I am just winding down my Drynuary (a popular time in American culture for folks to choose to abstain from alcohol, or perhaps gluten, sugar, meat, Netflix binges–a bit of a secular Lent, if you will). Of course, as in many challenges I have faced in the past, I tend to view this month as a deprivation or a hurdle to get over so I can get back to “enjoying” my life. Similarly, I remember 20 years ago or so, when I used to smoke, I would view enjoying a cigarette as a reward AFTER I went to the gym (or cleaned the kitchen or ran an errand). This mind set of dangling an unhealthy reward on the other side of a task turned a healthy pursuit and the block of time spent exercising into a burden or obstacle that I had to get over to relax and enjoy the rest of my day. But at least I earned some muscle tone and aerobic capacity to keep me from turning to mush and undo some of the damage to my lungs. Talk about craving and delusion!
I find that I often view meditation and mindfulness in this same way—as a task that needs to get done, to get it out of the way, so I can get on with my life. Like getting your exercise in—meditation is good for me, I know, ugh. Okay, Carolyn, let’s sit up straight and start breathing, so I can get back to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but at least feel less guilty about it.
I have been meditating and studying Buddhism for the past 8 years or so, including completing a Buddhist Studies program and a year-long teacher training at the Interdependence Project, along with numerous weeklong and weekend retreats, and exploring a number of lineages and practices. So, one would think that meditation would be old hat, part of my daily routine like brushing my teeth, a comfort even.
Nope, just like exercise or brushing your teeth, I still find myself viewing meditation in a dualistic, or results-oriented, way. Get it done so you can go back to regular life but be better at it. Exercise so you can be better at life. Drink less or not at all or eat less gluten so you can be better at life. Meditate so you can be better at life. Not as part of the practice of life itself.
The fact that meditation doesn’t necessarily provide me with the comfort I seek may be part of the point. Sharon Salzberg always reminds us that when we are sitting there meditating and we realize that our thoughts have wandered off, THAT is the practice: the moment of returning to the breath. We WILL be distracted, we WILL be afraid, we WILL crave comfort and ways to avoid suffering. But the distractions, the comfort, the intoxicants, etc. are the very things that keep us from being in the moment of our lives. It is meditation and the awareness that we have been distracted that actually brings us back to being in our lives.
This monthly challenge dovetails wonderfully with the end of Drynuary because I can use this opportunity to truly challenge myself through meditation to explore how I can begin to view challenges in my own life not as something to get over so I can get back to regular life, but part of the practice of life. Life is something that is happening NOW, in every moment. It is not something to look forward to in the future, after I meditate, exercise, clean, when I can finally pour that glass of wine and settle back with a good Netflix binge. I may still have wine, or not, or still enjoy the antics of Mrs. Maisel, but there is a lot of good stuff to explore in between those moments in the days ahead that will remind me that this is all the stuff of practice.
Good luck and much Metta to my fellow meditators and thank you Sharon Salzberg for continuing to provide us with this space to explore our minds and practice our lives!