Meditate? Me?

In Resolutions? Me? I talked briefly about meditation, the way it improves my mood and spirit, and how, in spite of that, my meditation practice has been sporadic at best.   It’s been seven days since I resolved to start again at least once a day and so-far-so-good, although I’ll admit that last night I crammed in a twenty minute meditation at 10:00 pm more to avoid breaking my resolution than anything else.   I am the sort of person who fights discipline, even though most people think of me as disciplined.  The practice also requires stilling my hyperactive mind, which my hyperactive mind loathes.   These are probably the reasons I find it so hard to meditate every day … and certainly two reasons I need to do it.

I first tried meditation back in the days of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his band of grinning Transcendental Meditation followers.    The truth of the matter is that I can’t remember exactly why … whether I was seeking relief from job stress, looking for spirituality, responding to the program’s claims of mental and physical health benefits or simply following the lead of The Beatles.    But I laid down my money (several hundred dollars, as I recall) and walked into a small house in Fullerton, California to be greeted by a group of young men in white shirts and ties.   They were all grinning like Smilin’ Bob in the Enzyte commercials, a fact that almost made me run for the door.    I couldn’t remember how many times I returned to the TM Center before I was a certified meditator, but Wikipedia helped out my memory … there were seven training sessions.    I was given my own personal mantra, picked especially for me, I was assured.   I was also told not to tell it to anyone although I don’t recall the reason why … mine was shareem.    The TM folks would tell you to use it at your own risk.

For over a year, I’d wander off into the bedroom twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, close my eyes, and repeat my mantra in my mind.    When my focus shifted away from shareem … shareem … shareem to more interesting thoughts, I’d gently nudge it back until twenty minutes had passed.    The practice definitely relaxed and energized me but I certainly didn’t go very far up the ladder of the Maharishi’s seven levels of consciousness before my practice became sporadic then non-existent.  In 1975, Herbert Benson, M.D., published The Relaxation Response which was prescribed essentially the same technique using the word one (or any soft word – like shareem) as a mantra to induce what he called a wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state.    His Mind-Body Institute promotes the health benefits of the practice much as TM does but without the Eastern religious connections.

Over the years, I continued to meditate on occasion, using it as a relaxation technique, but about fifteen years ago, I incorporated it into what I call my Daily Practice: writing (Morning Pages), reading (short spiritual or uplifting essays), gratitude list, and meditation.   My return to meditation was at least in part motivated by Step 11, which begins Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God. Twelve step literature leaves a lot of latitude as to what constitutes meditation, so I just started with what I knew.  But being the way I am, I had to experiment.    I tried Zen meditation,  a number of guided meditations, and walking meditation.   I meditated to relaxing music, ocean waves and  some interesting CDs of music that promised to improve my brain waves.   I even made my own guided meditations … with music.   If you’ve been here before, it’s probably no surprise that I’ve settled on a mix of techniques for my irregular practice**.    Some might say that’s ego but I’ll call it finding what works for me.

The meditation experience is different every time.   Some days, thoughts continually intrude … it’s more like a quiet time to think with an occasional mantra thrown in.    Other days, I find my chin on my chest and know I’ve fallen asleep.   I just pick up the matra again and continue until my twenty minutes are up.   But almost every time, there is a period when I’m there but not there, aware but not thinking, when sounds around me seem to be inside me.   When my time is up and I slowly open my eyes, there’s a momentary surprise … Oh, I’m here and it’s a sunny day.   There’s no doubt, I’m more relaxed on days I meditate and my light- speed mind slows down enough to focus.  But what about this conscious contact with God stuff?   There’s a widely used saying: Prayer is when you talk to God.    Meditation is when you listen.    I haven’t heard God during my twenty minutes.

In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about her experience of suffering a major stroke in the left side of her brain.   With the side of her brain responsible for rational thinking shut down, she experienced a sense of being at one with the Universe and connected to everything.   Though she’s recovered her rational capabilities, she still strives to experience that right brain bliss … her book offers suggestions on ways to “Step to the Right” in our daily lives.    Meditation is the ONLY time I experience that oneness and connectedness.    Maybe that’s God talking to me.   Maybe God talks to me in ways I can’t hear.   Maybe that connectedness allows me to hear what God has to say during the rest of my waking hours … from other people, for example.    Or maybe it just feels good and I like it.    Whatever the answer, it’s worth doing.

**If you are interested, I’ve posted my meditation technique here as Bud’s Meditation. It can only be accessed from this post because I don’t want to appear to be recommending anything specific and I’d like you to read this post first so you know my point of view.   Please look at it as an example of how you can tailor your meditation to your own needs.

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