When we’re young, the phrase “middle age” usually refers to our parents, and contains a sort of a built in, abstract quality of something vague, distasteful, way out there in the distance. Lo and behold, college, a partner, a kid or two or more, and voila, here YOU ARE. Welcome to your life. The speed of time has suddenly, become, perhaps, the most true cliche of all.
In late 2015 I had come to a cross roads of sorts; I had re-committed to increased fitness, but emotionally, was being challenged by the decline and care of elderly parents, the dissolution and re-calibration of cherished friendships, and the oncoming reality of an only child leaving home for college. While I had dabbled in meditation over the years, I felt I needed to find something–a quiet place to consider, and come to grips with, the existential challenge of approaching middle age and the continuing quest for meaning and peace.
Witnessing change is the process of letting go…a loosening of the grip between thoughts and feelings. Creating space in the mind where patterns of thought can unwind and therefore, develop a sense of calm, a natural place of acceptance
Meditation… really?! What is meditation? A practice, process, and path of inner directed awareness, based upon the rhythm of the breath. Sounds simple, no? But what kind of awareness? An awareness that reveals your character as loving, kind, and compassionate (Done! I’m in). Yes… simple, but challenging. For it is not so simple to turn off the voices in our heads, the ‘movie screen’ of our minds–what we “should” be doing. But maybe, Buddha was on to something. Maybe meditation can become a ‘mental tool’ to face the increasing dissonance and distraction of daily living in the 21st Century? Essentially, its quite straight forward. Let’s try it. Really. (this could change your life!!) We’ll do it together. Take, say, 3 minutes. Get comfortable, sit quietly, set your timer. Ok. …close your eyes. Focus on the rising and falling of your breath, feel the motion…relax. If you get distracted, return to the breath, and count each one until you reach 10. Start again…
What happened? Were you bored? Wondering what’s supposed to happen? Distracted? Peaceful?? A bit of all of this? The point is, we come to meditation as a means of self-discovery, learning to be present, open hearted, and awake to ourselves and experience. We all face obstacles, daily. But it is how we choose to think about these challenges that our state of mind is revealed. Buddhism asks what is the intention behind our actions, and is the effect positive, or negative, to us, and to those around us. Buddha says that if we are kind to ourselves, we are in turn positive to others and the world around we inhabit. But the state of the world is “Samsara”, or suffering, fueled by our hopes, fears, and expectations. How to deal?
Meditation is surprisingly straight forward. It’s our expectations and preconceptions of it that make it complicated
I discovered Headspace amongst a bevy of choices online. Created by Andy Puddicombe, I was intrigued by the phrase “your gym membership for the mind.” Puddicombe left college and traveled to India and the far east for 10 years, eventually becoming a ordained, Buddhist monk. Upon returning to London, he completed a degree in Circus Arts (!), and later, started up Headspace. I use the app on my phone. The first 10 sessions are free, and Andy guides you through each 10 minute session. If you complete the ‘Foundation’ segment, you then choose from an array of subjects you might want to meditate upon, e.g., the ‘Relationships’ pack offers individual sessions centering on patience, kindness, generosity etc,. as well as relationships. Andy’s smooth and thoughtful guidance is never overbearing or too “precious.” In fact, his wisdom and thoughts are quite enlightening and easy to follow, never too ‘talky’.
As of this writing, I have made 285 days in a row, 442 days total, 119 hours, with an average session lasting 16 mins. To be honest, it feels like a nice little rock, found on the beach, available to appreciate and consider. But, what have I gained from all of this? Here goes…
- An increased patience for challenges, and increased appreciation for how lucky I am to have a great family, and an eclectic, evolving group of friends
- A place–inside my frequently confused brain–where I can go and “be” … peaceful and quiet, just listening to the silence, and watching the thoughts and feelings pass by… I trust myself
- A goal: To be the best “me” possible, humble and giving, creative, light, and loving
- The most surprising result: the 99% dissolution of the impulse to drink or puff (!). While I was always pretty moderate–mostly!–with inebriates, I find now that they are more of an impediment than anything else. Who woulda thunk? I still love you Dionysus—to watch!!!
Look at that man up there smiling. That’s artist and composer John Cage –one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century. Cage practiced meditation his entire adult life. That’s just how I want to be: an old man, grinning from ear to ear, at peace, and enjoying every single breath.
(notes in this essay inspired by The Buddha Walks Into A Bar by Lodro Rinzler–a terrific book and read; and Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson)