I have a daily routine, and it has been nice to be able to make it the focus of the morning rather than sometimes hurrying along before starting work. I have settled into semi-retirement enough that the work I am doing–facilitating a course on curriculum writing for Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit focused on domestic violence–has its place but doesn’t need daily oversight.
I usually get some part of the routine done every day. I generally draw a tarot card or two and write two or three pages, ala Julia Cameron’s morning pages. I try to do it first thing in the morning but am not always successful. Some mornings I just want to pick up the book I fell asleep over the night before. Other mornings, like yesterday, I head outside to the garden in order to get the work done before the heat of the day settles in. On those days, I may do some or none of the routine. *
Yesterday, I broke a 40-day meditation streak. I am disappointed, but it’s really ok. I try to think of the practices as “daily-ish,” a term I picked up from Dan Harris, creator of 10% Happier, the meditation app I use. The app tracks daily and weekly progress. When they do a focused challenge, you have to complete 90% in order to earn the gold medal. It seems a humane approach to me.
I am a little disappointed that I broke the streak. Today, I began again with the app. But, I am pretty sure I *did* meditate yesterday even if the app wasn’t tracking it**: while I was weeding vegetables, cooking dinner, walking dogs. I practiced focusing on just that one thing, open awareness of the world around me, not following random thoughts, coming back to the task when I did get lost in story. So, I am putting the lessons learned from the app into practice and that’s more important than any streak in an app.
*The ONLY part of the routine I always do is my four-shot latte. It is non-negotiable to the point that, if I can, I take my small espresso machine with me when I travel.
**The existential question for our time: if the app wasn’t tracking it, did it really happen?
I haven’t written a lot of blog posts over the past few years but many of those I have posted focused on my meditationpractice. So, it’s telling perhaps that in describing my plans and goals for the future, I didn’t mention meditation despite it playing an important role in my daily life. I think it may be because I was writing about hobbies and meditation, as I have written before, is a practice.
Teacher Joseph Goldstein talked about why meditation is not a hobby and why that is important as part of a course I am following in the 10% Happier App. Goldstein reminds us that meditation is more than the practice itself. Its impact is meant to be felt beyond the mat as the lessons we learn in quiet contemplation can change the way we move and live in the world, if we let them. So, the fundamental mantra of “begin again” that we repeat each time we bring our wandering minds back to the breath and the body during meditation is one we can use throughout the day when we are distracted or disturbed. See the anxiety or stress, name it, recognize the pattern that causes unhappiness, and begin again to focus on the present, the now.
The meditation teachers I follow assure me that even the most seasoned practitioners have bad days. The secret is to let it go and…wait for it…begin again. And again. And again. And that’s what it means to practice.
I have been practicing meditation for the past several years, beginning at a time when arthritis was ravaging my hip and sitting helped me be with the pain even as I was getting help. Now, it is part of what I do each day, usually first thing in the morning. I sit and know that I am sitting…at least for a few seconds at a time. While I have gotten better at focusing, I still find myself losing awareness of the present, my mind taking me to the past most often, generally reliving the negative events that have turned into stories.
Recognizing the patterns and learning to stop the stories from carrying me down the well-worn paths of critical self-talk is getting easier the more I practice. That word practice is essential. I don’t meditate. I practice meditation. That sense of working towards but never reaching whatever the end of practicing is (perfection? Please, no.) to be incredibly refreshing, a departure from my usual need to always get it right, which leads to more of that critical self-talk.
Lately, I have found myself practicing this present awareness even when I am not formally sitting. I folded the laundry with some level of mindfulness the other day. Normally, I rush through this mundane chore in order to get to the next thing. At that moment, folding the laundry was the thing and the next one could just wait its turn.
I’ve also been exploring different ways that people talk about practicing. I meant to share this interview with the Indigo Girls on Monday for International Women’s Day as their wonderful song Closer to Fine has been a part of my soundtrack since it was first published. They talk about practice and honing our skills, particularly as women.
Today, I announced to a large group of state leaders that I am a daily meditator and that lessons I was learning from that practice were helping me think deeper and ask different questions. I didn’t intend to do it, but I’m also not beating myself up about it. In fact, I encouraged them to read Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Change that I referenced in my previous post.
The book is a guide to making change, written almost specifically for the people in that meeting: advocates and activists who have committed to creating an equitable, accessible, innovative public education system. It is hard work, demanding, and can be all consuming. How can you take a break when you see so much need, when you feel angry and frustrated?
Salzberg argues, and I can speak from personal experience, even a few minutes of meditation each day has helped me find a space within the work where I can rest and then return refreshed. It sharpens my focus and allows me to gauge my reactions in a more thoughtful way.
When I open my eyes after practicing and look out on the world, I know it is the same broken place, I feel the familiar anger, but I also feel as though I have more courage to keep moving forward even as I accept the current circumstances.