Every night, my husband and I sit down for a 20-minute sit before bed. I use an app to keep track of the timing. As we prepare to sit, I unlock my phone, open the app, and turn off the light.
Before I tap the start button to begin our sit, I say the words, Ready. Set. Zen.
The ritual began after I attended an initiation for Neelakantha, mantra-based meditation. We had driven up to Colorado for the event and spent the weekend at the Naropa Institute. I learned about meditation in the Tantric tradition, while my husband sat in the lobby, working on applications for doctoral programs in Europe.
I had been attempting meditation on and off for a year with minimal success. After our return from Colorado, I began sitting for 20 minutes every night and every morning. Eventually, I asked my husband if he wanted to sit with me.
I learned from a meditation teacher that it can take anywhere from 30 to 40 days of regular practice to create a new habit. While I can’t say that I ever feel like sitting for 20 minutes, I do it anyway. I don’t know that I am any more enlightened that I was a year ago, but I don’t think it can hurt me, either.
I know from experience that even after taking the time to create a habit, it only takes one day of not doing it to lose the practice altogether. Even if I know I will feel better, more balanced, and joyful if I commit to even five minutes of creative practice every day—be it music, yoga, or writing—I still find it incredibly difficult to actually do it. I might get seven days into creating a regular practice and then a visitor, illness, or excuse weasels its way in, and that is that for a while. I stopped sitting every morning when my dad came to visit us last summer, and I have only been able to intermittently work it back into my daily rhythm.
The idea of practice, particularly yoga and meditation, is to honor ourselves where we are and celebrate (rather than negate) our progress; however small it may seem, it is a step toward balance.
I wrote an entire dissertation on the subject of self-sustainability. I spent months immersed in my own story of four years in a doctoral program, reviewing every moment in excruciating detail, in order to gain insight into the steps I took to create a more balanced, healthy existence. I know firsthand what I need to create joy in my life, but I still struggle to engage in those practices on any kind of regular basis.
I find it much easier to fixate on things that I know will not bring me joy but that offer distraction. One week it might be trying to find the exact right jacket that will keep me warm and dry and also not make me feel like a frumpy hobbit while among around fashionable Europeans (seriously, were they born to look graceful and stylish, no matter what they do? I have tried tossing a scarf around my neck in a haphazard fashion, and I still feel American and unattractive).
But I digress.
My husband reminds me, time and again, that there is no way to find the exact perfect anything because once we get it, we will realize that there is something else even better. It’s never ending.
Even my big camera lens didn’t come anywhere near the expectations I had for it, he told me.
I hear what he is saying, and I clearly understand, but it is still difficult to curb my propensity for fixation.
I finally gave up on the jacket, practicing acceptance of the perfectly adequate jackets I already own and repeating my husband’s mantra: It’s good enough. It’s good enough.
I spent an entire day without obsessively looking for the perfect jacket. I knew it didn’t exist and that buying another jacket wouldn’t bring me happiness. I would just wind up with the karmic weight of another material possession and feel guilty for spending money needlessly.
Even knowing all of this, I didn’t like what happened as a result of ceasing my search. Without something to fixate on, I was left with the emptiness I had so desperately been grasping to fill.
A day later, I am back to feeling an aching emptiness in my heart, the loss of my beloved soul mate wolf dog still so close to surface that tears well in my eyes at the slightest thought of those amber gold eyes and the memory of his head snuggled into my lap, paws wrapped securely around my legs.
I have fixated plenty on all of the choices I could have made differently that might have kept him in my life. What if I had taken him to the vet the moment I noticed something was wrong? What if I had taken him to a different vet for a second opinion when I first sensed that the vet we had taken him to might not have a firm grasp on medical practice? What ifs and questions take me round and round in infinite circles. When I finally stop fixating, I don’t feel any better. He is still gone, and the darkness is ever present.
I’m not a super fan of the void, I have to say, and I have no idea how to fill it. I have friends that appear to live a life full of gratitude and joy. When I ask them how they did it, they tell me, I just decided to be happy.
Huh, I think to my self. Maybe I am too just jaded for this to work, figuratively scratching my head.
I know that my own suffering is quite minimal when compared with all the levels of suffering in the world, but I feel it acutely nonetheless. A meditation teacher once told my class, suffering is suffering. I think he was onto something.
I move through phases where I work hard to lift my spirits and practice my it’s good enough intention, and then something beyond my control will happen that throws my system so far out of whack I lose my tenuous hold.
This past weekend, I attended the second of a series of all weekend trainings for learning to teach Anusara yoga. I was relatively relaxed as I walked to the tram on my way home when I received a text from my husband.
I had sent him a message asking how he was doing.
Hanging in there. E just told me that our rugs and the trunks are gone from the loft area of the house.
I texted an expletive in response and then followed with, Those are all of my original childhood photos. They are irreplaceable.
I really don’t understand why someone would take photo albums…it doesn’t add up…they are so heavy and worthless…to whoever took them. Any yes, priceless to us.
I stepped onto the tram in a trance and stared through the window into the reflection of receding light.
I have experienced theft several times in the past few years, and each time it is like a punch in the gut. I feel the wind knocked out of me, disbelief that someone could violate sacred space and take things so precious to me—my grandmother’s jewelry, family photos.
I sat on the tram until it stopped, walked down the steps and through the darkness toward the next tram stop. Halfway through the second portion of the trip, the tram came to a halt. Everything was still for a long time before I realized we had sat through several light changes and still had not moved forward. I stood up and leaned into the windows on the right side of the car, straining to try to see what was going on outside. Blue and red lights shifted back and forth in blur. An accident. I guess it can always be worse.
We finally started moving and crawled between parked police cars and toward home.
Standing in the kitchen later that evening, a glass of whisky in my hand, I tried to make sense of what had happened.
It’s like the universe is slowly taking away everything that is important to me, I said to my husband. First Okami. Then, my grandmother’s ring. Now, my photos. My meditation teacher says there is a Buddhist who believes that everything bad that happens to us happens because of a seed we planted long ago. What kind of heinous act could I have done in this life to be experiencing such horrible karma?
Well, when you start going into this kind of stuff, you may be looking at regressive lives. It could have been from many lives ago, and you chose this life to process it all.
But I don’t want to process it in this life, I protested. I want it to stop. I want my photos and my Okami back!
I know, love.
As we sat down to sit before bed, I watched one of my cats saunter over to the scratching pad we had gotten for them. He lay down on the pad and started to dig into it with both feet. It looked pretty good to me.
Maybe, I don’t need meditation, I just need my own scratching post, I suggested to my husband.
I picked up my phone, opened the meditation app, and turned off the light.
Ready. Set. Zen.