08 Oct On Meditating On
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I am like my daughter, or she is like me, in that I am less inclined to want to learn how to do things from others. Instead I want to figure it out for myself. Sometimes this is a good thing, because I can develop unique ways of looking at problems or processes. However, it also leads to cobbled together and inefficient ways of doing things that leave me less capable of performing tasks than I might have been if I had simply listened, or asked for help. For my daughter this means that she is much more apt to pursue things she is immediately good at, and less inclined to practice the things she already knows how to do intuitively. She is an amazing musician but she refuses to take lessons or practice an instrument.
About a month ago, after dozens of false starts over many years, I started the process of trying to learn how to meditate. I’m working on a film about the relationship between stress and illness, and it has become startlingly clear to me how intimately connected the two are. When the mind and body are out of balance, the body runs into problems. Things start to fall apart. Still, knowing this, I have resisted trying to figure out how to bring more balance to my own systems. I was a religious studies major in college, and I spent many years avidly reading The Sun magazine, which focuses a lot of attention on deep spiritual thinkers. Still, I have never been able to calm myself to meditate. The deeper that I get into making the film, the more clear it becomes that this is problematic. When I was at the library grabbing a book about back pain that I needed for the film I noticed that a book called “mindfulness” was next to it on the shelf. I grabbed them both.
“Mindfullness” lays out a very simple 8-week course of slowly learning to mediate. I did a pretty good job of following along with the program for the first 4 weeks, but haven’t kept with it in as direct a way for the past couple. Each week has a short mediation sound piece that one is supposed to listen to and practice twice a day. The fifth week focused on sound. I found it difficult to focus on the sounds I was hearing while also listening to a guided meditation so I began to do the meditation without the tape.
This is where I started to revert to my normal pathway. As I have established enough of a mediation practice over the last month, and given that most of the tapes have strongly pointed out that there is no “right” way to mediate, perhaps I’ll be ok. Last night I chose to meditate by staring at a picture of my father that I took 20 years ago. I found it on my computer and enlarged it so it filled the screen. My father was hit by a car 7 years ago, and I have not fully processed my grief over his loss. My intent was to be present with that sadness so that I might be able to fully feel it, and perhaps let some of it go. As I sat staring at his eyes the image took on the feel of a hologram and it seemed to breathe as I breathed. I didn’t feel as much sadness as I expected but I did feel closer to him than I had in a long time.
This morning I decided to meditate on the word balance. The film that we are making has a very powerful connection to the idea of balance and I am working hard to understand how to communicate this. As I slowly focused on my breath and the word I found that I was tense. I switched to focusing on the word relax and when I felt myself loosen up a bit I switched to focus because it seemed that I couldn’t focus on one word. Then my stomach rumbled loudly and I felt the knowing annoyance of hunger. I didn’t feel like a very successful mediator. However, I have been doing it now for a few weeks and I also realized that letting go of expectations is one of the more important aspects of the process. So I constructed this poem.
on meditating on
****- Updated – I just added the above video to this piece (1 year later) because it’s a good representation of how my daughter teaches herself to do things. I often play guitar and she writes lyrics. This was the first time she made up a song by herself. This is her second take and though she doesn’t know how to play the piano I told her that all the white keys would leave her in the key of “C”. She just figured out that she held down two keys she’d make a chord and could play a melody with her other hand. I also just watched this with a friend and realized that in some ways the song is about her relationship to me. I often get the sense that she doesn’t feel loved enough. When she sang this song 3 years ago she was having a difficult time with anxiety. She’s incredibly self confident but she was often scared to leave the house in Brooklyn. She’s doing much better now thankfully, as is our relationship.