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Revisiting Meditation: Week 1

Stres Relax

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Note to readers: This is the second installment in a weekly series which focuses on establishing or re-establishing a consistent meditation practice. Please refer to my introductory article on this topic.

If any of you are following this course with me, and to all of you out there registered for the March Challenge, I hope you had a great first week getting into your meditation routine!

To be completely honest, week one was very difficult for me. Undoubtedly, it’s from the lack of practice, but I honestly didn’t think that things had gotten that bad. Apparently, though, they had.

Let’s see … Day 1 (Sunday), I made it all of 9 minutes before calling it quits, and Day 2 was about the same. My notes? Lost them in the battle between the Insight Timer app and myself on Thursday, which got my meditation off to a shaky start to begin with. It wasn’t behaving, so I uninstalled it, and re-installed it, and lost my post-meditation journals from earlier in the week. Or so it appears.

Then, it was a horribly sore throat and fatigue that bit me in the tush on Tuesday, evolved into a full-blown flu/cold by Wednesday. On both of those evenings, I bemoaned my choice to not meditate. “I should be attempting to meditate through the nasal congestion, muscle aches, chills and fatigue,” one part of my brain tisked.

“Oh seriously, dry up,” snorted the other as I fell into a restless sleep.

So that was the start of my first week of getting back on track with meditating. That being said, I don’t feel that this week was fruitless, by any means. By Thursday I was feeling well enough to try it again, and actually managed to make it through the full 20 minutes! Here’s an excerpt from my journal:

“Definitely noticing that when my attention leaves the breath, that it goes to fantasy. … goes from future plans, events of the day, then expounding from there to total story creation.”

This was a nice change for me as the first two days, I was working with impatience, frustration, and just plain old fatigue. I was frustrated that I had to do this, when all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and sleep. I like to think that perhaps the first couple of attempts were my ‘breaking-in period’ to lay the groundwork for this little bit of observation I was able to put together.

What also helped for me was finally really paying attention to the words Gil Fronsdal spoke in his guided meditation on the breath that was linked to for this week. In it, he emphasizes the importance that we should approach our meditation with the attitude that we are there “simply to notice.”

So, to observe when the mind wanders, what it goes to when it does wander, notice it, and then return to the focus of the meditation, which for this week, was the breath (NOTE: Today is the last day we work on the breath. Tomorrow starts the new focus, which is the body).

Before I go on much more, I realized after I published the introduction to this series that I never made clear that I had actually followed this online course once myself, and that I had done so with the help of a teacher from Insight Meditation. Please, if you ever have the opportunity to do so, register for this free online course. It truly changed my perspective on meditation and its importance in daily life — for Buddhists or otherwise. To get the feedback of an experienced teacher, there is nothing like it. My teacher offered me wonderful insights, support, and helpful responses to my answers to the Practice Support questions. It was a wonderful experience that I hope you will choose to try out some day.

While no online courses are open for registration at this time, you may sign up to receive notification when one does. Here’s the link for those who may be interested: http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/programs/online-courses/

With that, let’s move forward to the Practice Support questions from this week that I think might be worth having us think about.

Practice Support

I’ve answered many of the Practice Support questions from this week, so I’ll touch on some the questions that I think would make good launching-points for discussions or questions and answers:

After meditating, have you noticed any difference in how you feel during your next activity?

This was question 13, and here is the response I wrote in my notes:

Not really, as my next activity is to lie down and sleep. I don’t meditate in the morning any more as I simply, truly, don’t have the time. The puppy needs his walk, and I’m it for that! After he’s done with his walk, it’s get ready for the day …

Man Walking Dog Winter

Image courtesy of Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I wrote my response to this, I did wonder what others’ response to this question might be. I know what I’ve found for myself in the past, when I did meditate in the morning for about 10 minutes before starting my day, I felt more ready to deal with the grind of the day. Normally, I’d say that even with meditating before bed, that I find the same effect. That being said, I didn’t find it to be the case this week. Most likely because my practice was so interrupted. I don’t believe that the real benefits of the calmer, more observant mind, has had a chance to develop at this point for me.

Next is question 15:

Did you pick a routine physical activity to be mindful of? What is your experience of that?

Truthfully, I’d forgotten all about this. On Tuesday, though, I did remember, and decided that I’d walk our chocolate Labrador retriever puppy mindfully. And yes, I did walk the pup even though I felt like … well … poop. That’s how much I love him. So here’s my response:

Yes, all the walks with my puppy. While I never really minded walking the puppy, doing it mindfully has been interesting. I notice his body language more now, and where he usually stops to sniff around. I think I noticed before, but now it’s “By the raspberry canes, oh, there are bird tracks here every day. Oh he likes where the cat walks …”

In the past I chose washing the dishes mindfully, or hanging the laundry mindfully. I found it made the task less tedious or annoying, as my attention was off of thoughts about how much I wanted to get those chores done so I could go on to something more “interesting.” It was a challenge at first, but it really helped to drive home the point to myself that the task itself is not the problem, but really my thoughts around future thinking that really brought on my angst toward these tasks.

What daily activity did you try to do more mindfully? What insight did you gain from this?

As we wrap up the last day of Week 1 of Insight Meditation’s program, I want to draw attention to the material provided for Day 6, which is today. For today, we’ve been provided with a link to optional reading, which was Chapter 4 of Gil Fronsdal’s book Issue at Hand. 

Without the reference of mindfulness practice, it is quite easy to remain unaware of the preoccupations, tensions, and momentum operating in your life. For example, if you are busily doing many things, the concern for getting things done can blind you to the tension building in the body and mind. Only by stopping to be mindful may you become aware of the tensions and feelings that are present.

The above excerpt from this chapter brought to mind my struggle to meditate this week, especially the first two days. What I did learn about my mind those two days was the very idea that I was so resistant to sitting down and meditating. I just wanted to go to bed. I was impatient for it to end so I could just relax, in spite of the fact that I know logically that mindfulness practice will bring me the ability to approach my day and the events in it in a more relaxed manner.

Perhaps, even if my first two days were followed by a two-day hiatus from meditating, knowing what my mind was doing, what I was doing to myself, allowed me to be more successful on Thursday. While my practice this week didn’t really result in any changes that I could observe or feel in my approach to daily life off of the cushion, I think what little bit I did do still furthered my end goal, which is to get a handle on my runaway thoughts again.

Week 2: The Body

With tomorrow I’ll be starting with the Week 2 material, which you can find here: https://sites.google.com/a/audiodharmacourse.org/mindfulness-meditation/week-2-body, if you have chosen to follow along with me.

Image courtesy of farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While I like the mindfulness of breath as a starting place, I think Body was pretty close to my favorite week. It really fascinated me to play with the idea of physical sensations and mind being so closely interconnected. While I always knew that to be the case on some level, having gone through childbirth and Lamaze classes, it was really interesting to focus on pain that was less intense and in a much quieter setting. I often get tight spots in my hips and thighs when sitting, which can get quite uncomfortable. Focusing on them the way it is instructed in this week’s readings, really brought to light how much the mind plays a role in highlighting pain we experience, and in augmenting it.

I hope you enjoy Week 2 as much as I did, and as much as I hope I will this week.

Happy meditating!

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