The summer of 2016, I spent five nights at Vallecitos Mountain Retreat Center in what felt like perpetual, never-ending, extended, are we there yet? meditation. Prior, I had been experimenting with the practice, but never with such intensity and rigor. From dawn to dark, we spent thirty-minute increments either in sitting, walking, or eating meditation sessions. It was intense, to say the least. At times during the retreat, my heavy skin crawled with a suffocating desire to flee…me, my thoughts, and I. But, alas, I couldn’t escape; there was nowhere to go. Now, however, when I look back on that retreat, I see it for what it was: a monumental gift. [To read more about my experience at Vallecitos, see here (prose) or here (poetry).]
After that, I continued to dabble in meditation, albeit with a bit more consistency. Yet all that changed in December of 2016 when my beloved and trusty meditation app, Insight Timer, suggested a year of meditating daily: the 365 day challenge. No ifs, ands, or buts. No excuses or diversions. Every. damn. day.
And here I sit on the first of 2018 grateful and humbled and honored to say: I did it. Every. damn. day. No ifs, ands, or buts. No excuses or diversions.
So, here’s a look at my year sitting with it:
- How. The app offered a curated list of daily meditations grouped together by weekly themes. Though I began with this, I quickly learned that sometimes I don’t jive with the style of the teacher. More often than not, I searched the app’s library for a guided meditation based on my internal landscape: grief when I was mourning the loss of my parents; guidance when I was deciding whether or not to move abroad; peace when my anxiety was kicking in; metta when I needed to send love to some people; compassion when I was raining criticism down on myself. No matter what I was going through, I could find words and light and space to sustain me. Sometimes, I sat in silence with my own breath, training the monkey mind to sit, stay and be.
- Where. I bought my own set of cushions for ease in the body. Let’s get real: meditation can get uncomfortable… especially for an already, ahem, cushioned girl like myself. An upright, slightly forward spine with ample but soft support for the knees is essential. Those cushions have traveled with me across different homes, hotels and, now, countries. They have been outside a tent and under a staircase. They have grounded me, sustaining my practice.
- When. On motivated days, the quiet darkness of the morning found me on my cushions. On stressful days, the evening light held my hands as I sat on my cushions. On travel days, an airport floor or the passenger’s seat substituted for my cushions. Often, though, the overwhelming pace of life sprawled me out on my bed, where I fell comfortably asleep with the soothing voice of a meditation teacher in my earbuds.
- But. Meditation, like life, is a journey. Though I am so proud to say I did it every. damn. day. last year, I also recognize the shortcuts I took. Like fleeting thoughts or experiences, I notice and observe without biased criticism; in this, I gain insight. Moving forward, I want more time meditating on my cushions and less time meditating on my bed. This is a choice. Moving forward, I want more time in silence working through my own mental training and less time being guided by an outside teacher. This is a choice. These I will choose.
- So What. A friend recently asked if I’ve noticed a difference. It is a profound question that confounds me, for mere words fail to describe how my year sitting with it has transformed me. I long to open the curtains to my heart so people can feel what I feel and know what I know. But, I can, and do, offer evidence. I have lost both of my parents and both of my pets within the blink of six years, yet I am not a bitter person. Fights with my husband have reduced their average running times. The weight of work problems has lightened on my shoulders. Anxieties used to paralyze me with their crippling hold; now, I live in a foreign land (!), embracing the unknown and welcoming adventure. And, when worries do arise, they do not Tasmanian-devil-spiral me into a dark abyss from which I can’t recover. I fight the urge to copy and paste those last two sentences a dozen times because it is all. the. things.
Have I noticed a difference?
I am different.
And that, I will gladly sit with.