I started a formal meditation practice about 8 months ago, and a large part of this was joining a Sangha that meditates as a group once a week for one hour in 20 minute rounds of sitting, walking, and sitting. In January the group began to talk about their annual “Day of Mindfulness” in March, and I signed up thinking March was WAY off. Of course, March came quickly and it was time to buy my own meditation cushions (which I now know are called zabutans and zafus) and prepare to spend a day with myself!
The day involved 2 formal hours of meditation interspersed with dharma talks with a focus on the impact of change and uncertainty and ways to work with these experiences in our lives. It was also a mostly silent day, so during breaks, and during lunch we were asked not to speak to each other. This was fruitful ground for self-observations – watching not only my own mental and physiological processes during meditation, but also watching how my social conditioning came up at key times encountering another person, but not speaking to them. I also noticed, in particular, how impatient I can be! If I decided I wanted a brownie from the buffet table, I would walk to the table as swiftly as possible and any obstacles in my way were experienced as very annoying! I noticed other people walking much more slowly and seemingly less goal-oriented which was interesting.
I tweeted on Twitter last week that I was listening to Smile at Fear (in anticipation of the day of mindfulness) which is an audio recording of Pema Chodron lecturing for a weekend retreat. (Her teachings are so accessible and relatable as well as funny, I would highly recommend this CD!) One of the things she talks about is the idea of “being a genuine person” – that being genuine is something we can feel in another person, and that we feel we can trust them because they aren’t “conning themselves, and they aren’t conning us”. She goes on to say that a genuine person is someone who has “seen it all about themselves” and can be present with all the parts of themselves without shutting down; not because they don’t have things about themselves that are embarrassing to them, but that they can deal with those feelings without “putting on a mask”.
There are many benefits to beginning a mediation practice, but this strikes me as an important one as it gets at the heart of what often gets in the way of authentically connecting with yourself and with other people in relationships. And of course, being connected with others is a key factor in our emotional wellness and happiness. The things I observed about myself during this day long retreat I will continue to watch – the awareness I gained during the retreat of some of my habits has already helped me find ways to “hit the pause button” before I reacted to some difficult situations in the last week. Even having a few seconds to reflect before reacting can be enough to change the course of our actions!
I wanted to share a breath gatha from the day – this is a poem that can be used during mediation practice where the focus is on your breathing and can help you refocus on your breath as other thoughts, feelings, and emotions come up in your practice:
Jack Lawlor’s guided mediation on the breath
Sitting in meditation,
Just being in the present moment
Sensing the breath,
feeling the rise and fall of each breath