THEY say that there is a first step for every journey, but I cannot say that seems to fit for all of the journeys I have taken over the years. Particularly, when it comes to meditation, I feel like I have taken dozens of first steps over the years.
My first foray into the realm of meditation was in my last semester in undergraduate school. I took a course with a greatly admired professor who was recommended to me by several peers. He was a German studies professor, who introduced the works of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Kafka through the lens of the individual versus the state. He encouraged his students to identify as individuals, to pay for things in cash instead of credit card, to refrain from eating unrefined sugar, and to meditate.
I can vividly recall reading a story he had shared with us from a woman who had felt so overwhelmed in her life that one afternoon she had just sat down under a tree and refused to get up. As an undergraduate student with dozens of assignments on an unending syllabi horizon, I could relate to her story.
Even today, as a self-employed graduate of a doctoral program, I still can feel the wave of anxiety that flows over me when I set up too much to do with too little time to do it.
My foray into meditation this first time around was more a flirtation. I tried again several years later while taking an independent study course in a doctoral program for Sustainability Education, which I had designed in concert with this same German Studies professor. I would sit on my kitchen table in Alaska and close my eyes for fifteen minutes each morning, trying to focus on the air moving in and out of my nostrils. But after a short period, I found that I could not (or would not) maintain the pattern. I was going through a painful separation from my husband in a community on the edge of the earth at the onset of winter. My heart was not in it, and I quickly gave up the practice.
This past year has seen me once again take a few more steps toward developing a meditation routine. Each Sunday morning of the once a month weekend for my 200hour yoga teacher training, I would sit quietly for a half an hour in the company of fellow yogis. I welcomed these moments and felt calm and grounded when they were over.
I briefly attempted the meditation practice shared with me by a friend from my PhD cohort at Prescott College, but after a couple of weeks I abandoned the practice because it just did not feel like my own. I felt like I was practicing something that was a good fit for someone else. I still needed to find my own meditation path.
I took a 10-week Ayurveda and began meditating for two minutes each night before bed. My teacher had told us that we could certainly spare at least two minutes a day for meditation, and I knew she was right. Two minutes did not seem scary or too terribly daunting as a way to ease in to the practice.
I sat for two minutes every sat for several months. Then one day, I realized I could not remember the last time I had sat before bed. I had simply forgotten. I was the only one to remind myself, and I had forgotten to do so.
This past month, I have once again embarked on a continuation of my meditation journey through an ongoing class with Will Duncan (I wrote several posts inspired by a talk Will gave at Prescott College just over a year ago about his three years, three months, and three days of silent retreat in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona). At Will’s request to the class, I have been sitting for up to six minutes every morning. Sometimes, I am able to stay focused on the sensation of the air moving in and out of nostrils, but mostly my mind wanders, and I attempt to bring it back to focusing on the breath.
This weekend, I expand upon my month of meditation to travel up to Boulder, Colorado for a mantra-based meditation retreat with Paul Muller-Ortega. One of my yoga teachers has sung his praises and spoken consistently about the incredibly shift she experienced in her own life in beginning to study with Paul. So, while I am finding that the path to enlightenment (yoga study, meditation, Ayurveda, and beyond) is not an inexpensive endeavor, it does seem to be one that is worthwhile. And in the end, it’s only money, right?
How much would you pay for directions to the path to Enlightenment?