What I Do When I Meditate

Sometimes when I meditate, I used a guided meditation. I keep a variety of them bookmarked in the meditation app that I use. They challenge me to approach meditation differently, or remind me of different aspects of mindfulness or self-compassion; or help me process complex emotions, the kind I don’t like to process. They can also be helpful if I feel like my practice has plateaued; or they can make a fun break from my usual practice.

But usually the morning seduces me, especially in the spring. As I sit in my meditation spot, I feel the morning breeze, the blue light of morning before the sun rises. I hear the song of the bird that gets up before sunrise and, like a rooster, greets the dawn. And I want to rest in the burgeoning morning, without someone else’s voice in my head. Then I use the app’s timer, with random bells to reawaken me if I have drifted into thoughts about blogging or the day’s upcoming work or problems that need solving. There will be time for those later and I want to rest my thinking brain for a little while.

As I start my practice, I relax into the posture. Then I scan my body, relaxing the obviously tight areas. I take three deep breaths in – and just as importantly – out. I listen to my senses, the sound of the bird and the gentle sough of car tires on the pavement on the nearby streets. I become aware of the light on the backs of my closed eyelids, brighter on the side where the windows are, darker on the other side. As I breathe in, I open my awareness to scents, although I rarely sense any. I taste the minty residue of toothpaste in my mouth. My arms feel the fabric of the walking shirt I put on after showering, my calves the flap of the walking pants.

Next, I greet my body, starting with my toes and working my way up to the crown of my head. As I breathe in, I become aware of my toes. As I breathe out, I hold my toes in loving kindness. It always fascinates me how, on some days, I become intensely aware of different areas of my body. Or how, when I relax one area of my body, another opens up with it. Sometimes when I become aware of the bones and muscles in the arch of my foot, my back opens up. Or, if I relax my teeth and my throat, my sinuses clear.

Once I finish my body scan, I rest in the peacefulness of morning, of breathing in and breathing out, with no place to go and nothing to do. Then my thinking mind creeps in and I practice recognizing when I have drifted into thought / planning / writing, and releasing it to return to resting my mind in the moment.

If the thoughts are particularly restless, I can sometimes recognize the emotion that lies beneath them. Fear and anger have been popular lately. Sometimes sadness. Occasionally even joy makes an appearance. When that happens, I find it helpful to picture another me, a younger me, deep inside, who is feeling these things. I cradle her in my arms the way one would hold a toddler who is all emotion: gently but firmly. I let her feel these things while I sit quietly, comforting her with safety and kindness, until she merges with me and I can let the emotion go and focus again on breathing in, breathing out.

Some mornings, the practice of meditation comes easily. Other mornings, it feels like a struggle. It’s a struggle to start and I find myself drifting into my phone and procrastinating even starting, as if I am afraid of the emotions that will come up. Far too often, I start with the best of intentions and then my planning brain kicks in about half-way through, starting to write, to lecture, to build castles in the air or argue with people who aren’t in the room, possibly even about things that are no longer relevant.

Thinking, I tell myself firmly, thinking. Over and over again: thinking.

Until I remember that this, too, is a component of meditation: the successful recognition that I have drifted into thought and the choice to return to being in this moment, with the sensations around me at this time.

When the timer goes off, it can feel far too soon. Not just yet, I think, I was just getting warmed up. I was just about to get it. On certain mornings, it feels far too late: About time! This was taking forever.

I end with a quick recitation of an affirmation, or a favorite quote.

And then, if I have drifted away, I return to sensation, the rug under my feet. How much brighter the room has become around me, just in the 15 minutes that I was meditating. The difference in sounds around me, the birdsong eclipsed by the slap of the merchants down the block sliding up their security gates, or the sound of water hitting the curb as the street-cleaning truck passes my building. I wiggle my toes and my fingers, move my tongue around my mouth reigniting the taste of toothpaste.

And I reopen my eyes to the day.

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