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I once imagined meditation to be glamorous.
In my mind’s eye, I’d see myself sitting serenely in a full lotus, perched on a velvet cushion in front of an ornate altar.
Candles would be flickering, incense perfuming the air, my fingers poised in some intricate mudra or another. There’d be monks chanting in the background, and my mind would be a quiet blue sky, no thought daring to dispel this image of meditation perfection.
The reality, I’m afraid, is more like Bridget Jones—all clumsy and far from perfect.
First of all, there’s no way my 53-year-old hips would ever succumb to a full lotus, and if they did, I’d probably never rise off the said cushion. I un-glamorously sit on a kitchen chair, with an old cushion behind my back to stave off the ache that inevitably shows up like a crotchety old aunt. There is a yoga block under my feet, because my legs are too short to touch the ground.
The smell of incense gives me a headache, and the flickering of candles would probably bring on a seizure. The chanting monks were tossed out since they interrupt the silence—and the mudras…well, my hands usually rest on a stuffed heart pillow from IKEA, its long arms wrapped around my waist, like a lover’s.
When I first started meditating in silence, finally having to let go of my beloved guided meditations on Insight Timer, my internal monologue went something like this:
“Ahhhmmm…listen to silence. Riiight. What the hell does that mean? Silence is, well…silent—so what is it that I am supposed to be listening for/to exactly? And the air that I’m supposed to be feeling on the inside of my nostrils…how hard am I supposed to be inhaling?”
I went around and around like this for a couple of weeks, sitting in meditation for 20 minutes, half an hour, 35 minutes. And then one magical morning, I decided to dare all and set my timer for one hour.
“It’s sh*t or get off the pot,” I said to my inner doubter. “The rubber hits the road right here, with my ass in this chair.”
I touched the start button on my phone and dove in.
I sat there. The furnace clicked on and off. I sat there.
The guy two doors down hacked his way through his first pot bong of the day. I sat there.
The magpies screeched outside my bedroom window. I sat there.
My back ached. I sat there.
My thoughts ricocheted inside my skull. I sat there…
Breathing, listening to the infamous silence that is anything but silent. And then, a pain the size of a fist began to bloom beneath my right rib cage—an insistent little bugger—pushing its way up my chest, stealing my breath, squeezing my throat, extracting sobs from some dark tomb inside my body.
I sat there with the fuzzy arms of my IKEA heart wrapped around my waist and birthed this fist-sized pain baby through my throat, bled him out through my tears, squeezed every bit of him out, and then…nothing. I didn’t die. I was still there. The silence was still there. The world outside the four walls was still there. My heart (the one in my chest) continued to beat.
This may not be a revelation to some, but that first one-hour meditation blew my glossy magazine image of meditation into smithereens. I mean, there was shrapnel everywhere!
Meditation is teaching me that pain lives in different parts of my body. I’ve learned to notice it, sit with it, allow it to surface, and not judge it. Sometimes, it comes with images from the past; other times, it’s a flush that overtakes my entire body for a minute or two and then is gone.
As I sit with silence, day after day, I am learning that there is much more to meditation than hopes of enlightenment. It is a gateway to truth that I have held in my body for decades and have not had access to. Meditation peels off layers of programming and outdated beliefs that no longer serve me.
It is not a quick fix. It requires time, discipline, dedication. It requires that I put myself first. It requires courage to return day after day, even if it means that I will feel pain. It requires me to trust in something unknown and yet deeply familiar that is felt in the marrow of my body.
As I persist with my one-hour sits, I am also realizing that there is no way to mess up meditation because “MESSING UP” simply means:
I’ve learnt that the Universe has an open-door policy. All I have to do is show up, in all my Bridget Jones imperfection.
The silence will sit there with me hour after hour, never judging, never having anything more important to do, never insisting I stop that blubbering and buck up. She holds space for me in a way no living being ever has.
If you haven’t attempted silent or longer meditations, I invite you to call upon your inner Bridget Jones.
Let it be messy and clumsy. Let yourself get frustrated.
Challenge yourself to sit with whatever crazy arises, and let the Universe love you back into wholeness.
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