I recently figured out that every time I add a second meditation period in the evening, I feel hugely better the next morning. By this I mean that I don’t wake up in abject terror, and I don’t have to spend half an hour lying there doing loving-kindness practice for myself just to get out of bed. IF I meditated the night before.
The fact is, I am still seeing the daily arising of fear and the frequent phenomenon of disorientation. Now and then, something in the brain just goes “Whoops! Where are we???? ” and I have to remind it, “Now dear, you know we retired in April and we live here in this new place, and we’re forging this utterly different new life. Come on! Let’s get going…” It’s almost like the eyes going out of focus, or a sudden hit of jet lag, and having to grab onto the railing to steady yourself. I would never have imagined this adjustment to be so huge, or to still be going on so many months into it.
Lucky for me I’m a Buddhist. With 20-plus years of daily meditation practice, plus a number of retreats over those years and lots of study, I have a few tools with which to navigate this life. Yet it still took a while to catch on that in circumstances like these, 40 minutes every morning just isn’t sufficient to overcome “fight or flight” with peace. I do love to spend evenings watching a good Netflix movie and eating chocolate muffins, then reading in bed with furry kitties cuddled up next to me. Nothing wrong with that, you say? Well, unfortunately, I find I need to cut back on that just a bit in favor of a little more staring reality right in the face and coming back to the breath.
What is it about meditating that promotes inner peace? I hesitate to even begin to try to summarize the teachings of thousands on this subject since the time of the Buddha, even up to recent discoveries in brain science that corroborate things he said over 2500 years ago to an astonishing degree. Plus there are so many different systems of contemplative practice out there, each with its own take on things. So I’ll just say that my current (mostly Zen) practice of coming back to this moment, this breath, this body – seeing whatever arises in the mind and allowing it to pass away – returning again and again – directly demonstrates that whatever arises is impermanent, conditioned, and not the self. Even when you feel like all you did was keep backing off from your crazy mind for 45 minutes, over and over – still, everything that arose also passed away. None of this fear, none of this desire for security or company or a chocolate muffin, none of this persists and none of it is who I am.
After all these many years of conditioning, on top of our basic animal nature to seek out (illusory) safety and avoid (perceived) danger, we need to be reminded, directly reminded, over and over, for the brain to let go into the truth.
I don’t feel like I’ve captured this perfectly, but I’ll leave it there for now, perhaps returning tomorrow to revise. Happy New Year to all beings and may all beings be free in 2014!