When last I wrote, I was embarking on the ambitious task of transforming three different areas of my life: spiritually, physically, and metaphysically. Let’s go over how I did in all three areas.
Physically, I started off well, and was then immediately hampered by injury. It seems my hamstring tendons in my left leg get really upset when I try to do vigorous exercise now. I briskly walked a 5K and was in quite a bit of pain the next day. The next week I worked out on a treadmill and had some more pain the next day. Then I went to two karate classes in a row and could barely walk the next day. Granted, I probably should have given myself more time after the first time I hurt myself before doing more exercise, but like most people who are gung ho to change a part of their lives, I did too much too quickly. I haven’t done anything more vigorous than a bit of yoga since the karate classes over two months ago to give my leg a rest. I can still feel a tiny twinge every now and then, which tells me that when I do decide to start exercising again, I’m going to have to be careful about it. Plainly I need to do more stretching than I do, as well.
The other thing that interrupted my physical endeavours was illness. I’ve been sick so much the last few months. I was sick in December, then again in February with a horrible norovirus (which basically makes your body eject everything from both ends for a few days and leaves you feeling weaker than an overcooked noodle), then again in March with horrible allergies resulting in a sore throat that rivaled the pain of strep, and again in April with a hacking cough that I’m still getting over because allergy season is still in full swing down here in Central Texas.
So yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot of exercising done. I did, however, establish the (mostly) daily habit of doing yoga every morning. I do sun salutations, even if I only do one. The point is to just roll out the mat and do it just for the habit. I was up to eight before I got the cold with the hacking cough and had to lay off for a few days: I’ve only just gotten back up to that. I’m getting a bit bored with the sun salutations, though, so I went to YogaJournal.com and used their sequence builder to make myself a routine that I should be able to do in 15 minutes or less (we’ll see: I haven’t tried it yet). Hopefully that will give my body more of a workout and be a little less monotonous. I’d also like to get back to yoga class at my local studio now that I’m feeling better. I was going fairly regularly until all of the injury and sickness hit, and I haven’t been back since. My yoga buddy is out of nursing school for the semester now, too, so maybe we can help each other get to class again.
Metaphysically, I’m doing great. My meditation practice is going swimmingly. I missed a few days when I was really ill, since it’s hard to meditate when you can’t breathe, but other than that, I’ve been meditating for half an hour every morning after I make my coffee/tea (lately it’s been coffee). I have a program on my iPhone called Insight Timer that has a number of bells and chimes to start and stop my sessions, and would have interval chimes if I chose to. It keeps track of how many days in a row I’ve meditated and gives me “milestones” when I’ve reached certain markers, which is a nice little incentive to make sure I sit every day. There are also groups I could join if I wanted to, and I could make ‘friends’ with other meditators. Almost like Facebook for meditators.
As far as my actual sitting sessions go, I’ve been using two different techniques to help focus my mind. I’ll either use the Japanese Zen technique of counting my breaths (I count each inhale and exhale separately, though some count each inhale and exhale as one), one to ten in Japanese (I prefer that to English for some reason), or I’ll use the technique called labeling, where I “label” each action that I detect, including my breaths. So it would be like this: “…rising (for the inhale)…falling (for the exhale)…rising…chirping (a bird outside)…falling…clicking (the HVAC switches on)…blowing (the air coming out of the vent)…rising…scratching (the cat uses the catbox)…falling…wetness (the cat sniffs your fingers with its wet nose)…”, so on and so forth. The point is to give my mind something to do other than bounce around doing whatever the hell it wants to.
Some of the stuff on meditation that I’ve read seems to think that if you give your mind something to do with one of these or another technique then you’ll maintain focus since the mind can only do one thing at a time. Bullshit. I don’t know about you, but my mind can do several things at once. Consequently, I sometimes have to double up on my focus techniques. It helps a lot since I have to concentrate much more heavily on both counting and labeling at the same time. They don’t leave room for much else other than the internal space they’re intended to create. Which is the point. Emptiness. Or at the very least, mindfulness. When everything is working right, I can get to this place where I’m not feeling, I’m not thinking, I’m not worrying or doing anything else conscious with my brain. It’s just…quiet, and I’m perfectly aware of everything around me. Then my thinking brain realizes I’ve achieved what I’ve been going for, and it pops like a bubble in slow motion. These snippets of awareness are rare and fleeting, but they’re becoming somewhat more frequent and slightly longer.
As far as the rest of my life goes, I think I’ve carried that awareness practice into the rest of my day, even if I haven’t done so consciously. I’m much more attuned to my emotional states than I was before, or at least to the negative ones, so I think I’m more likely to catch them before they turn into something ugly. They also happen less often. I think I’m less moody from day to day, and I feel more stable.
It’s not all wonderful. I have to make myself sit some days because I just don’t want to, though not very often. Sometimes I get bored and have to make myself stay there until the timer goes off. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it and doubt its effectiveness. Sometimes I get angry because I can’t get my mind to be still. Sometimes I’m tired and have to focus to keep from falling asleep (though the hypnagogic imagery is sometimes interesting). Sometimes it takes a lot of mental effort to make myself count or label and I’ll just let my mind do whatever the hell it wants to do. I think that’s just fine sometimes. Sometimes I think it’s interesting and even useful to see where my mind goes when the leash is let go.
Mostly, though, meditation is helping me make friends with my mind, and that can hardly be a bad thing.
Then there was the spiritual aspect of trying to change via doing Spiritual Nomad. If you were reading a couple of months ago, you saw that I got up to Week Three, and then there was nothing. I actually did do the work for Week Four: I just never wrapped it up and wrote about it. So that’s another post. Nevertheless, I did not finish the entire six week course, which I would still like to do. The notebook is still sitting right here on my desk.
If I want to finish it, I’m going to have to do some serious personal work to do Week Five, which is all about caring for the sacred self. Being nice to myself or appreciating my good qualities has never been something I’m good at. I’m highly self-critical and very quick to point out when I’ve screwed up and put myself down. Little wonder, then, that I’m not all that great at taking good care of myself. I’m somewhat overweight and out of shape, though I’m still pretty strong and flexible. My diet could be better. My personal self-care habits are a little slipshod. I dress like a teenage slob. I make sure I’m presentable when I leave the house, but you probably wouldn’t want to see me on my days off.
Consequently I’m a little daunted by the task of treating myself as sacred. I definitely do not treat this body like a temple. If I did, I would eat different food, get a lot more exercise, dress better, and do a lot more things that made me feel happy and creative. Why I don’t do these things is a mystery I should solve immediately. More to come on that in the Week Five post.
So that’s how I did on my threefold-attempt at changing things in my life. If it were a three-legged stool, it wouldn’t be level and might be wobbly. Luckily these are extendable legs, so to speak, and I can continue to work on the other two.