Here I go…my first Challenge post. It’s only Day Three, and I’ve already accumulated enough questions and observations (what to speak of apologies and assumptions) to fill a month’s worth of writing. I’m inspired to kick off my practice backed by the support of this community. To Lily, Jeremy and the teachers and students and kirtanis alike who have made Brooklyn Yoga School the sacred space it is—you all have my gratitude. So, on to the topic of meditation…
What better way to launch the Challenge than with a 15-minute Day One sitting with Sharon at New York Insight Center on Friday? The sitting was combination kick-off and kick-up for me, frankly, and I’m glad I was in such a safe space. I hold tons of tension and anxiety in my body—and not a little body-trauma memory, as well. This has always made being physically present to sit in meditation a necessary, but sometimes scary, practice for me, and one that I’ve found every excuse to avoid. No wonder, as my Friday sitting attests: Not two minutes in, my beating heart became deafening, and its throbbing made it physically challenging to sit still. Come back to breath. After my pulse points began to ache, I began to feel the right side of my face twitch. The skin was starting to burn, too. Breathe. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, the area around my right eye started to throb and seemingly convulse. Great, I’m in a room full of people with their eyes closed, deep in their perfected practice, and there’s no one to see if the right side of my face really is swelling like a balloon. I was afraid to open my eyes. What if my right eyelid is paralyzed in place? I’ll have to ask for help, and then I’ll be disturbing everyone else’s practice. That won’t do. Focus on breath. Fighting the panic. This should be easier. I read the Bhagavad Gita and its commentaries in Sanskrit, for god’s sake. Pause. Breathe. You’re going to be ok. I was, in fact, ok. I did manage to come back to breath, to the best of my ability. And I witnessed more than ever the importance of the practice.
It’s helpful for me to think of this as threading a needle. Inevitably, the thread will begin to fray. We can’t know when, but it will. After all, it’s made up of parts. Its very nature is to fray, and there’s something beautiful in that. So I can’t berate myself for not being able to thread the needle every time. Instead, my practice will be to bring the fraying ends of the thread together, concentrate them to the best of my ability, and thread the needle. And when the thread frays once more—it surely will—I’ll begin again.
Today I came back to my breath with a 20-minute Day Three sitting—focusing on feeling the in and out of my respiration, acknowledging the thoughts and anxieties that came up with a gentle “Hello, there,” and then encouraging them to mosey right along. I again started to feel my heartbeat overpower my breath and, yes, some face twitching. But each time my attention was drawn away from my breath, I’d go right back, for at least one in and one out. And it worked! The sensations played out as if on a movie screen, and I let them go as quickly as they came. I had one really prolonged distraction today: a chirping bird. It took me some time to bring myself back to breath. Is that really a bird chirping? It’s freezing out. Can’t be. But it sounds like it. Should I check to see that it’s ok? But if its wing is broken, what can I really do? It doesn’t sound in distress, so let it go. Wait. It might be on the windowsill. And it might be pooping. Right there on the sill next to my bed. The last thing I want to see when I open my curtains in the morning is a bird-shit stain. I’ll get up to clean it after my sitting. Nope, not possible. When the sills were repainted in the fall, the paint sealed that screen in place. I kept meaning to get a razor blade to break the paint seal, but never bothered. Too cold out now. So there it is, a big pile of poop and not even a single seed in it. What’s the benefit then? But there’ll be plenty of seeds when I get the garden together in the spring. Flowers of all types. Breathe. Focus on breath. And I did.
There it is… that thread, unraveling at an incremental, but consequential, pace. And it’s as beautiful as a flower unfurling its petals. OM Shantih Shantih Shantih