These are my notes and reflections after dedicating myself to a daily 20 minute seated meditation for one year. After years of asana practice and many stops and starts, I was finally able to root into a daily discipline. It was not easy.
I came into my seated practice a bit like a reluctant toddler, kicking and stomping my feet. I had thoughts like, “This doesn’t work for me. My brain just doesn’t work this way. Everyone else feels peace and bliss during a meditation but I get all stirred up and agitated.”
Finding a very skilled teacher and learning the practice in a community setting finally allowed me to break through these barriers, the traps of my mind that I believed were true for so long. I learned, with perseverance and a newfound softness, to sit with the feelings of agitation and rigidity and watch them. There are many techniques out there that teach this very basic idea of cultivating an observed mind. The single most important idea that got me through this barrier was to let go of any notion of problem solving. Your meditation practice is not a problem to be solved, but an energy to experience. Also, by reminding myself to sit back into the seat of awareness behind the thoughts, moods, and sensations, I began to connect with something much deeper and more powerful.
Now, whenever I have an agitating experience in a meditation, I physically shift my weight back slightly into my sit bones. I connect my breath into my back body and imagine I am slightly pushing energetically against a wall behind me. I enjoy a few breaths like this, connecting to awareness, and then notice where the tension “lives” in my body. Often for me, it’s the third chakra or solar plexus, associated with anxiety and fear. I center my breath on this focal point and then breathe in-and-out from there, essentially transitioning from form to formlessness, or from thought to awareness. The answers never lie in our thoughts, but in a deeper internal intelligence. There is nothing to “do” in meditation, but allow whatever is stuck or stagnant to transition and move on all on its own. My only job is to connect with being and watch it pass.
This is what has changed for me after one year of a daily practice:
A deeper understanding of the thinking mind. This includes a deeper connection to the role of anxiety—the incessant internal chatter. In shining the light of awareness on the “insane” nature of the thinking mind, I am able to connect more with my true, deeper “sanity”—the well of calm and quiet behind that chatter which is much more accessible after a disciplined practice. Anxiety is certainly not who I am, although it likes to take charge. In observing my mind, I have found less importance in the function of my every day thoughts. I question and dismiss them as just what they are, thoughts. This was never accessible for me until the daily meditation, no matter how much I read or studied.
Less fear. Less time spent investigating my fear or getting caught in the cycle of problem solving. Less time feeding my fear. More time loving what I love and leaving it alone.
Increased surge of creativity. Paying attention to recurring dreams or visualizations and acting on them in a meaningful way, rather than ignoring or dismissing as silly or meaningless. Allowing the unknown to guide me and valuing my natural creative inclinations as part of my gifts.
Pursuing passions and dreams. I stand now in a much deeper belief in myself and listen to what inspires my heart. I have found gratitude for the negative experiences and have let those propel me as much as the positive ones.
Connecting deeply to the love that is ever present and always feeding me after the loss of my grandmother. Accessing a deep place of gratitude, love, and inspiration for my loved ones that are no longer with me, but whose gifts continue to reveal themselves and enrich my life. Their peace often comes to me in the quiet of my meditation practice and if I feel the urge to cry, I cry. I feel more deeply connected and grateful after these experiences.
Better ability to cope with stress, anxiety, illness and even suffering because of this tangible tool that is available to me at any time. I no longer flail and look outside of myself for relief from the difficult things. I close my eyes and take comfort in deep relaxation, and because I practice this every day, I can call upon it anytime to root me back into my calmer essence of being.
I’m saying “so what” more. Rather than getting caught up in a spinning web of negativity, I am able to catch myself and extract what is the important or valuable lesson, throw out the rest, shake it off and move on. It doesn’t matter.
I am teaching more meditative practices in my work as a yoga teacher. I am sharing my passions and tools I have learned to help others take root into their own practices.
Better relationships. Seeing the power of forgiveness. Rather than looking for others to fill deficiencies in me, I feel full. I’m not trying to do anything different, but by being more present in my relationships, there is much less work, more ease.
My mediation practice is adaptive, like a daily prescription. Rather than sticking to one type of practice, I think to myself: What do I need today to align myself with the greater good of the universe? It almost always starts with pranayama, then whatever affirmations/prayers that seem appropriate, followed by a mantra. If there is noticeable tension in an area of my body, I send my awareness there. Sometimes it’s simply following my breath. An easy mantra that comes in often is, “Om Hum So Hum” to balance the masculine and feminine energies, the yin and yang. If I really need to restore, I put headphones on and listen to one of several songs or chants that invoke deep relaxation.
Most importantly, I have cultivated a stronger ability to live out these two vital, universal truths that I allow to guide me and my practices:
1. Stop asking the universe for what it is not offering you.
2. Stop offering what is not being asked.
I’ve never found any one practice, book, teaching, method or technology that is as purposeful and spiritually beneficial as a daily sitting practice. I don’t always want to sit and I certainly don’t always like it. But I do it because it’s now my daily practice. It’s my life path. I do it because I choose to get better acquainted with my mind and, most of all, I do it because the love I am uncovering is so big and so bright that there is no turning back. It has grown its own roots and seems as though it’s not just a part of my life, but my entire life.
If I can stay in the seat of quiet observation and continually forgive myself and draw back into my awareness, I know from a real place of knowing the most important truth: I am held in love. I am love.
Author: Anna Versaci
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Hartwig HKD