Friday, October 4, 2013

just breathe.

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with meditation. I was in fourth grade. My class was brought down to the makeshift room behind the cafeteria where we had music class. Our music teacher, who taught us about a different kind of music each week, put in a new CD by David Sun called Enchanted Forest and encouraged us to close our eyes, breathe deeply and relax.

Everyone else in the class seemed to be looking around embarrassed or rolling their eyes at the absurd suggestion, but I was in to it. I remember closing my eyes, letting the music carry me away and feeling light, feeling free, feeling my breath take me away. What a nine-year-old has to escape, I have no idea, but I was sold. So much so that I went back after school to ask the music teacher to write down the artist's information for me and as soon as I got home that afternoon I told my parents that the only thing I really wanted for my tenth birthday was that CD. I used to sit cross-legged on my bed, listening to the two songs on repeat for hours. While I no longer have a functioning CD player, I still have that CD in my basement. It has been played too many times to count.

Fast forward to sixth grade. My Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Kramer, decided to experiment with a unit on imagination. The very first day she had us all lay down on the carpeted floor in our classroom, close our eyes, and follow her through a guided meditation. I don't remember what was said, but I will forever remember the disbelief as I felt my body slowly sink down into the carpet, into the floor beneath the carpet, into the earth beneath the floor, inch by inch by inch until I was sure I was at least a foot underground.

Meditation was a powerful tool for me back then. I could use it to uplift me or to ground me as needed because I believed it could. As the years progressed and I became more and more jaded, I started losing faith in the ability of meditation to help me face whatever life threw at me. The idea that sitting and breathing could solve "real" adult problems seemed devastatingly naive and so I rolled my eyes at the absurdity like my fourth-grade classmates had rolled their eyes at me.

Yet I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that the child in me had been on to something. I longed for the peace I had found in quiet moments alone on my bed and my attempts to replicate that tranquility through other means proved fruitless.

It was my freshman year of college that I rediscovered that peace, in a small stuffy room off of the counseling center in a weekly meditation class led by a small man with kind eyes and a voice of honey. I left the building that evening drunk with sensation, feeling completely alive for what seemed to be the first time.

It helped me through countless dark hours as the years progressed. The moments I needed it most seemed to directly correlate with the moments I most resisted it.

Which brings us to the now, (which is all there really is, isn't it? - this present moment?) where I need it more than ever. If ever I needed a way to stay grounded, to feel uplifted, to remain calm, to escape, it is now, caught in the challenging throes of new parenthood.

I need meditation now more than I ever have in my life. So I signed up for a study on mindful meditation and am taking a ten-week course. I am only two weeks in and already I am falling in love all over again.

What I have found is that the child in me had been on to something. Rediscovering the power of meditation has shown me that while, yes, sitting mindfully can still uplift or ground me for a fleeting moment or two if I believe it will, it will not magically and instantaneously solve my problems. If sitting cross-legged on my bed as a nine-year-old and listening to downtempo instrumentals made me feel high on life it's because I was - I was a child after all with not enough experience to drag me down. Yet the power of meditation lies not in uplifting and euphoric moments as it's made out to, but instead in the practice of staying present and simply staying, even and especially in the most difficult moments. Its power is not found in the moments I am meditating, but instead in the moments I am not.

Every time I struggle to sit still and focus and then give in and just stay with my breath during meditation, I am empowered to give in and just stay during other seemingly impossible moments of my life. After the emotional pain of a traumatic birth, the struggle of the possibility of having a child with disabilities, the impossibility of caring for newborn twins and maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse, the unbelievable physical strain of not sleeping or eating well for nine months, not to mention the crazy postpartum hormonal ride, I have never not wanted to sit and feel the stress and full weight of the crosses I have to bare more. But instead of my survival tactics as of a few weeks ago, mainly drinking a few beers or glasses (bottles) of wine and eating a banana nut muffin (or a few loaves), I am just sitting, breathing and staying with it all. It's bleeping hard and it hurts and most of the time I absolutely hate it.

But just like the meditation, I know if I sit and breathe and just stay through the discomfort, eventually I'll get through it. And who knows, once I'm done processing this crazy mental trainwreck, maybe, just maybe, someday I'll feel the spiritual nirvana of my enlightened heyday back in fourth grade.

Until then, I'll be sitting here, staying, just breathing.

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