am going to attack the Jennicita,” he informs me in an alien voice.
I continue my gaze.
“Do you think this can really shoot you?” he asks, pressing the gun a little closer to my face. I admit aloud that, indeed, I am wondering that very thing. He pulls the trigger. The bullet misses and lands somewhere in my hair.
“Oh, no!” he shrieks. “Now I’ll never find it!”
Meditation has enlarged my capacity to connect to moments like these. In this moment with Oliver, my heart feels at home, I feel an eternal connection to my child. I am not worried about how we are supposed to be packing the car right now to head out of town for the Fourth. There is more stillness, less angst.
The angst and irritation still happen but I am a hostage to them less and less. Mindfulness acknowledges heartbreak, sadness, fear, and anger – they don’t just magically disappear because I meditate. It’s that somehow the container that holds them is larger so they occupy less of the space. I have been able to sit with them and acknowledge them as guests – I know they will not stay forever. With no small measure of grace I can even wonder what I can learn from them, tune into what they are teaching me and be the wiser for it.
Let’s be clear here: the inner Godzilla is alive and well. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. I think the difference is that now I can make room for that part of me as well. I know that it’s there (and still makes plenty of messes) but I also know that it doesn’t have to run the show all the time. Practice has cultivated an ability to say, “Hmm, look at that. Godzilla just showed up” and trust that Tokyo will still be there in the morning.