Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Honey and Meditation

Don's beehive earlier this summer, as Buddha looks on
I finished reading "Meditation and the Art of Beekeeping" by Mark Magill. While it was gracefully written and helped me understand beekeeping a little more, I was hoping it would focus more on meditation, and specifically his own meditation practice. For instance, he listed what the great teachers say are the stages of meditation. Never helpful. I find myself trying to fit into one of the stages and can't, so I conclude I'm not making progress at all.

I am always grateful for what others meditators share, because many don't share much. I'm not sure why. Maybe they think it's unseemly to speak of something so personal and so individual. Maybe they thinks the Wisdom Source is so vast that everyone connects to it uniquely, and therefore it's unhelpful to talk about experiences others are not likely to have

In my experience, the early years of meditation are a lot like watching paint dry. Thirty years ago my tai chi teacher Sherry Seidman (now Shoshanna Katzman) addressed the topic of commitment to the practice this way. "It takes a long time to progress in the forms. We Americans are not accustomed to waiting for things. We want them now. When we don't get them we move on to something else that promises more immediate rewards." She went on to say that all good things are worth waiting for, and that after ten years of consistent practice my life would be change in unpredictably wonderful ways. To a twenty-one-year-old, there was little that was consistent in my life, so my practice fell by the wayside more than once over the next ten, and even twenty years. But I always remembered her promise, and it is turning out to be true.

The progress in meditation is so slow, so gradual, our nervous systems so delicate, that I can understand why so many people give up and move on to other things.Yet this is precisely the reason why it takes so long to make progress. We want it, but we are not ready for it on so many levels. I started meditating because I wanted to have transcendent, mystical experiences, where I would be transported from my mundane existence to, I don't know, the Meditation Hall of Fame.

It was not to be.

I have, however, begun to transcend my limited, mundane self through meditation. All I've ever consistently done is put my butt on a cushion for a half hour every morning. It's been like putting half pennies in a piggy bank. The change (please pardon the pun) has been so small you hardly think anything has accrued, until one fine day I noticed I felt calmer, more stable, more present in situations that usually freaked me out. Meditation had gradually become a haven for me, a place I can return to, whether I am harried by life or celebrating it.

Most people are dealing with huge amounts of stress. Stress is in the air, yes, but most of it is self-generated. Martha Graham used to tell her students, "The body does not lie." Neither does the way people drive or push shopping carts or move through amusement park crowds. They may be perfectly lovely people who care for their families, but the way they move betrays the hurry sickness that plagues so many. Power of Now author Eckhart Tolle writes, "Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is Life itself, it is an insane way to live."

When people find out I teach yoga and meditation, they often tell me they've tried to meditate but it doesn't work for them.Perhaps they're right. Perhaps their long-held tensions are different and more intractable than mine. I'm also willing to bet they're not. It seems to me that we hold on to our stress because it differentiates us from others. I'm here to tell you your stress isn't special. It's killing you, just like it's killing everyone else.

When I find myself getting edgy in traffic, my investment in a meditation practice has helped me develop ways to soothe myself. Deep belly breaths are a great way to tame stress. At least ten of them in a row are said to reduce the amount of cortisol in your system. One of the most effective ways is to repeat loving kindness meditation to the driver in Friday afternoon traffic who is weaving in and out of lanes. When I catch myself thinking, What a jerk, who does he think he is anyway? I remind myself that he is trying to be free of the traffic jam, just like the rest of us. So I begin repeating loving kindness, "May he be safe. May he be happy. May he be healthy. May he live with ease." I repeat until I begin to believe that he really needed to be somewhere five minutes ago. Better yet, his compulsion to be first doesn't even enter my mind.anymore.

Wishing for his safety, happiness, health and ease is the very least I can do for him. These are what every person needs. What kind of ogre would I be if I can't offer others these basic goods? If you're not convinced, consider how you hurt yourself when you persist in withholding safety, happiness, health and ease from others, or worse, allow your anger and resentment to wish the worst for them. You know the truth of this as surely as you know that certain foods and habits are bad for you.You know that bowl of grapes is better for you than the bowl of potato chips, and sometimes you just want the chips anyway. Don't beat yourself up, whether you eat the chips or catch yourself hating on that guy in traffic. Just don't let that choice be the last word. I mean, really. Isn't that guy always in traffic? Why are you letting him and his trip yank your chain? This is where a meditation practice comes in to slow you down and keep you in contact with what's best and most real in your life. Start intoning loving kindness, even directing it at yourself. May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.

I mentioned earlier how I wanted to have transcendent, mystical experiences in meditation. I'm still waiting, though what I'm receiving is already really good. Occasionally I experience the sweet taste of the Wisdom Source's limitless love and appreciation. Maybe this is a subtext of Mark Magill's book, that the sweetness of honey and of meditation are one and the same. It is enough to keep me coming back for more.