Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Writer's Spirit: Building a meditation habit

It’s Lent, and I’m not Catholic; nor do I currently belong to a Protestant congregation that distributes ashes or fasts for the occasion, or even follows a liturgical calendar. But I’m up for any occasion for self-study, and when Lent rolls around, I try to find my own way to connect with the Divine.

I’m not one to deprive myself of anything I enjoy. As someone without a full-time job and benefits, privation for me is daily—and unremarkable. I’ve learned as much from it as I’d like to. There’s no need to cut out that daily cup of coffee when you drink Folger’s at home. 

When Lent rolls around, I’m more likely to adopt a habit for a period of time, and I try to make it one that I’d like to sustain for a lifetime. Sometimes these habits actually do stick; forty days or so is a sufficient period of time to begin a new approach to life.

My current Lenten practice is daily meditation—a longtime goal of mine. It sounds easy enough to make time each day for silence and breathwork, but the reality is that I put it off and lose the day’s opportunity.

It’s also very difficult to get alone time in a house with kids. A four-year-old sees a person sitting on the floor, and that just means one thing: play. The other day I was sitting, my hands on my knees in gyan mudra—that is, raised, my thumb and forefinger touching, my other fingers straight—when a cascade of Legos rained down on my palm.

My son likes making buses. This is what he calls anything with wheels, and these are such unlikely structures—elaborate staircases or towers or cages driven by leprechauns and superheroes, with minifigures lined up inside, eager for school.

I recently shared a social media post where I expressed regret about my difficulties with a meditation practice. In it, I mentioned that I was relying on guided meditations—and falling asleep halfway through.

My friends were so supportive. Several commented that guided meditations are perfectly good, and that I shouldn’t beat myself up for sleeping, and that following the lead of my body just made sense.

But I have a goal for meditation. I’d like to get in touch with myself. I want to be still and quiet with myself. For me, most days happen with the television on in the background; there’s a hockey game in front of me right this minute. (Go, Blackhawks.) A guided meditation can be a route to mindfulness, but to me it’s an extension of my usual state of passivity. There is something in me that is reluctant to accept an invitation into the silence. My relationship to my inner self is best described as wary detente.

This uneasiness with self infects my poetry, too. It’s why I most frequently write small poems that feature contained ideas. Longer poems are longer meditations, in reality—they’re just meditations that happen on the page. I don’t find poetry particularly fun to write, and even a small one takes a lot out of me.

So it would be good to build a habit of contemplation this season—good for my spirit and good for my writing. But some days the best I can do is accept what falls into my hand—to take those blocks and build a vehicle, something weird and fanciful that can carry me and my son to some other place, right here on the floor, together.

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