It's a Matter of Practice

For the past five years, I've sat down just about every day to practice meditation and only recently have I realized exactly what it is I am practicing. 

The revelation came a few months ago when I was about to undergo some outpatient surgery. Deep in the vast cavernous space of the surgery prep area, a nurse with a well-practiced monotone directed me to remove all my clothes, place them in the plastic bag and change into the hospital gown, opening in the back. There was a clue that I was in the subordinate position. Still I followed her orders, hopped up on the gurney, pulled the thin sheet over me and waited to see what the next person would do to me. The next person was a nurse anesthetist with a cool surfer dude personality and even though he put me at ease a little bit, it was really starting to sink in that someone would be cutting something off of me soon. By the time the anesthesiologist came around to approve the silly sauce about to be injected into my veins, I was at full tilt worry and anxiety. She introduced herself and then remarked to me how unusually calm I appeared. What was my secret, she wanted to know. 

That’s when I realized something about my meditation practice. I do sit down daily to practice something, but calling it meditation makes it seem a little loftier than it actually is. Most of the real estate in my brain has been staked out by anxiety and fear, grief and despair, doubt and uncertainty and misgivings. It's not that I'm calm while I'm sitting in stillness, I'm just practicing remaining calm as my emotions toss me around.

So when the nurse pulled the curtain shut behind her and separated us into the very clear categories of patient and healthcare professionals, I felt my anxiety level shoot up and I observed my thoughts race to terrifying conclusions. This was stress and this was appropriate for anyone about to have surgery. I was not feeling calm. In fact, I was extremely anxious. But there was something different about me than the other people hooked up to IVs in the pre-op center whom this doctor was about to anesthetize. I was comfortable with my anxiety. I was comfortable with my anxiety because for the past five years I have practiced remaining calm as emotions roil through my body.

Substitute in any anxiety-producing situation of your own for my stint in the land of outpatient surgery. It might be a client asking you the one question you dread; it might be your co-worker throwing you under the bus. Lots to choose from here. Being on intimate terms with your own anxiety might just shift the way you handle stressful situations.

You can say I meditate, but I say I observe the anxiety while I cultivate the calm. This takes a lot of practice.

Overwhelmment: Days Three Hundred Forty Nine - Three Hundred Fifty One

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr... My favorite time of day to meditate is in the late afternoon. But after two sleepless nights, I fueled up with a giant cup of coffee early this morning, then sat myself down to do what needed to be done. Here's the word that popped into my head: overwhelmment.

As my to-do list swirls around me, everywhere, I duck and weave and it clobbers me. Worry paralyzes and makes it tough to spar. Tasks are left undone and the worry churns harder, bruises me and tosses me around. Breathe, I tell myself. You can do it. Try again. I bring my thoughts from my head to my heart. Try again. Expel the worry, let it disintegrate, evaporate. I forgive myself. My third eye comes into focus and something in me opens.

A clearing and a pop of insight. Just like that. Yesterday, I read an article  my friend, Matt Bell, posted on Facebook and it directly addressed one of the things I'm worrying over. In February, I'll be teaching my first lecture class. The article clarified for me what I need to convey in a lecture.

The core purpose of a great lecturer is not primarily to transmit information. To this end, other techniques, such as assigning a reading in a textbook or distributing an electronic copy of the notes, can be equally effective. The real purpose of a lecture is to show the mind and heart of the lecturer at work, and to engage the minds and hearts of learners. Is the lecturer enthusiastic about the topic? Why? Could I get enthused about this, too? How could I use this to take better care of my patients? Is this the kind of doctor or nurse I aspire to be some day?

Something becomes clear. It's just one thing on my list, but it's an important one. I have the focus for the literature class I will be teaching in February. Fiction as tikkun olam or fiction as a way to repair the world. I believe in fiction. That is a core belief and is my focus and the focus I can bring to a lecture class on the stories of Nathan Englander.

I've still got those worries haunting me, knocking me down again and again, but I've also got a little insight and that makes me happy.

All the things I did not do today: Days Seventy-Seven - Eighty-Two

My third eye (the place of light I can see when my eyes are closed) is usually a soft blue circle with an uneven and unclear border. Today there was no beautiful blue light; there was only murkiness until it finally turned to a gray, shifting shape. For a long time, I haven't remembered Lee's advice to treat myself as a small child, to be patient and kind. I encouraged myself to bring the murky light, that shape that was not pretty, to my heart.

The light works its way to my chest and still I know the things I will not accomplish today will make me sad.

Use the tools: Days Seventy-Three - Seventy-Six

Anxiety, my old friend.  All the things I have no control over, those are the things that worry me most.  The more unproductive the worry, the stronger it wraps around my belly, my throat, my head. Yesterday, I turned off my phone for an hour and met with my teacher and friend, Lee.  I listed my worries, health and emotional concerns for family members.  Even though I know my worries are reasonable (I don't look for drama), I am disappointed in myself.  Shouldn't the meditation have diminished all that misdirected anger and free floating anxiety?  Really?

"Let's use the tools," Lee said and we meditated together.   I went in very deep.  Dreamlike thoughts floated by, nonsensical things I can't remember now.  The blur is appealing.   The ephemeral lovely.