Last Saturday, I attended an introductory meditation course. This was something I'd been wanting to do for a while, and circumstances just came together and I finally committed to it and went. I'm so glad I did.
Since then, I've added 15 minutes of meditation to my morning routine, and managed to fit it in every day this week except Friday. I've also been reading Real Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg, before I sit, which I highly recommend. It's difficult to try to articulate (much less understand) everything that has already begun to blossom from this apparently simple practice, but here are my initial observations.
Through meditation, I've started to realize how many of my thoughts are repetitive and unproductive - they don't serve to further anything except my anxiety and tendency toward escapism. That leaves me unfocused and feeling less alive, as if I move through my days with half my mind absorbed in thoughts that don't ultimately serve me or anyone else. For example, if I've done the best I can at work, endless thoughts about what awaits me tomorrow or a week or a month from now do absolutely nothing except increase my level of stress and distract me from the present. Of course, we all know this intellectually, but I'm finding that meditation somehow attunes me to this more viscerally, in a way that allows me to start to truly become less attached to those unproductive thoughts, rather than just acknowledging that they aren't productive but not knowing what to do about it.
At first, I was resistant to the idea that when meditating, we should try to recognize and move away from long strings of discursive thought. As I rode my bike home from the introductory class, I thought, isn't discursive thought where ideas and insights come from? And I think that's true when we are focused and creative. But what I've started to notice through meditation is that my automatic thought patterns are extremely predictable. They consistently turn to the latest anxiety about the future or obsession about the past, rehashing the same thought pattern again and again. Just recognizing this, observing it, and then breaking the pattern by re-focusing on the breath has been tremendously empowering.
But here's the thing: I'm also realizing that I'm incredibly attached to those thought patterns. The idea that someday we will "escape" to a little mountain town where we'll be immersed in nature and I'll write brilliantly every day is one of the abiding fantasies to which I turn during the challenging parts of my day, especially during a sleepless night when I feel insecure and inadequate to the tasks at hand. And there is a part of me that thinks if I let go of that fantasy, I'll lose it forever - I'll forget that I'm supposed to escape to a small mountain town and write brilliantly, maybe because I'll be so fully absorbed and engaged in life as it is instead of life as it should be. The part of that fantasy I need to let go of is the idea that I'll somehow be a different person in that world than I am in the here and now. Which of course isn't true - and if I don't wake up and recognize, and then work to break, this particular thought pattern, then a new fantasy world will just replace that one once it has been achieved.
Finally, what I've found is that meditation is really hard. Sometimes it takes every ounce of discipline and concentration I have just to sit and focus on breathing for fifteen minutes, reigning in my thoughts as I go. But given everything I've only begun to learn in the past week, I sense that this practice will stay with me for a long time to come.