Last week I did something unexpected in my practice: I cut my meditation time in half.
Since returning from Vipassana in October, I’ve tried to sit for an hour every morning and at least 10 minutes at night. Not easy, but the difference in my experience of the world was so striking when I practiced that it became pretty much non-negotiable.
But an hour?
I had an ‘Aha’ moment at the kickoff when Sharon talked about the state she calls ‘the Ooze,’ when we settle back too far, relax the mind too much, and lose the strong discipline of the practice.
‘Hmm…’ I thought. ‘That sounds like a lot of my hour on the cushion.’
I realized I was letting my sitting time turn into a rest-hour for my brain, which never gets a break during my hyper-active, over-scheduled life. I knew that there’s a time and place for resting the mind, like at the movies, but not on the cushion. I knew that there we’re supposed to practice, exercising our brain muscles and honing our focus and concentration. But my brain muscle is far from being able to work out for an hour. So, gripping a self-imposed time discipline, I was sitting for an hour and spacing out for half of it. Or I would push off sitting until I had a long enough chunk of time (which often never happened); or I’d sit for a shorter period, sure that it wouldn’t be enough time to really experience the practice.
So last week I relaxed my expectations and embraced shorter sits, pushing myself to maintain my focus on the breathing practice for 20-30 minutes (or even at least one day just 10).
It was so simple: Inhale, exhale. Breath, not breath.
But then it was over, and in came week two.
Suddenly, all these decisions!
How fast to move when scanning the body?
How long to stick with each body part?
Is it ok to favor some over others? To jump around?
What if I just don’t feel anything?
Sharon gives amazing guidance, mostly by telling us to use our intelligence and experiment.
Then last night I was walking home from my friends’ house 4 blocks away. It was absolutely freezing, and the blocks seemed endless. I was moving as fast as I could without slipping on the ice.
Then I realized: I was moving so fast to avoid feeling an unpleasant sensation: cold.
What would happen if I really felt it?
I slowed down my pace, feeling the icy sheet of air on my face. I felt my toes, seizing in thin socks and uninsulated golashes; my shivering torso, wishing I’d put on a sweater instead of my flimsy sweatshirt; my ungloved hands clenched in my pockets. I forced my mind and body to really take in the cold. It felt excruciating.
I started deepening my breath, drawing the cold air up through my system, coughing up stale warm air on the exhale. Suddenly the cold went from painful to exhilirating. I was really feeling it, feeling my body in it, like I’d shed a layer that was keeping that sensation at bay. I realize I could have probably gone through the entire winter without ever actually feeling the cold, and what a shame that would have been.
This morning, time to try to bring my newly acute awareness of the body onto the cushion.
Barbu talked in his blog about meditating on his toes for 20 minutes and discovering a whole world in there! So I tried it. I don’t think I made it a minute before my mind bolted off.
Bring it back.
Bring it back.
I tried again, focusing on my toes, then the ball of the foot, entire foot and heels. Prickly pins and needles started waking up the skin, the cells started partying. I felt the aching, tense tendons, the dry, cracking skin I get from my mom, which I’m so self-conscious about.
And then my feet started talking to me!
“Hey!” my feet said. “We’ve hauled your ass all over the world. Up mountains, across marathon courses, in and out of warzones…and now all around Brooklyn every day. You need to start taking care of us!!”
I listened. I knew they were right.
Wow, I thought…I guess this is what they mean by listening to your body.
I can’t wait to hear what else my body has to tell me in the next week!
So what is your body telling you now that you’re listening??