“But what about your meditation?” is a response I sometimes get when colleagues or new friends see me caught up in frantic and frazzled moments. My response, “what, you didn’t know I teach what I most need to learn?”
Recently I got angry when a familiar scenario of letting someone take advantage of me rolled around again. Next I got angry at myself for being angry. The old self-talk, internal shaming and recrimination was instant. Of course, this will all happen again soon enough. With any luck, the next round might include some small noticeable shifts in response and new patterns. Watching thoughts as an observer and they can lose their power over us, or direct them where required, say the experts. Have compassion for ourselves and others and we can move more easily through the world. Meditation can and does make us calmer.
But here’s the thing, meditation also helps us express our anger and disappointment, as well as accept our more frazzled moments. When others query my seemingly abandoned meditation practice in the middle of my moments of fury or pain I find it a curious thing. It is like telling an irate person to calm down. Sometimes things need to be said (nicely) or felt deeply. Other times things come out not so nicely, which is unfortunate but human enough, especially for the more emotionally or sensitively inclined among us.
Meditation has helped me identify more quickly when things are not ok, revealed my well-ingrained but reducing responsiveness, and guided me to speak up when required or shut up, and of course, let things go. Finding out that meditation can bring such liberation, I then set out to teach it.
To share with you the benefits of meditation, I could quote some of the latest evidence-based research into the brain functions of monks, gurus, wise guys and matriarchs meditating up in the mountains and even cities. But I suspect that rather than research-based promises for deep healing and inner peace, stories of our human frailties and small steps are more promising.
I’m no fan of labels but throughout my life I have hovered up and down the spectrum of anxiety, with a few traumatic life experiences temporarily shooting me right up the higher scale at times. Without meditation, I doubt I would be driving a car again, tolerating flying in airplanes, or averting bridge-burning behaviour when situations don’t seem to suit my interests or appear threatening. I would certainly not be finding as much day-to-day joy in this wonderful, but unpredictable life. With a meditative approach the blessings of our daily lives are magnified and the horrors somehow more contained.
When awful things happen, particularly all at once, the tunnel of despair can turn endless. Yet the curveballs or tragedies that come our way need to be dealt with at some point. All types of meditation are not suitable for all phases of our lives, and sitting with parts of ourselves might be uncomfortable and even excruciating. But if we don’t go there, we don’t go anywhere else much.
Teaching meditation is not always easy. In particular, if I teach it, I need to do it. Regularly. For that, I give thanks to my students and all my teachers. And thanks to those shitty experiences too – those unwelcomed curveballs containing the seeds of compassion that can burst open on the cushion. And the friends who keep me on track by asking “but what about your meditation?”
Unfortunately, I doubt I will ever quite be liberated from my heavy-headed fretting or existential angst about life’s unpredictability.
But in the meantime there’s meditation. It’s not always pretty, but it is almost always good. Suzanne Frydman ©