Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Hold. Repeat.

It was Jesse's birthday and I brought his class Rice Krispy treats. They're a raucous group of 25 kids, grades Kindergarten, first and second combined. Jesse is the teacher. After we sugared the kids up, Jesse sat them down and asked them to give me their attention. I was about to teach them to meditate.

Here's what I said: I am going to teach you to do something you have known how to do since you were one second old. It's something every baby knows how to do. I am going to teach you to breathe. 

It worked. I had their attention. 

I taught them square breathing. With an index finger I swiped the top line of the square and told them to inhale for 5 seconds, then hold it. I drew the next imaginary line in the air and told them to exhale for 5 seconds, then hold. We drew the bottom line and the last line. When they were done I asked if anyone noticed anything. The kid who waves his hand in the air and says Ooh, ooh, ooh waved his hand at me. I called on him and he said:  I feel calmer.

I'm thinking about this experience now as I prepare to teach lawyers about meditation at a Continuing Legal Education seminar. If the primary school kids could get it, there's a chance the lawyers might too.

Juju Attack

When I wake up with a sniffle, I pop a zinc tablet. When I wake up with a bit of the bad juju, I panic. 

 

I know the juju when it hits me. My heart pounds; a troubling thought translates into more troubling thoughts. A vortex of worry cyclones though me. Brain to heart to belly, brain to heart to belly, brain to heart to belly. 

I'm no guru. I do not blissfully wallow in the place of peaceful transcendence where gurus hang out. My
consciousness has not evolved to the point where anger and confusion hover gently in the distance. The juju infects my consciousness and spreads. The harder I fight, the stronger it takes hold.

Breathing helps. Acceptance helps. It will run its course when it's good and damn ready.

Feminist Karma

A couple of days ago, I attended a rigorous induction to Kriya Yoga. The Kriya Yoga method is based on attention to breath as it relates to the chakras. The day was rigorous, the swamis equanimous, the seekers curious. 

The goal, said the swami, was to never have a single moment of unhappy or sorrowful time. He was patient with me when I asked about the flip side of this equation. If there is never deep sorrow, how would one experience deep joy? To reach a higher consciousness, he explained, is to withstand the most trying of times with a deep inner joy. 

This did not sit well with me. 

I notice all the gurus happen to be people who have never personally experienced the very physical collision of intense joy with intense pain: childbirth. 

The swami said: We don't know that. Perhaps they were women in a past life. 

Maybe I'm too much of a cynic and a feminist to think these men were recognized as being karmically evolved only when their outer life was gendered masculine. Besides, I don't believe much in coincidence. I meditate. I see connections between everything. 

 

meditation sprints

Yesterday, I attended Meditation in the Galleries held the second Saturday of the month at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Most of the meditation training I've encountered is either uncomfortable or overly complicated or both. This time I found an accessible practice taught by an encouraging teacher.  Lizbeth Wolfe demonstrated breathing techniques and focused meditation sprints that lasted one or two minutes. The space is filled with Hindu sculptures referencing creation and grace. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning. 

Crosseyed

The yoga teacher says: With your eyes closed, cross your eyes and gaze at your third eye

 

So cool on so many levels.

Usually when I meditate, I focus on the light between my eyes. The light that once glowed blue for me has lately grown pretty dim. Another technique I use is to imagine a magnet in my chest drawing my thoughts from my head to my heart. 

Crossing closed eyes takes special concentration. I feel the confusion in my little eye muscles as they strain against each other, against what is possible.

Mindful Law

Alan trained me to practice law. Much of the time we discussed the intricacies of statutes and judicial decisions, but often we had long talks about what would really make the client whole. This was not about the law. Spending a tremendous amount of money to sue someone or even defend yourself in a lawsuit rarely makes anyone whole or happy. 

We strategized about how to make the lawyer on the other side look like a hero and the way to craft the story to persuade our adversaries. It was important where we sat at the conference table, when we smiled, who spoke first. I often said to Alan I don't know exactly what it is you do, but it is not practicing law. Now I understand. Alan was practicing law, but he was practicing mindfully.

One of the core classes every law student takes is a class in Conflicts Negotiation. At the time I was enrolled in this class, none of it made sense to me. Then recently, one of my son's friends was telling me about the meditation instruction he received in his conflicts negotiation class at Northwestern University School of Law.

His professor, Leonard Riskin, has written  on the subject of mindfulness and the practice of law. In this article from the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, Professor Riskin writes: I wish to focus on how it can help law students and lawyers address two re- lated problems that many of them face. The first concerns high levels of unhappiness, stress, and depression among lawyers and law stu- dents. The second concerns the tendency of some lawyers to miss op- portunities to provide the most appropriate service to some clients.

As of two years ago, about 40 law schools were offering some kind of meditation instruction. There are at least two centers devoted to mindfulness and the law: University of California Berkeley and University of Miami.

In my world view, meditation relates to everything. Meditation enhances everything. Even lawyers are starting to get it. This is good for the world.

Teaching Nothing

A couple of months ago, I met a man who runs an executive recruitment agency and on the side  occasionally teaches meditation. Since I've recently considered teaching people how to meditate, he was delighted to give me a few pointers which I promptly disregarded.

First of all, you must write yourself a script. If you're going to lead people through a guided meditation, it's very important you know exactly what you're going to say, that you never stumble over a word, that you don't forget to tell them something important.

Nah, that won't work for me.

He looked horrified. 

In order to transport people to another level of consciousness, your delivery must be flawless.

Another level of consciousness? Tall order, buddy. (If there's such a thing as a good pun, this was it.)

After all, he explained, I've found enlightenment three times.  

Whoa. Who'd want that brand of pain? I'm being flip, but if you don't think enlightenment comes with a big price tag, you're being naive. I did not say this out loud. I may not be enlightened, but I am polite.

What makes you think you can teach people to meditate?

 I teach an essay writing class and my students seem to enjoy it. And I've taught  meditation to a few people here and there. They've been pleased, even surprised.

What exactly do you do? 

I explain diaphragmatic breathing. We take some deep breaths, then sit in a comfortable position, backs supported. I ask them to relax all parts of their body-- eyes, ears, mouth, head, neck, belly, arms, legs and then to imagine an empty colorless spaceless space in their chest and draw their thoughts to that void as if there were a magnet. Use a mantra to help the thoughts float away. Most important, I encourage  them to treat themselves as they would a small child. Say: it's okay. You can do it. Try again. 

And here's my idea. I could do a meditation workshop where the participants keep a journal to record their challenges and accomplishments. They'll share with each other. Learning to meditate is simple, but it's important to have support to keep at it.

So.... what types of meditation have you studied? 

None, although I have been meditating for three years and it has profoundly changed my life.

 What do you think qualifies you to teach?

I paused, but not for long.

Meditation is not about competition or achievement. When I meditate, I can get my mind to go blank for a second or two. Then I sit in stillness for a moment with nothing. 

I have never attained a state of enlightenment.  Nothing qualifies me. In fact, I am as anxious and stressed out and nervous as anyone. But I have an ability to remain nonreactive when it counts and I think I may someday find a way to accept the chaos around me in a constructive way. This is optimistic and optimism is something that does not come to me naturally.

So, what qualifies me to teach? Nothing. Exactly nothing.

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Mourning Clouds

 

When I hear the mourning doves coo, I think of Sheryl. Every day she makes a point of looking for one thing that will make her happy. Sometimes she finds more than one thing. The mourning doves are an automatic. A glimpse of her husband sleeping peacefully-- no snoring-- provides delight. A few days ago her little dog did not raise his head to greet her, but wriggled his tail in the cutest way. Joy.

Several years ago, Sheryl's daughter died a careless, horrifying death. Grief does not require much to flourish. Intentionality is never required. When grief swoops down, it obliterates everything. Worse, when unbidden moments of happiness snuck up on Sheryl, it was uncomfortable for her. It felt wrong to be happy when her daughter was dead. Happiness felt like a betrayal. 

But recently, there's been a change. A change as limitless and ubiquitous as the sky. Sheryl looks up. And sometimes she takes photographs. It helps her cope and it helps her to not only accept happiness, but to actively search it out.

Angel in the Morning. Photo by Sheryl Hirsh.

Angel in the Morning. Photo by Sheryl Hirsh.

Her theory is that if everyone took the time for find one thing every day that makes them happy, the world would be a better place. I know she's right. It's called being present.

The mourning doves sing for everyone. Listen.