Monday, January 24, 2011

Step 1 of Interspiritual Meditation: Motivation

Yesterday's birdsong left me with a bit of wanderlust, so I took myself off on a photography day (yay!  I'll have some new images to share with you!).  This handsome fellow was watching from the top of a telephone pole as I drove out; an auspicious beginning to what turned out to be a lovely day.

So why is he here, on this page, now?  I think because he's a good symbol for the importance of discipline.  And if the topic of my reading today in  Interspiritual Meditation is Motivation, then I really have to think about meditation as a discipline. 

Which is a bit odd -- because I've been meditating for so many years now I've almost forgotten that it's a kind of discipline, and that it therefore requires some sort of motivation to keep you going.  It's been so long since I had to think about that... So what IS my motivation for meditation?  What is it that keeps me going, morning after morning?

I suspect that the first answer at this point in my life is Habit: I've been doing this for so long it feels like something's missing when I skip it.  But for someone who's just beginning that answer isn't going to work.  So let's see if I can come up with a list of the reasons that propelled me into this habit.

1.  A longing for centeredness

Life had been pretty bumpy and I'd been feeling frazzled for quite a while when I discovered Centering Prayer.  I had, over the years since my 20's, tried several different kinds of meditation, but none of them had ever really stuck.  Centering Prayer seemed like a good thing to try, because I wanted to feel -- well, more centered.  I wanted to believe I was operating out of a core sense of self, but wasn't even sure what that was any more.  Centering Prayer, for whatever reason, seemed to work for me: which must mean I HAD a center...

2.  A longing for connection

We had just moved again -- our fourth move in five years -- and though I'd made friends along the way I was feeling disconnected, from friends, from community, from my self, my body, my husband and from God.  I hoped Centering Prayer would somehow help me rebuild those connections.

3.  A longing for health

I'd just come off a five year battle with a variety of immune deficiency symptoms, triggered by an allergic reaction to sulfa drugs and an overdose of cortisone, and I was weak; felt at the mercy of my body and its whims.  I'd read enough about the effects of meditation to hope it would help restore my equilibrium.

4.  A longing for peace

I knew enough about Buddhist theology and the workings of my own brain to understand that a lot of the suffering I was feeling was something I was creating for myself.  I felt I needed a break from my mind's constant struggling, scenario-creating, rehearsing, remembering, and projecting.  It was all creating this pervasive sense of anxiety that seemed way out of proportion to my circumstances, and I just wanted to restore some sense of peace, if only for a few minutes a day.

5.  A need for success

I still hadn't recovered from the loss of my "important" job; still hadn't quite figured out where my self-esteem could come from now that I had nothing concrete I could point to, wasn't earning any money, wasn't (at that point in my life, anyway) particularly successful as either wife or mother.  I needed to set a goal for myself and stick to it, if only to prove I could.

6.  A longing just to be a better person

I just didn't like myself very much: I was relentlessly self-absorbed, whiny and irritable; I was not particularly generous or compassionate, quick to anger and slow to forgive.  I (perhaps foolishly!) thought meditation might make a dent in some of that.

Okay.  So it took a couple of years before it became a daily habit -- I'd go off to a Centering Prayer retreat, and come home all fired up, be steady at the practice for several months, and then just... lose it.  It was only after my third retreat that I was finally able to make the practice stick, which means I've now been at this for seven years -- not all that long, when you think about it.  Not long enough for someone like me (I'm a bit of a control freak) to have had much in the way of mystical experiences (though I did have one moment early on when a sort of female divine presence appeared and helped me feel, briefly, total acceptance.  That was pretty amazing.)

But yes: I feel lots more centered, though I know from experience that disappears pretty quickly if I miss a day.  I definitely feel more connected: it only takes a breath now to stop and feel the presence of the Divine, inside and out, though that breath has to be conscious.  I don't know how much more connected I am into community, but certainly I'm better connected with myself, my husband, my body, my kids -- and my friend connections tend to run pretty deep.

I'm probably healthier than I've ever been, but that could be due to the passage of time, lost weight, better eating habits, and better exercise habits.  On the other hand -- I was able to do those things precisely because meditating taught me I do actually have a capacity for self-discipline.  So in that sense I guess I got a sense of success which enabled me to be successful in other areas.

Peace?  Well, peace is still a bit intermittent.  But it's there, always there: again, I just have to be conscious about it.  I still struggle with fear and anxiety, out of proportion to the events that trigger those feelings -- I suspect, to some extent, that it's genetic, though it might also be a side-effect of aging.  But if I make the conscious effort I can pretty much calm myself down most of the time. 

Am I a better person?  I think so... I'm still far from perfect, but I'm a little wiser, a little more thoughtful, a little more generous, a little more compassionate... And some of where that comes from is self-respect.  Meditation -- and the conviction that it was good for me -- has taught me to declare limits, boundaries, to say no, to claim my rights, if only to that one uninterrupted 20-minute period of the day.  And, having learned to say/do that in one place, well -- the lesson carries over into other parts of my life.  Which is a good thing -- because if I have learned to take care of my own needs, then I don't expect others to take care of them for me: which frees me to be less self-absorbed and demanding and more caring and compassionate.

And perhaps most importantly -- though I didn't understand this when I began -- watching the workings of my own mind, getting to know the ugly parts and the anxious parts and the shadow bits (all of which are pretty hard to avoid when you pay such close attention on a daily basis) and then feeling the divine love in spite of all that has taught me to be more loving and compassionate with my own foibles -- which, in turn, makes me far more loving and compassionate about the foibles of others.  There's pretty much nothing that others do that's wrong or irritating or stupid or just plain evil that I haven't already encountered in myself.  And I can no longer really justify self-righteousness (which doesn't mean I don't still feel it from time to time; I just know the symptoms and understand it's mostly projection).  So I'm considerably more sympathetic with other people's "stuff."  Still not all that tolerant at times, but at least more understanding.  Again -- it's mostly a matter of being conscious.

So.  There you have it.  The pleasures and perils of meditation; motivation and results -- at least for the short term.  Am I hooked?  Yeah, I guess you could say that.  Has it been worth the effort?  Yes.  Would I recommend it to others?  (This is starting to sound like a Zappos questionnaire) Yes.  Go for it.  It just -- helps get you unstuck.


Maureen said...

You are one of the most self-aware people I know, and I admire your attention to understanding and tending yourself with care.

Diane Walker said...

Thanks, Maureen; kind thoughts much appreciated...

Louise Gallagher said...

I agree with Maureen -- which is what makes me keep coming back here. I find myself centering on your words and the images and ideas and thoughts you share -- and i feel ... better.

Like you, meditation is an integral part of my day. I started it because I was curious. And I keep at it because... I'm curious.


Thanks for sharing your journey.