Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just breathe

I am a life-long hippy-ish person. I don't take aspirin for a headache when a neck massage will solve the problem. I choose foods that aren't overly-processed whenever possible. I wear mostly wool in the winter and cotton in the summer, and don't really touch manmade fibers. I walk whenever I can instead of driving, even when it is blistering hot or ridiculously cold and despite a huge armful of outgoing orders to carry. And I don't choose paper OR plastic - I try to use cloth whenever I can remember to bring it with me!

That said, there are many "crunchy" things that should be in my wheelhouse but just aren't. I don't like any juice that is green, even when there is a lot of fruit in it to sweeten it up. I have never met a medium-rare steak that I didn't love (only occasionally and it must be grass-fed, grass-finished and locally raised, thankyouverymuch). I have never felt the presence of God in the downward dog position while doing yoga, no matter how many times the instructor assures me I will. And I suck at meditating.

But the meditation thing I thought maybe I could change. I see so many studies about how good it is. It lowers blood pressure, helps depression and anxiety, gives peace to those with chronic pain and terminal ailments, and on and on. When I read yet one more article talking about how great it was, I decided to dig in and try it. But not by myself this time. I signed up for an eight-week course, based on the work done by Jon Kabat-Zinn. (He's incredible. Google him and be amazed.)

I recently completed the course. I was hoping by the end that I would be able to easily clear my mind, focus on breathing and relax every part of my body. I thought I would have a daily meditation practice, and that I would start every day in peaceful silence. It didn't quite work out that way. I learned about all kinds of meditation practice, including walking meditation, which I liked the best. While I know it takes years of regular practice and I am just at the beginning, I find it so very challenging to let the superhighway of thoughts drift by without judgment or analyzation. And when I faithfully put on my Body Scan practice CD every day for a 20-minute meditation, I faithfully fall asleep about halfway through and had a lovely little nap.

Although I had some fairly specific ideas and goals that I may not have achieved from the class, I did get a lot more out of it than I bargained for. About mid-way through the session, I was having an extremely stressful day and was overwhelmed. I felt anxious and my head was spinning. A friend happened to call and I started spilling out all the details and the different horrible outcomes that I was bracing myself for and, and, and… Having heard lots of tidbits about my meditation class, she gently asked, "Why don't you meditate?" I hung up the phone, sat down, closed my eyes and scanned my body. My shoulders were up around my ears so I took a deep breath and focused on channeling breath into my shoulders. They came down easily and I rolled the last of the tenseness out of them. My stomach was in knots, so I put my hand on it and did the same. After just 5 minutes, I felt better. Much better, actually. (And everything worked out fine so I had needlessly worked myself up and flushed my body with adrenaline, which is tough on all its systems.)

I learned in walking meditation practice to slow everything down and focus. Take a step slowly and intentionally, feel the bottom of my feet, notice every place where they touched the ground and how it felt without judgment. I learned to observe the good and precious functions of my body, and how I could match my breath to the rhythm of walking. Just this week, I was involved in a transaction where the person helping me was multi-tasking and frantically trying to take care of me, listen to someone giving directions and find something simultaneously. Before my meditation class, I would have participated in the frenzy. This time, I watched with true amazement, marveling at how much better everything would be if this person could slow down, focus on one thing at a time and give it her true total attention. I am better at that now. I don't race around trying to accomplish five things at once. Recently, I was walking to do an errand. I reminded myself to focus on walking and realized I had been walking very briskly, a holiday to-do list in my head, eyes down on the sidewalk. Once I reminded myself, I automatically started breathing more deeply, I lifted my head, looked at the sky and trees, heard nature's sounds, felt cold winter air against my face and let a good energy wash over me that I wanted to share, if only through eye contact and a smile exchanged with a passerby. It made all the difference that day, and - just maybe - every day after.

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