Yes, Annie Lennox. Everybody is looking for something. When I’m searching for answers, I often ask my questions before I meditate. I ask: how do I find focus in chaos? Or– how do I let something go? It’s a kind of show-me-the -way question. I ask gently, or at least as patiently and gently as I can. Generally, my questions are for guidance. How do I focus on this and not that? How do I get that toxic thought to stop nagging me? The questions are soft, not probing. I’m not always that deep. I’ve asked: how can I lose weight? I went for several months with eating dinner just every other night. It didn’t work. Oh well.
I don’t demand or expect an answer, but nevertheless the answer often arrives. This doesn’t happen like a bolt of lightning. I’ll notice months after I’ve begun asking the question, hey- I’ve somehow completed a draft of my novel despite the disruptions and chaos in my life. I have accomplished something significant. Or the thought that has been circling around in my head for so many months in a row has been absent for a long time.
Hold your head up, movin’ on
Most every day, there’s a new study to show how meditation lowers blood pressure and decreases anxiety, not to mention the intangible benefits of increased happiness and greater compassion. This Harvard study says “meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter in just eight weeks.”
Yay meditation! But there’s another side to meditation you’re not likely to read about in a study. A prolonged practice brings increased awareness about yourself and others. I don’t know how to say this, but with increased awareness comes increased awareness. Sometimes reality is not all that. Sometimes clarity is uncomfortable. Twenty minutes of stillness once or twice a day changes the way you process the world and when the truth of your brain and your heart converge, what follows may be awkward and inconvenient.
No one ever said enlightenment would be easy.
When all else fails, I go to evening minyan. We are a group of at least nine people and a Torah (the Torah counts as a person) who gather at dusk to recite the evening prayers. The mourners say Kaddish; the rest of us respond Amen.
Every line of Kaddish finishes angry, finishes sad, finishes strong. Technically this is because every line ends with a beat. Mystically this is because the prayer is written in a language that has long been lost. It is an insistent repetition of meaninglessness over and over.
Listening to the mourners speak the words is humbling. This is a prayer about mortality despite the fact there is no reference to death and it has been said for thousands of years in the most excruciating of situations. The saying of the words is life-affirming. The saying of the words is meditation.
See that point where the world goes flat. That’s where I’m headed.
This never happened: I hike for miles up to the top of a mountain where I am granted an audience with a wizened and wise guru. He whispers a secret Sankskrit word into my ear and tells me to never speak my mantra out loud to another human being.
The first mantra I ever used was At Ease. Two syllables seemed right. The message seemed right. I had come to meditation, after all, to find focus. If I could get rid of some of that free floating anxiety, certainly I’d be able to complete the manuscript of my novel. The words got the job done, the job being to brush the thought chatter aside for a moment and then to do it again. The novel manuscript is another issue completely.
A few months later I changed my mantra to Who Am I? It wasn’t the cocktail party question. That question is more about what you do professionally, how many kids you have, what their ages are, and if you don’t have a good answer to the first question about what you do professionally, there are more questions about what your kids do. Who Am I refers to something deeper. The answer is not: I’m a mother, a lawyer, a writer. The answer is more like a question than an answer. For the record, neither the question or the answer work well at cocktail parties.
My next mantra was in Sanskrit. I had signed on for a free online meditation course with Deepak Chopra. He had a few suggestions and I chose Satcitānanda. According to Wikipedia, this translates as being, consciousness, bliss. I liked the sound of the word and also the fact I didn’t really understand what it meant. This mantra turns out to be the most comforting of all my mantras.
Most recently I use Let Go and Peace and Be Here Now.
I have always been in search of the right words to build the right sentence to build the right story. Words are scaffolding. Words are sacred. The word I repeat to myself as I try to stop the chatter and be comfortable with what I feel and who I am, that word is my mantra, and that word, that perfect secret word that may only exist in the rarified air of nowhere, can only be given to me by me.
Whenever I see a hawk, I stop and think about perspective. Somehow, I’m always in need of new perspective. Every day.
I seek out hawks. Scan the sky for them. Not this time. This hawk sculpture composed of shells, coconuts husks and withered palm branches stretches just above a sand shelf alongside the ocean. He is magnificent and powerful and unexpected. I met his creator – The Hawk Man of Iowa. Hawk Man has devoted his life to studying and understanding these raptors. He was shy to disclose he has studied the language of hawks, uses their spirituality to enhance his spirituality. He composed this sculpture as a way to deal with grief.
It was my honor to have a chance to meditate soon after I came upon this hawk outline in the sand. Grief is an aerial acrobat. It soars, dives, and circles at dizzying heights. The talons of grief are strong.
Last night, I sat on Donald and Maleia’s porch and sipped wine. Maleia mentioned she had read my blog and was surprised to learn I meditated. Years ago, she cautiously admitted, she had studied Transcendental Meditation. I think she worried I would think it hokey. I did not and besides, I had just managed to extricate myself from a conversation about high speed internet and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk about something I was passionate about.
Maleia and Donald met each other in a leadership class that used meditation. She remembered something else. “When I was in the first grade, I taught myself to meditate. I hated being in that classroom and I didn’t want to be there. So I repeated a word over and over until I brought myself to another place. I repeated the word until it lost its meaning.”
I was drinking wine, so perhaps this story has veered slightly over into fiction, but Maleia hadn’t thought about that time in her life for a long time. She had never really thought about it that way before and only as we sat on her porch and drank wine and talked did she realize she had taught herself to meditate.
Over the years, the practice has slipped away from her and she doesn’t meditate anymore. I thought she seemed regretful. “You might do it again. It’s always there for you. My friend’s son, Billy, says that meditation is like finding a room in your house that you never knew existed.”
“But that’s my recurring dream,” said Maleia. “Over and over, I find a room I never knew was there.”
I just love when that happens.