When I sit down to meditate before a hectic brunch shift, I am doing something kind for myself. When I make contact with the cushion after a day of waiting tables, I am making space for myself to feel cared for. Meditation has helped me learn to settle into a sense of ease we often hope on our loved ones. I have learned to care for myself as a loved one.
We are habituated by our culture of commerce to consider love something to be attained, something we can hoard. But what if it is something that we can be? Not just for others, but for ourselves as well? In fact, a regular meditation practice might call our rigid self/other distinction into question. What if what we call self-love actually helps others as well?
I recently set up a meditation altar, combining some elements of a traditional Buddhist shrine with some personalized flourishes. The idea was to make this space in my home someplace I'd really like to sit down in front of. Flowers, candles, things commonly associated with a romantic evening for two, decorate the corner altar in my apartment. Romantic? Maybe. But also aspirational, in that I might be able to relax into the meditation cushion and be kind to myself by noticing what comes up and then letting it dissolve as I begin to concentrate on the breath.
There is the wisdom of a broken heart, often taught by Shambhala lineage instructors. We all know that feeling: a palpable shattering of the mushy center of our exposed and vulnerable body. A lost love, dream, opportunity, seeing someone else suffer. But what would happen if we opened up to this sensation rather than trying to fix it? What if we could peacefully abide heart ache, and even lean into it as a point of connection with others? Maybe the suffering comes not from the broken heart itself but to resisting it, rushing in to fix it. From a Buddhist perspective, sorrow is just the other side of the same coin as joy: they are both the product of a full heart. A broken heart is a heart broken open to the world, to experience. To be a conscious person in this world, to be aware of all the suffering AND the beauty, means to have your heart broken over and over again. Witnessing that process and not shying away is a wild strength.
So when I sit down to meditate, with all the trappings of beauty that so comfort me at this particularly harsh time of year in New York City, I am training my wild heart to be present with its ache. I am training my mind to withhold judgment, to calm its attempts to strategize its way out of discomfort. I am sitting with whatever comes up, and considering it more than just workable. I am calling it beautiful.
Caroline Contillo has been studying and practicing meditation at The Interdependence Project for six years, and recently began teaching mindfulness meditation in Brooklyn. You can visit her website at www.carolinecontillo.com