Took a long leisurely drive to Abingdon, Virginia, in far southwest Virginia, one of my favorite parts of the state. I listened to a book and then music on the radio. As I have for some time, I avoided the news. And, I’ve been avoiding writing about the news as well. But, I worry that posts about gardening and reading might be considered frivolous in our chaotic, stridently divided world. On the other hand, these are the things that help me from plunging into despair. Another mass killing, another black person gunned down, another bigoted law passed. I am even having trouble getting through the 15-minute Up First podcast from NPR that I used to enjoy as I made my morning coffee. There seems to be nothing to celebrate and many things to grieve.
This article from The New York Times provided some perspective on how I might move forward. It quotes a variety of experts including one of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg. In fact, I wrote about Salzberg’s book, Real Change, in this same context. Salzberg herself took some criticism when, in response to families being separated at the border, she organized a world-wide loving-kindness meditation. How can meditation change anything? She replied that she was ONLY meditating but that meditation gave her the strength to battle the negative forces. And, she was one of the Buddhist leaders who openly condemned the practices on the border. This interview gives you a taste of Salzberg at her best.
The image is of a collage using one of my favorite poems, The Peace of Wild Things, from Wendell Berry. It hangs over my desk. Nature is one of my antidotes to despair. I hope you can find your own.
I have known about and flirted with meditation for a very long time. In fact, my high school research paper–the one where I learned the 3X5 card research technique–was on transcendental meditation. I have no idea where I even heard about it or how I managed to get a copy of the book or enough print-based resources to write the paper. Certainly it was not widely practiced in the 1970s in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country, where I grew up. But, that was my topic. I don’t remember much about my conclusions, and it did not immediately convince me to meditate every day.
Over time, I have dabbled with the usual fits and starts but connecting with Dan Harris and 10% Happier was the impetus for this current journey. His books tell his personal story of discovering meditation, how that discovery changed his mind and his life, and how he traveled the country to get the word out. The app is an inclusive introduction to meditation with courses taught by well-known teachers like Sharon Salzberg and Sebene Selassie. They teach the basics as well as different types of meditation. Salzberg’s main focus, for instance, is lovingkindness.
The challenge that is on right now highlights different courses and teachers each day to give a good sense of the full range of the offerings.
The only drawback is that the app has only limited offerings for free. A subscription is $99/year. In a world of free, that may seem like a lot but it is another encouragement to actually open it up and explore. But, if you want to explore meditation for free first, consider Sharon Salzberg’s #RealHappiness challenge that takes place in February.
As at least one nice person noticed, I have been blogging regularly for the new year. I do personal writing every day but have never developed a public practice. For now, my goal is to post every day, but I am giving myself lots of space around topics. Just post.
I did miss yesterday and didn’t even think about it until I was tucked in bed, too tired to do anything about it. So, today, I begin again.
Begin again: Those two words come up often in the other practice I am establishing: meditation. I signed up for the 10% Happier app challenge that started this past Monday. The goal is to meditate 15 out of 21 days, but I am working on finding time every day. I want this to be more than just taking ten breaths, though, but a real meditation practice that helps me understand how my perspective impacts my world.
The basic lesson so far has been that meditation is not about emptying the mind, as that is impossible, but about getting still and seeing how the mind works, the ideas that appear and disappear, the paths we wander down and those we ignore, the emotions that arise and their impact on our thoughts and body. There’s a lot going on when we are sitting quietly with our eyes closed. And we should view all of it with self-compassion and a sense of curiosity.
I know schools are adding mindfulness activities and training to the curriculum and am interested in learning more about how they work. I plan to make this a focus of my reading and research this spring. It would be possible, I think, for this to do more harm than good depending on the approach. But, at a basic level, learning to be able to identify your state of mind and use mindfulness techniques to connect and tinker with that state could be a useful skill in a stressful world.