How I meditate, and why

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Since I try to do this at the start and the end of my day, I’m usually barefoot, wearing loose comfortable pajama pants and a soft cotton shirt. Hair tied back out of my face.

Sit on the floor, on a nice thick squishy mat. Turn down all the lights except for warm, soft light–twinkly lights or candles. Put on a fan if the weather is really warm, or for white noise.

If someone interrupts you, don’t get mad or shut them out. Put your practice on hold and give them your full attention, whether it’s a cat asking to be petted or a friend who wants to say hello. Let them know that you are going to be meditating and you would like a little while alone, but that you will be done soon and can help them with whatever they need. (Unless it’s the cat– then you wait until they are ready to leave, or do your best to meditate with their fluffy, insistent company).

I sit cross legged with my hands resting naturally in my lap, clasped loosely together. I close my eyes but you don’t have to, I just find it less distracting. Mouth slightly open, breathe naturally in a relaxed way. Try to focus on your breathing, in… out… in… out…

Inevitably I get drawn into flights of fantasy, ruminations, memories, plans for the day…there are so many different ways to get distracted, it is impossible to ward them off or prevent this from happening. When this happens, Thich Nhat Hanh says, don’t punish yourself, just label these thoughts “thinking” and try again. That is, recognize that you are thinking again and, with compassion and kindness, allow yourself to return to the breathing.

Doing this over and over and over again might seem futile but it is in fact a powerful exercise of self discipline. Not harshness, but a kind, gentle self discipline–the kind of practice that is sustainable and nonviolent, that helps you instead of hurting. You are not in an oppositional relationship to yourself, you are just Being with yourself in a kindly way. Imagine you are sitting next to a precious friend, and you have no need to talk, you are just sitting in each other’s company and breathing quietly, being in the moment, feeling the stillness. That is the relationship to myself that I aspire to.

One trick I learned from a dear friend for focusing on your breath is to imagine you are sitting in front of a candle, quite close to the flame, and you do not want your breath to make the flame move. That is how still and calm you are, that your breathing does not make the candle flicker. Now imagine that little flame is inside your chest, it is the flame of life inside you, and you are so calm that it does not flicker, but burns steadily. Breathe calmly, focus on keeping that flame still and steady.

After meditating I like to stretch, or do some light calisthenics/ weights. I mean very mild–no jumping up and down, no running in place, just a gentle enlivening of the whole body.

Meditating can help me feel more balanced when I am slipping into an anxious state.  Especially in the evening, my mood can drop, and this little bit of breathing followed my mild exercise is just what I need to bring myself back into a happier place.

It can make difficult interactions easier–for example, if you need to make a telephone call, but you are anxious about how the person you are calling will react to you…if you are dreading having to write an email to someone…if you have been meaning to write to a relative but you’ve been putting it off…Meditating first can help you return to a calm place, acknowledge your fear and set it aside…the practice of gentle self discipline gives you internal strength you didn’t know you had, or amplifies your resolution to do the thing, whatever it is. But instead of coming to it from a place of fear, you are now starting from a place of calm strength and the gentle but steady determination to engage openly with the world, without an agenda, without bias, without letting your fear or anger or past experiences cloud your perception of the present moment. This makes it more likely that the interaction will be positive for you and the other person, and that communication will be successful, and that you will not inadvertently do or say things that make the situation worse, whatever it is. More importantly, it puts you in the right frame of mind for whatever you may receive from the other person. Whether it’s an unexpected kindness that you can express gratitude for, or some form of abuse from which you can quickly distance yourself in the least aggressive way, avoiding further pain to yourself or the other person. Basically, I meditate because it makes dealing with difficult people a lot easier.

Of course that is just one of the many reasons. I hope this was helpful. Also, I’m in no way trying to offer meditation as a fix-all substitute for depression and anxiety! I am a strong proponent of talk therapy, psychiatric methods (when you are in a position to pick and choose the best remedy for YOU, that helps with your moods but does not have bad side effects), and all the various tools we need to make life easier. To make it bearable. Meditation is not THE answer, but it is part of the whole, and it has been helpful for me.

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How I meditate, and why

Two years later: progress check

I’m still here. That is an accomplishment. Since we last spoke I have…gotten my first real job that lasted (at a bookstore!), gone back to grad school (again) and gotten sick and dropped out (again)…Still living with the boyfriend, but now we have two amazing cats, Neko-chan and Senor Gato. I work part time in the evenings and weekends (the hours no one else wants), and when I’m not working I can be found reading eco philosophy or poetry or historical fiction; gardening, making jewelry, drawing, journalling, cooking, or doing chores and sundry house crap.

The depression, anxiety, PTSD etc. has not disappeared. IBS has been added to the list, after several years of horrid gastro issues (trying to spare the details here) including several emergency visits. Basically, I was trying to manage it on my own, so I finally sought treatment and got some help. Not a solution, but a way to maintain an acceptable situation and prevent flare-ups.

My therapy is still going on, and has been really helpful. From four times a week to two, to one, and back to two times a week…I’ve been lucky with the uni insurance I only have to pay a fraction of the actual cost, but it still takes a chunk out of my part-time paycheck. Bleah. Oh well…at least for me, I’ve found that it’s worth it, and for the moment I can just about afford it 🙂 Or rather, can’t afford not to do it, because having someone to talk to is so helpful. Not that my friends don’t listen, but there are a lot of issues I would rather get the advice of someone older and more experienced, with training in handling strong emotions and learning how to get along with people. Especially family.

So, family…not going to talk about it here, but basically my close biological relationships can be described as a trash can fire of abuse and denial, codependence and manipulation, hyper sensitivity and inability to deal with (perceived) rejection. Take that how you will, the point is it’s not pretty, and fifteen minutes with them will usually knock me out for the rest of the day. That said, my grandma is turning 87 this week and we’re going to celebrate with presents, cake, flowers, etc. I love her very much and have always liked to listen to her stories about growing up during WWII in Morocco and then in London right after the war. I’ve traveled around the world to visit family that I only know about because of her, and her siblings.

So it’s a mixed bag. The point is, I’m still here but it’s been tough. Hopefully I will be able to keep writing more regularly, and put out some more posts that could be useful to people with similar conditions, situations, aspirations…And less of the rambling monologues about my specific life with no application to others. But for now, this will have to do! IMG_5310

Two years later: progress check

Kicking Depression’s Ass!

Since I last posted I had my heart broken, wrote a ridiculous amount of bad poetry, experimented with some other relationships and eventually got back together with my original lover, who’s been my safe island since we were 16 and 17.

In other news I started a new job and got my own apartment–but that didn’t work out because I got really stressed and depressed…so I quit my job and am in therapy full-time. I am focusing on the present and how to deal with post-traumatic stress from my past, and looking forward to my creative endeavors…like turning all that poetry into a book! I am also focusing on friendships and relationships in general, even trying to get closer to my family!

Since I’m not working per se, I will be volunteering at the public library because I love books and am a general do-gooder.

Just letting y’all know that I’m hanging in there, though it got pretty bad toward the end of the summer and the start of the school year. But I’m up on my feet now, and enjoying all my favorite things about fall:

pozole

hot spiced apple cider

pumpkin fudge

aroz con leche (rice pudding)

winter coats and sweaters and scarves…anything warm…

rain!!!

windy nights and small wild creatures dancing on the roof (ugh, rats!)

slippers

star-gazing

brilliant sunsets

 

So for anyone struggling with depression, keep hanging in there! I hope to post again soon, with some of my tips for staying positive, getting things done, and learning to live the way you want in spite of past troubles and ever-present anxiety.

Love and peace

 

Kicking Depression’s Ass!

Reaching Out and Taking What I Want

Fairy and Magicians cover Good news! The last two days have been ones of great achievement. That is, getting out and exercising, spending time with friends, learning new skills (flirting with the mystery of the sewing machine), and getting a lot of reading done for school.

I am basking in this glow of positive feeling, but at the same time wondering when I will crash again. It seems to come in waves, like pain, crashing over me and at times pulling me under into the obscure morass of blah feelings. Some say ennui is a sign of luxury, that depression is a trait of people who have nothing really important to worry them or occupy their time. That is ridiculous. Anyone can be depressed.

Anyway, I have been doing better, reaching out for the small things in life that make me happy:

drinking a hot cup of coffee and watching frivolous TV shows with an old friend;

going to the track and running as fast as I can, then walking the rest of my laps and enjoying the cool wind off the ocean;

learning how to use my new sewing machine, practicing the skills my grandmother taught me, and passing them on to my friends;

putting on my scholarly cap and annotating the $#17 out of the readings for class–after four years of college I have gotten really good at this.

listening to music– I mostly listen to other people’s playlists because I’ve always found that making my own is too overwhelming and I am always dissatisfied with the result

So I have been working on feeling good, and riding this wave as long as it lasts…

Bliss

Reaching Out and Taking What I Want

Working on a Positive Outlook

I made this awesome diagram pointing out all the aspects of the life I want– The things I would do and achieve if I could let go of all the insecurities and anxieties that prevent me from moving ahead in life. Like the feeling of paralysis that keeps me from going outside or even getting off the couch for anything except the baseline activities of school, work, etc. This is my to-do list, my road map, my “vision board” of sorts. This is where I am going, and when I am feeling generous with myself, I can admit that I am well on my way to success.

Vision Board

Working on a Positive Outlook

Day One of Kicking Depression’s A$$ by Blogging

Head in the Clouds

For the past week I have been struggling with depression–do you ever feel helpless? It seems that despair is a cardinal sin, but that pronouncement is not relevant to any credo I have been able to extrapolate from my experience of the world. Bad, yes– but where does sin come into the picture? A leftover slice of guilt from a rotting banquet in a forgotten room on a road overgrown by weeds. What can I say.

The point is, I needed a positive activity that will not hurt anyone or myself. Something to give me a sense of achievement, to feel that I had cast a pebble into the great waters of the web and that maybe somewhere someone will be grazed by the ripples of my work. Could they? In a sense the largeness of this network provides just the anonymity I desire–to be seen and heard but not known.

I have been hurt by people and sometimes I feel that I cannot move on from that place of fear and panic and anger. But in the end the most important thing is to find a way to move on and live a life that I choose for myself, not defined by how they saw me, or see me. That is easy enough to say, but sometimes I feel that I am sitting at the bottom of a well, in the dark, and the daylight is a tiny circle out of reach above my head.

They say you can see the stars in the daytime from the bottom of a mine-shaft. Well, that’s where I am right now, and I want to get out of here because it is stagnant and I am afraid if I don’t turn my attitude around that I will turn into my mother– not good.

Self-Portrait in Pencil

Day One of Kicking Depression’s A$$ by Blogging