Woman Times is a weekly blog series devoted to giving voice to the women of the Central New York community.
Meditation and Mindfulness are making noise lately. I was reading an online article by Katrina Schwartz, who writes for Mind/Shift, about a teacher by the name of Jean-Gabrielle Larochet, an elementary school teacher in Richmond, CA.. Mr Larochet is practicing Mindfulness and Meditation techniques with his students to address their behavioral problems. In the article, “Low-Income Schools See Big Benefits in Teaching Mindfulness,” the practice is having a positive impact on their behavior. Mr. Larochette founded the Mindful Life Project in order to share his model with other schools progressive enough to acknowledge the need for alternative methods of addressing problems. It seems certain at the very least, that behavior problems in our schools contribute to an inability of students to focus on setting and achieving goals.
That being said, now that we have put away all the holiday trinkets, stripped the beloved tree of its ornaments, waved a cheerio! to our holiday company, and finally put our living spaces back to their pre-holiday order, it is time to acknowledge the gnawing sense growing inside of us adults. We are losing focus with our New Year goals. Yes, it is true, our resolutions, barely a month old, are getting harder and harder to sustain. I have an idea to help ease all that added stress. Mindfulness and Meditation practice! It works for troubled elementary students and it will work for you too!
I know, this is one more thing to do in an already overburdened day, week, month, hence year. What’s that you say? “I don’t have time to meditate, I don’t want to meditate, I don’t know how to meditate, I don’t believe in meditation. I hear you, I didn’t either. In fact, I stumbled upon meditation years ago in a desperate attempt to not die from insomnia. The mindfulness part, well that took a while to achieve, but when I eventually opened to it, mindfulness was what really saved me. It has taken some time, but I can say with certainty, I have fulfilled my 2002 New Year’s resolutions. That’s right, just this past year! Better late than never! I owe my success to a fairly consistent practice of mindfulness and meditation.
My first experience meditating was in group settings, where everyone sits in silent solidarity, striving to release the distractions of everyday life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Ahh, the pursuit of happiness, such a burden! I believed I would be happy again if only I could sleep. My insomnia was killing me, and I thought meditation would cure it and make me a happy person. Make me a happy person, really, make me? I was still a far cry from mindfulness.
I relented to pressure from my best friend to go with her to the local Zen Center to take a class combining mindfulness art with group meditation. At this time in my life the insomnia was relentless. Caught in the grips of an impending divorce, deeply strained relationships with my family and falling into desperate intimate relationships to fill the void in my life, I was a hot mess! My friend on the other hand was the epitome of cool. She attributed this to meditation. I in my insomnia induced fog equated her badass self as the state of happy. All I wanted was sleep and sleep would make me happy and she seemed happy so what did I have to lose? She swore by the power of meditation. I just swore, daily.
My experience was far from a spiritual awakening. Meditating for me felt like sitting under a glaring annoying flickering humming fluorescent light cracking overhead creating spooky shadows around me. I would discover as time went by that the shadows I was dodging were spun from cobwebs clinging in the corners of my soul. Not the state of mind I was looking for. Nobody likes cobwebs, those invisible sticky strings of neglected debris that stick on you with their invisible sticky-ness. Better to look away.
When I was young, my mother referred to the cobwebs hanging carelessly in neglected corners of rooms as, “boyfriends.” I asked her why she called them that. She said because they hang around and have no purpose other than to cause her more work. The metaphor was lost in my naiveté. I had a lot more living to do and many more mistakes to make before I discovered through meditation, the ‘boyfriends” hanging out in the corners of my soul were hanging there without any purpose except to cause me more work. I needed to clean the neglected corners of my soul. Then maybe I could sleep.
The instant I walked into the Center I was overcome by the weight of my exhaustion. I couldn’t fight it. The weight of it skewed my perception of my physical presence in the room. I felt like a lone banana in a crate full of oranges. Everyone was whole and well- rounded while I was sticking out, elongated with a bruised and blemished complexion.
The first half of the class was spent in silent pursuit of one stroke painting. It consisted of dipping the brush into ink then swiping the brush across the paper using only one stroke. One stroke of ink splashed across one piece of paper then on to the next all in contemplative silence. Later, in our quieted state, we would climb the stairs to the top of the house and enter the meditation room. The room was sparsely decorated and immaculate. The hard wood floor gleamed with such intensity it resembled a placid lake whose flat surface was temporarily disrupted by a gentle breeze. I wasn’t sure if I was stepping onto a solid surface or one that would swallow me up. In actuality, both would prove to be true.
For weeks, all I was mindful of was how uncomfortable I felt. My foot fell asleep, my butt was numb, my back wanted to slump and my mind would not shut down. Time was at a standstill for those around me, but I was still in a state of exhausted high gear. I would cheat and open my eyes just a tad to see if anyone else was having difficulty. Nope. Just me, I was the only one. I felt the need to scratch every itch. I heard every siren that passed by and would imagine the tragic circumstances the siren was responding to. This was not the blissful rescue I imagined.
Painful session after painful session passed until one day the acolyte leading the meditation approached me and asked me if I was having difficulty. My cryptic response was a combination of lying through my teeth and coming clean about my true state of mind. He told me if I choose to return, I could lie down during meditation. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll see. Thanks that might be helpful maybe. I’m not sure. I’ll think about it.”
I did return and participated in the inky art work while my ever present state of insomnia had me yawning uncontrollably. My heavy feet climbed the stairs to the mediation room. I found a place for myself away from the nestled group. The acolyte insisted I join the group in any position I felt comfortable in but I had to be a part of the group. I dragged my pillow over to them with the pomp and circumstance of a spoiled child forced to join the family in the parlor after dinner. I ceremoniously plopped myself down with a thump. Prone on the floor I wondered to myself, where was my happiness in all this nonsense? Settled down, the acolyte gently struck a gong emanating a vibrational ripple that quieted the room. I heard the collective unison of slow inhaled then exhaled breaths knowing mine were out of sync with the group by a breath or two. Then, I began to sync my breath with those around me as if pulled in by them. More and more their rhythmic breathing influenced my breathing, slowing it down until my breath was in tandem with theirs.
As I lay emotionally barren on the barren floor of the meditation room, its mirage image became a vivid oasis in my mind. I was aware of the floor as it supported me, but then my body, as if in direct contrast to all rules of relativity, began to seep into the varnished surface. From my mind’s eye I saw my physical body morph into the floor becoming a form of blurry weightlessness. From this vantage point I was observing myself as if I were under the water just below the surface. I fell asleep. I slipped into the realm of the Gods and they cradled me. I slept like a baby.
The experiences at the Zen Center inspired me to commit to deepening my practice or as I like to think of it, arriving at my own comfortable practice of meditation. I had no choice but to clear away the cobwebbed corners of my soul that were blocking my happiness. Meditation did not bring me happiness. It brought me sleep. Later, meditation brought me mindfulness which brought me to conclude I am in charge of my happiness. Meditation allows me to feel happiness.
My meditative practice is still non-traditional. I meditate while I’m folding laundry or washing dishes. Gardening and walking my dog have replaced the solid wood floor of the Zen Center as a place for me to become silent enough to encounter the Gods. I use meditation when my soul is in need of a housecleaning. Not just a quick swipe at the obvious coat of dust lying on the surface, but a thorough cleaning deep into the darkened recesses where the “boyfriends” hang out. Meditation is an effective dust buster!
So, do yourself a favor. Release the expectation that New Year’s resolutions should be resolved in one year. Redefine meditation. Or better yet, don’t define it all. Allow mindfulness to help you focus. Reclaim, recommit, and return to your resolution with renewed focus, what have you got to lose?
Do you fall asleep gazing up at the bedroom ceiling? Do you love to walk by your neighbor’s garden on your way to work? Do you stop every so often to admire the night sky or the beautiful smile of a passerby? These are moments throughout the day when you’ve had an opportunity to be mindful and meditate. When you offer a silent prayer, think of a loved one, say hello to a stranger you’re meditating. It’s the mindfulness within those moments that opens the window to your soul allowing the breeze to bring you the focus you need to reset and achieve your New Year’s goals and resolutions. Try, even if it takes a few years!
For further reading on The Mindful Life Project, CLICK HERE. To read more about the state of happiness, check out the January 20, 2014 article by Lindsey Holmes, “14 Signs You’re Really Happy (And How To Stay That Way)” in the Huffington Post.
Roseanne Olszewski is a writer, thinker and all around spiritual disciple who believes in the power of owning your presence in the world. We are all here for a reason, what is yours? The owner of a Metamorphosis, Become Who You Are Meant To Be!, Roseanne works as an educator, consultant and counselor, focusing on personal development. She holds a M.A. in Transformative Leadership Development from the California Institute of Integral Studies.