Sunday, February 20, 2011

Meditation “Challenge”—They’re Not Kidding

I’m watching a DVR’d episode of Dr. Oz (I’ve become addicted—subject for another post!) and Deepak Chopra is his guest.  Chopra leads Oz and the audience in studio and at home in a short meditation to demonstrate the stilling and relaxing power of the practice.  Now, I’ve tried meditation over the years (Radical Acceptance with Tara Brach, Insight Meditation with Sharon Salzberg, private lessons with a guy who was trying to impress me in college) and it’s never “taken.”  I’ve definitely felt the meditative quality of things like my water yoga, and simply stopping and remembering to breathe in the middle of my day, in the middle of a stressful event.  Yet neither group meditation practice nor meditation CDs have done it for me.  But for these 5 minutes on a TV show of all things, I listen and I breathe and I go to a deeper place.

Then just a couple of weeks later I read a friend’s blog talking about how wonderful she felt after completing the Chopra Center 21 Day Meditation Challenge.  Obviously the universe is sending me a message.  Time to start a meditation practice! I go to the Chopra Center website and sign up for emails that will soon start coming to my inbox, with daily guided meditations. 

Day 1—the challenge starts without me as I am on a much-deserved, all too brief vacation and have disconnected from the Internet.

Day 2-7 I can’t start, I realize, because the speakers on my desktop computer haven’t worked since one of last year’s Snowmaggedon power outages. 

Day 8—after trying everything for a DIY fix to my speakers, I call Fuji (manufacturer of the monitor they’re built into).  Am told if speakers aren’t working it’s not worth trying to repair them—I should go buy some external speakers.  Now they tell me!

Day 9—my Day 1.  No time to go shopping for speakers.  I do the challenge after work, on my laptop downstairs.  Feel very virtuous.

Their Day 10, my Day 2. Topic: “The Centering Power of the Breath.”  I fall asleep during the meditation in my recliner.

Their Day 11, my Day 3.  I go get speakers at Target.  Cheap—why did I wait so long to take care of this problem?

My Day 5.  I am not connecting with the different person guiding today’s meditation, even though I’m told he’s called “the Boston Buddha,” which normally would warm me to him.

Two days in a row my days were so busy that I didn’t get to do the meditations till after work, but before going downstairs to crash for the evening.  It’s dark out.  I’m burned out. I am hungry.  I am a disgrace to the program.  I am so antsy I fast forward through the guided meditation.  Pretty sure this is not what they had in mind.

Think I might do better on my own just sitting in my chair doing a five-minute meditation, and build up the time as best I can, rather than be a slave to the computer, to my inbox and the messages from Chopra Center telling me what meditation is and isn’t.  I appreciate that some people need this.  For me I think it’s an obstacle.  I’ve never been a groupie for meditation.  It’s like the biggest, very popular meditation community in our area, meeting weekly in a local church.  For me that would involve driving at least 20 minutes (on a good day, if rush hour is over), then taking 20 minutes to find remote parking and trek from it to the church, and by then in a horrible mood go join 300 other people and all the stuff they bring to sit together.  I just never got it.

The Day 21 message comes into my email urging participants to celebrate.  I scroll back to Day 8, which is where I am.  I want to get this over with.  Not a good attitude, I know.  But tonight I wait a little longer, because it’s close to 6 p.m., and, wait for it, there’s the glorious sunset behind the trees across the lake, wide swatches of pink and blue defining the bare branches where the tree line thins.  This is what I really need to meditate to, with eyes wide open. 

The pink is heading south and the blue is fading to gray then black and now I feel the letdown that comes as the day fades into night.  There’s so little daylight this winter I hate to close my eyes for 10-15 minutes of it.  But if I wait till night time in the dark to meditate, it makes me sleepy or just feels too late.  Ironically, the title of today’s Challenge for me is “Create a Morning Meditation Ritual.”  This depressing winter, just getting up is enough of a morning ritual challenge!    

Today’s meditation starts off indeed with a challenge—telling us that the reason most people stop meditating is that they “don’t have enough time.”  Er, guilty!  Then the guide mentions that we might be thinking of taxes and damn, now I’m thinking of my taxes, papers for which are strewn across my dining room table!   Why? Why remind me of taxes when I’m trying to settle into a quiet, spiritual place?  I have my own inner voices, I don’t need them planting noise there just as I’m trying to get rid of it.

Now that the challenge has formally ended (for everyone else--though I still have 13 more days to go), emails continue to pour into my inbox from the Chopra Center.  A new radio program I can listen to, a meditation CD I can buy, a retreat I can attend.  Support, or commercialism? Probably equal parts of each.

Still, I’ll probably try, in my lackadaisical way, to finish all 21 days.  After all, they promise to help me variously find out who I am, see what I want, discover my purpose, open my chakras, and achieve effortless flow.  Who can possibly resist that?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shifting Focus to the Positive

The words below are an important reminder about the power of intention, about being careful what we focus on, and about lightening up on ourselves. They're excerpted from Ann Dunnewold's wonderful blog "Who Says?!!" at anndunnewold.com. (See her Feb. 1 post "Groundhog Day Begone" to read in its entirety.)  Offered in the context of all those New Year's resolutions we made and are impatient to achieve, these thoughts hold true for each day and year of our lives. 

"[C]hange is easy, change is hard. Which is it? Whichever we adopt is powerful in steering our lives.


It’s both–and mostly depends on focus. If we look for big picture, total life revolution, we’re likely to be disappointed. Sometimes, massive steps are essential: if you’re arrested for DWI, it’s time to never again get behind the wheel after having a drink.

Shifting focus clarifies small revolutions. If you expected your January efforts to completely transform you, you’re probably disappointed. One mom described planting flower seeds in a pot with her son. An hour later, the boy was sitting on a stool by the pot, staring at the dirt. “Watching for my flowers to appear,” he explained. We laugh at his innocence. But are we applying the same unrealistic standards to ourselves? Scolding ourselves for not keeping our resolve 110%? Giving up because the pace is too slow, and we’ll never arrive?

In the words of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson’s character in Star Wars: Episode I), “your focus determines your reality.” Rick Hanson (only a psychologist–not a Jedi master) said this isfact. When we focus on what we don’t accomplish, and how we feel badly, the brain connections for those feelings are strengthened, reinforcing the endless loop. If we can take in how each cookie resisted, each yoga practice, each deep breath is part of action on the path to change, the brain reinforces positive instead, keeping us out of the Groundhog Day rut."