About Meditation

Buddhism 150I found a really great site for trying to track new healthy habits or break bad ones, and after a short break I’ve rejoined the community there. I’m not sure if you guys have heard of Health Month or not, but it’s a pretty fun way to get into track what it is you’re trying to do (or not to do, as the case may be). At the beginning of the month you set a list of goals — for free, you can list up to three but any more after that requires a payment of around $5 per month. You get 10 “life points” for the month, and every time you miss your goal you lose one. At the end of the month, if you have at least one life point left, you win the game! Then you get to do the awesome thing you set for yourself at the beginning of the month. If you end up with no life points at the end of the month, you do the thing you said you would do at the beginning of the month.

It’s essentially gamification of habit-building/breaking. There’s also a strong social aspect that I really enjoy. You can join a group of people who are playing the game based on common interests — I’m currently in the Book Lovers’ Group — and you offer encouragement and sympathy for folks as they move through the month. If they’re out of life points, you can heal them with fruit you earn along the way by keeping up with your goals. I like the supportive aspect, combined with the public accountability. If you fail for whatever reason, you can go back and look at what caused you to slip up, then plan around it for the next month. And so on.

Before this becomes any more of a commercial for Health Month (which is a great thing that you should try) I should get to the point I was trying to make. For my first month back to Health Month, I wanted to take the time to get back to the three things that I really want to make room for more in my life about anything else — meditation, writing and running. I thought I’d take a little time to explain in a few paragraphs what each one means to me. And we’ll start with the one thing that I’m trying to get into the habit of doing every day: meditation.

Besides fluoxetine, the thing that’s helped me most with managing my depression is a regular meditation practice. It’s a little difficult to explain exactly how it works so well, but the effects are pretty clear to me. When I meditate regularly, my focus is better, I have a larger reservoir of patience, and I’m a lot more difficult to rattle. It’s a lot easier to take things in stride. When I’m depressed, small things become indicators of really huge things that are overwhelming to think about. A request from a coworker to do something they could have done easily expands to become a chronic disrespect of my finite time to get things done, that sort of thing. With medication and meditation, it’s easier to simply take that as it comes and find a graceful way to deal with the situation. Given its effects, I should absolutely consider it as necessary as taking my pill every day.

And yet it isn’t. Like most things that are good for us, it’s easy to find reasons not to do it when I don’t feel like it. I don’t have time, or I’d rather spend those fifteen minutes sleeping, or I just don’t have the willpower to make myself. It’s difficult at the time I choose not to do it to remember that meditation is actually an enormous help to me, and it will make everything that comes through the rest of the day so much easier to deal with.

That’s the reason for my re-focusing. I’d like to make sure that I’m doing everything I need to do so I’m enabled to do the things I want to do. Meditation is a practice that forms the foundation of my productivity, and it should be given its proper importance.

Since I’m practicing Zen Buddhism, my meditation is, well, what I know of zazen. I sit upon a seiza bench and focus on my breathing for 15 minutes. I haven’t progressed to the point where I’m able to simply focus on thoughts and sensations as they arise, so I count to ten. Inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two. And so on. When I notice that I’ve stopped counting I address whatever else I had been thinking about, set the thought down, and return to the breath.

On good days, there’s eventually the feeling of a fog lifting from my brain. Thoughts become clearer, observances are sharper, I become aware of the energy that runs through me for lack of a better term. Other times, especially when I’m tired, I’ll feel disconnected from my body, like I’m actually observing things from a point above my head. The ground feels farther away, and I can feel my chest expanding and contracting with my breath. Sometimes both of these things happen in one session. I’m not sure if this is a common experience — the vague feeling that I’m floating out of my body — but it is mine.

Of course, meditation is only a means to an end, and I try to remember to bring the same focus and attention to the present through the rest of my day. I find it’s quite helpful to view meditation as “practice”, in more ways than one. It’s something that you work on, day after day, with the intention of getting more familiar with it. It’s also something you do that prepares you for more complicated situations. Practicing paying attention to the things that arise, learning that I don’t have to act on moods or sensations in order to address them, helps me with my temper, or the impulse to avoid working on something I don’t feel like doing. And that’s incredibly valuable to me.

I’m really curious if people use meditation for more practical purposes as opposed to spiritual ones. Are there any other meditators out there? If so, let us talk shop!

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