Take 5 Tuesday: Is Structure a Saving Grace?

I’ve been on both sides of the discipline debate when it comes to meditation. I started off with demanding teachers who insisted on daily practice of at least one hour, preferably, at the same time and place, and on a certain kind of cushion. Being much younger and physically more flexible, this worked. After all, I wasn’t particularly disciplined in other areas, this could only be good for me.

But over time, I began to see that despite all the techniques and rules I had mastered, I wasn’t leading a significantly more disciplined or orderly life. So I eased up a bit, and began to go for the joy, not the pain. If I didn’t really enjoy meditation, what was the point? I shifted from my hold on discipline to a grasp at grace. I began to experience freedom in a little bit of structure. Where, when and for how long were the variables in my practice, but just committing to meditating every day gave me enough structure, and positive reinforcement, to keep going.

And that’s when I noticed a shift. My days got better. The same things still  annoyed me, but I had created a context of watchfulness. I could watch that annoying situation without allowing it to hijack or ruin my day. I was grateful for those early teachers and solid structures. Create your structure and grace will pour in. Contain your self and see for yourself:

1. Clear a space for a comfortable meditation. Close your eyes. Breathe in fully through the nose, and breathe out a beat or two longer through the nose or mouth. Repeat for several rounds.

2. Experience your “inner self” being held in a precious container. You may first have to filter out the “mud” that clogs this container before filling it with the pure essence of your being. Or, visualize this container holding the bigness of your spirit, clarity of your mind, and vibrancy of your body. 

3. After meditation, remind yourself to keep the container. A container for grace has a long “self” life. 

Free Write: Brew or Brood

I was late with this post on Friday because my power plug croaked and I didn’t even know it. By the time I figured out that my Mac hadn’t died, I lost a day’s work. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t the end of the world. It gave me time to brew, that is, think, off line. I realized a few things about writing. One being that I write because I can’t not write. Is this true for you too?

There is an upside to not rushing to write.  We have the choice to brew, letting ideas steep before churning them into paragraphs or pages. We just have to take care that brew doesn’t turn into brood, staring blankly at the page or screen, obsessing about our failings as a writer and person, allowing self-loathing to set in and poison our pen.  Take a brew break:

  1. Have pen and paper nearby. Settle into a comfortable posture, allowing the breath to come and go deeply.
  2. When a kind of spacious stillness starts to edge out the thinking mind, pose a question about an issue in your life or writing. Hold the question with an intention for clarity, which is more helpful than waiting for an answer. 
  3. Before opening your eyes, resolve to take some action, whether it’s writing a list or that paragraph. Then, take your pen and write. 

Take 5 Tuesday: Pause. Rest. Stop.

Sometimes 5 minutes is all it takes to refresh and recharge. Sometimes it takes a lot more. Today I decided to take a sick day. It’s hard to declare a sick day when you work for yourself, as I do. No one quite believes that writers are home (or in some cafe) working, sick or well. I’ve had a lingering, wheezy cough and cold, the kind that comes from seasonal change or too much stress. So, in addition to doing all the right conventional and holistic treatments, I’m adding some healing meditations. They’re like the usual meditations, only with an intention to heal, in this case, a lousy cold. Whether you are under the weather, or at the top of your form, the RX for healing meditation is simple:

1. Put your to do list and activities on PAUSE. Do only what is essential. Maybe you have to heat up some soup or make two, not 20, phone calls. Emails and that intense project can wait. Or stagger them.  

2. Commit yourself to a day of REST, like a weekday Sabbath. Add doses of frequent meditation, naps, or floating in an aromatherapy bath.

3. STOP feeling guilty about slacking off. Don’t think too much. “Be” more, think less.

And try this healing meditation between pauses:

Close your eyes and connect to your breathing. Be aware how it may feel different depending on whatever pain or discomfort or “different sensation” you are experiencing.  Locate in your body that area of discomfort. Surround it with a thick, golden honey-like light. If you are too cold, feel its radiant warmth. If you are too warm, feel it like cool water. Water and energy are mutable, and so is pain. Wait without striving for a shift of sensation. 

Ask yourself, what does this feeling (or physical sensation) have to tell me now? Perhaps the message will simply be to pause, rest, and stop. Enjoy the “time off.”