Monthly Archives: June 2010

#24: Attempt yoga, er, meditation for real: Learning a New Kind of Flexibility

So I was going to try yoga. But I am giving myself permission to swap out this one item on my list because I don’t want to be rigid. I want to go with the flow, yo, you know? (Rhyming!) I’m taking a mediation class instead.

I’ve attracted to Buddhism. I’m looking for a spiritual path that works for me. The one I was raised in makes me rage-y.  Buddhism – particularly meditation – seems like something that could calm my tormented little brain, help me focus.

I know yoga doesn’t have to directly engage Hinduism.  I know it actually goes hand in hand with Buddhism. And I doubt most people who practice yoga even contemplate its spiritual ramifications – but  I recognize it as a sacred practice. I don’t feel comfortable mixing traditions I don’t understand yet. It feels narcissistic to cherry pick the aspects of a practice that work for me. It feels undisciplined, and even the gentlest of spiritual paths needs discipline.

That’s mighty rigid of me, huh?  Not doing so great with that flexibility.  A lifetime of religious inundation hellbent (ha!) on proving it is the “one true faith” makes it hard to absorb traditions that don’t have a centralized authority, a clearcut path to salvation.  Letting go of the sheeplike desire to have someone tell you exactly what the right thing to do is, well…it’s a struggle.

I’m not sure Westerners trying on Eastern philosophies isn’t inherently exploitative. I spend a lot of (counterproductive) time wondering whether I can ever fully immerse myself in understanding a philosophy that is so alien to how I was raised. I worry that even spoonfed by true masters from Tibet or India, in America it gets reduced to self-help catchphrases and platitudes that barely scratch the surface of complex, ancient traditions. They aren’t meant to be pats on the back to make us feel we’re okay. I want to feel like I’m okay, but wow, that’s too easy. Without digging into the roots, Buddhism can seem hippy dippy earthy crunchy zen mellow.  Which I don’t think it is.

Meditation technique: posture, focus on the breath. I slouch. Problem number one. And trying to focus on breathing: My breath is so…diminutive? Quiet? Without making myself hyperventilate, I can hardly feel it.  Putting so much emphasis on something I can barely force myself to notice…it makes me feel like maybe I don’t exist.

You focus on the breath, and if you find yourself thinking any old thought, you think “thinking” and let the thought go.  Except my mind is a runaway train, and there is never a second when I’m not thinking.  I start to feel bad about myself, like I’ll never be good at meditation, I’ll never be able to stop the torrent of thoughts, and even when I’m not thinking I’m thinking “Am I thinking? Am I thinking right now? Is this a thought?”


I’m not the first person to experience this.  I’m not the only one who has trouble clearing mental clutter.  I read a book on meditation for class, and there are dozens of obstacles everyone encounters as they navigate this journey. But still. It makes a girl feel ca-razy.

We were instructed not to label thoughts as good or bad, not to berate ourselves for having them.  We were told to treat ourselves with gentleness, which is the first step toward treating the world around us with gentleness.

Gentleness is antithetical to a religious tradition that involves self-flagellation: literal beating yourself up-ness. That’s my background: guilt, self-loathing, fear of punishment, strict adherence to certain rules or YOU WILL BURN IN HELL.

So this new thing, it’s kind of hard to get used to.  To accept as valid. To allow myself to let go into.

It’s training yourself to live more fully in the present moment.  To not focus on the past or the future.  To be here and now. But. How do you give up wanting anything? How do you give up hope? The reading indicates that hope automatically engenders fear of and actual disappointment, ie, suffering. But to be so fully present now you have no hope/desire/expectation for the future – I don’t know if that is a realistic, achievable goal.

I’m a planner. I like to have something to look forward to. I’m not particularly fond of my present. I would very much like to move out of it. But it’s true: hoping things will change, will “get better” – leads to more disappointment than if I could just shrug and say, this is where I am, this is what’s happening, might as well enjoy it.

This I am not good at.

And I worry that meditation will elude me. That I will not have the discipline to do it every day, because I’m lazy, and busy, and tired, and I don’t really want to let go and…

I worry. Antithetical.

It’s gonna take a while to figure it out.

But that’s kind of what I like about it. It’s a path. It’s about the journey. Enlightenment may be the ideal, but I don’t think anyone expects to reach it. Buddhism/meditation is about embracing your imperfections and accepting them and letting them go. And once your head is out of your own ass, you can pay attention to the needs of others.

So. Yeah. I’ll try that out.

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