Change is always happening. Staying the same is really, really hard.
Change is always happening. Staying the same is really, really hard.
“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.”
― Pema Chödrön
After teaching in one of the sentenced women’s dorms I made my way to the dorm that held three teens who aren’t living with the rest of the teen population for various reasons. They were still in school so I waited until they got back. Things are always changing. ‘Tasha’ had been moved to another house (I think she’s back with the teen girls) and ‘Shakira’(not her real name) who was with the teen girls the week before was back in the ‘isolated’ (my word, not Rikers) section. Shakira lit up when she saw me. The CO in the bubble had let them know that I stopped by but I don’t think they realized that I’d be coming back. Shakira grabbed the only other girl in the dorm and told her to try yoga that it would be fun. ‘Andrea’ eyed me dubiously. I hoped that she would warm up as we began to practice but she didn’t and left class a few minutes in. Shakira unruffled asked if we could practice handstand. Andrea wandered back to see why we were on our hands and stayed for a few more minutes and then left again. Shakira asked about practicing crow and hurdler AND headstand. Who am I to get in the way such enthusiasm? As we were winding down practice I asked Shakira what was her favorite thing to do in yoga. She replied, ‘Meditation.’
‘A five-minute meditation?’ I suggested?
‘Can we do longer?’ she wanted to know.
I was all cool on the outside. ‘Um, sure we can sit and do a 15 minute guided med-,’
‘I don’t really need guided if that’s okay. I can focus on my breathing.’
‘Yeah okay- let’s do a 15 minute sit. ‘ But inside I’m like:
My head had been pounding all morning so a seated meditation without support did not seem like a great idea. I let Shakira know I’d be moving my bolster to the wall for back support. She said, ‘We can do that? That’s cool because sometimes my back hurts sitting up.’
So we sat. I don’t drop into a deep meditation but it was hard not to chill out because the dorm is silent. I did think about Shakira’s desire and willingness to be still for 15 minutes. Not an easy task for an adult in this distracted world, even more challenging as a teenager. If you add the element of detention and stress of Rikers Island, it’s almost an impossible task. And yet, when I glance over at her just to see that she’s okay, her face is smooth and her breathing natural. This is no BS she’s in meditation.
Pema Chödrön talks about folks who really take meditation seriously because they have to. She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) those that haven’t had lots of serious trauma or addiction enjoy meditation and can treat it more like a trend. However, if you are a card carrying member of the shit hitting the fan club you get real serious real quick about meditation. Life can be pretty grisly where there aren’t any options left for a decent life. If meditation shows up an an answer, most take it. Because once you can look at your naked truth and not run, you can do just about anything. (Can I get an amen for Pema?) Sorry, I digress.
I thought my class with the teens would be about jumping around and laughing. And sometimes it is. But other times it’s about being quiet. This is what trauma informed teaching is about – listening and honoring the students. It’s not about my personality, my goals for a class or my wants and desires for students. It’s about my big ole mouth being shut , my hands and heart open, saying what can I give to you. How can I serve where you are in this moment.
I will not ignore people who are locked away. I will continue to speak up and out about the need to END mass incarceration. I will continue to plead for the need for more volunteers to visit people in prison as we work to end the system. I will continue to encourage people to volunteer and give assistance to those who are out of jail and need support, love and encouragement. I will not ignore those I can’t see. I will not be silent. This is my mantra and my meditation.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn , “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” When I meditate I’m working on staying with what is happening. When my mind wanders, I draw my attention back to the present. In theory this sounds like a piece of cake or a cake of peace (ouch). The reality is every ‘sit’ (meditation practice) is different. Some days I sit and feel an overwhelming sense of calm. I leave my sit feeling renewed. On others I’m left feeling frustrated and hyper-aware of my environment.
And that’s okay. Meditation isn’t supposed to be bliss. This journey of learning to be more present has been a more difficult and rewarding journey than my asana practice. However, without my asana practice, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s like Pema Chödrön says everything we do is on the path to enlightenment. I get lots of questions about my practice. How long do I do it? Is it hard? Do I feel better? Do I see God?
Here are three things my practice isn’t.
1. My practice isn’t easy.
I am distracted easily by shiny objects. This is part of the reason why I do yoga. My mind can wander during meditation. But when it does I come back to the breath.
On some days my meditation practice leaves me with a sense of peace. On others, not so much. There have been times that in connecting with my breathing buried emotions arise. When this happens, I’ve learned to deal with what has come up.
I sit on most days. I feel the diffenrece when I don’t sit for two days in a row. The homework for my meditation course requires a daily body scan of forty minutes. I didn’t do that this week. But I did wake up every morning and sit quietly for 20 minutes before I started my day. That’s progress. Mindfulness requires commitment. Commitment takes times.
There are no short cuts. It’s only recently that I’ve begin to appreciate this. When there aren’t ways to get ‘there’ faster, there’s no place to be in this moment. As a woman in her 40’s I’m in no hurry to run the clock down. Paying attention on purpose provides a new respect for the notion of time. Try this experiment. Stand firmly with your arms down by your sides for 3 minutes. Resist the urge to fidget or tug at your clothes. Keep your eyes open and gaze soft. Notice the fluctuations that happen in the mind. Notice the things you begin to say to yourself. After the three minutes set the time for three minutes and resume what you were doing. It’s funny how fast time flies when we aren’t present. And listen, I get it. We are busy. It’s not possible to be present every moment of every day. But imagine the rich texture life can have when we take moments to stop and be here now.
2015 is my year of living mindfully.
Do you have a meditation practice? Have you just started one? I’d love to hear your thoughts.