I’ve never been good at being alone.
Never been comfortable with silence. Which explains why I resisted meditation for so long. Even when one of my favorite writers/teachers highly recommended it for writers, coming just shy of touting it as the magic key, I still refused to sit with myself in silence.
When I first went away to art school, I arrived before my roommate. I had the apartment to myself for almost a week and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t have a TV. This was well before personal computers, much less iPhones. I didn’t have a stereo. I think I did have a cassette player with earphones. And books. And myself.
Those few days were excruciating. I remember sitting on the couch in view of the apartment across from me where I saw other students, hoping, praying they would notice me, take pity on me and invite me over.
When I was a young mother, I craved time alone, even if just in the bathroom. When I was lucky enough to get any time to myself, I almost always squandered much of it in front of the TV. Or I’d call family or friends and talk to them. Anything to fill up the silence. Anything to avoid being alone with myself.
Now, my daughters are both away at college. This week my husband is out of town so it just me and the dog and cat. And the silence.
As I sit in my cozy reading/writing nook in the living room I hear the tapping of these keys, the gurgling hum of the washing, the clock ticking over the mantel and the muted thrum of highway traffic. That’s it. No TV or radio or music to fill the silence.
No barriers between me and myself.
I no longer resist silence or being alone. I embrace it.
What changed? Me. I don’t know when exactly it happened but it’s been since I started practicing yoga, since I finished my YTT. Yoga has allowed me to dive deep and figure out who I am, how I feel and to, you know, actually feel those feelings.
I think I was afraid of feeling too much so I avoided being alone, avoided creating space where feelings could surface.
I am no longer uncomfortable being alone. It no longer feels lonely. It wasn’t because I didn’t like myself. I didn’t know myself. And I am not always comfortable with being alone or with silence. Sometimes I still get that feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin. Of wanting to fill in the gaps of silence that press on me.
The difference now is that I allow myself to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And that is something that has definitely emerged from my yoga practice. I find my edge in poses that aren’t comfortable but I stay there, I breathe, I feel my body, I note my resistance and choose to stay.
Staying there when I want to flee is where the growth happens. It’s like a muscle that I push to its limit and it grows stronger. That space of hanging in past resistance helps in my writing as well.
So, as I find myself sitting in the utter quiet of my home, I note the butterflies in my belly, I note my shallow breath and the urge to turn the TV on. But I don’t.
I choose to embrace the silence.
And in embracing the silence I am embracing myself , exactly who I am in this moment. I wish eighteen-year-old me had known this. But she was young. She didn’t know or appreciate the beauty of all of who she was.
That’s okay. We know now.
As part of an on-line program, Spring Equinox 30 Days Back to You, I did a full two-hour vipassana meditation this morning. It is a practice of seeing ourselves clearly, of staying present to exactly what is happening in the moment, gradually purifying the mind and getting rid of attachments which are the root of suffering.
Where to start? At the beginning I suppose.
First up was the question of where to do it. I thought I should do it in my yoga room. Then this morning I decided I would sit in my nook in the living room. It didn’t look like I pictured it “should” in my mind—me sitting on my mat, in my yoga room, spine straight. But I decided I needed to make it as doable as possible. This chair is comfortable, it is cozy, I had the house to myself so I wouldn’t be interrupted. It made me wonder how often I tend to sabotage myself before I even begin by not making what I want to do as doable or accessible as possible.
Lately, I’ve been meditating and practicing self-reiki in bed as soon as I wake up. I used to think I “should” be doing it on my mat, after I practice. But this works for me. I wake up and before I do anything else, I do some reiki. I am still in that soft space after just waking, this keeps me there then it leads me straight into a sweet meditative space.
When I first read that I was going to have to meditate for two hours by first reaction was,”NO FUCKING WAY!”
But I was also intrigued.
I thought it would be so hard, so tedious. I thought it would be painful physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
But I also thought it could really interesting.
I went into it without expectations. I deliberately didn’t read about others’ experience with it before I experienced it myself.
I got my cozy blanket, a glass of water, lit a candle, put my phone on airplane mode so I wouldn’t be disturbed, set the timer and just did it.
At first it was loud in my head. It felt like “Inside Out” in there. I had the rebel dressed in black muttering, “This is bullshit.”
There was one wringing her hands worried that we weren’t doing this right at all.
Another desperately taking notes so we could write about this afterward.
Another patrolling with a ruler in her hand, enumerating all the ways this was an utter waste of time.
The first time I checked the timer only 15 minutes had passed.
I shared the space with my dog, Izzy. She slept on the couch then at some point got up and moved to the recliner closer to me. I thought, her whole life is a vipassana meditation. She is always just in the moment, doing what she is doing. I tried to be more like her.
I was acutely aware of my body and the shapes it made. The places where my body connected with the chair, that line or veil between the two seeming to dissipate.
I was hyper aware of my face and neck.
I heard the clock above the mantel ticking away, the hum of the refrigerator, the creaks and groans of the house, distant traffic, a siren.
Odd images would flash behind my eyes. It felt like I was watching a movie.
It felt like that limbo between wakefulness and sleep though I never teetered over the edge into sleep.
The next time I looked I had 37 minutes left.
Then only six.
Then the timer dinged and I came back.
And it felt like coming back.
From where, I’m not sure. A journey of some sort. A deep inner journey.
I don’t remember a lot of the details. I am stunned that two hours went by.
I am surprised that it wasn’t more of a struggle. I’m surprised that I was able to just allow my mind to go where it went and didn’t engage with it. I felt like an observer. A curious, compassionate observer.
I stopped struggling to remember everything that I experienced and just allowed myself to experience it.
Just allowed myself to be.
Just allowed myself to see my Self more clearly.
Peeling the curtain back takes courage. From black and white to vibrant color. From comfort to the new and absurd. Allowing all those voices to be heard. Standing guard over your ego, loitering around the coffee cooler of your heart, discussing all the ways you have failed, all the things you dream of, musing on the paths not taken or those taken and abandoned. Aiming true deep into the heart of who you truly are rather than who you pretend to be. Let the red poppies of your subconscious spill into your life, your dreams. Pulling back the bow, knuckle grazing the sharp edge of the cheekbone, gazing ahead, not back, straight into the concentric circles of your past, present and future selves, trusting it will glide with speed and depth, landing exactly where it needs to. Where it is meant to.
“A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara
The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking.
This is a book to get lost in. A thick, page-turner of a book. Sometimes, you wish you could find your way out again as it gets dark. Very dark. But the characters just drew me in, as did their story. As did their friendship. That’s the aspect that most intrigued me. This is the story of male friendship. A deep and abiding, complicated, ferocious friendship between men who meet in college and stay connected through all the ups and downs of their separate yet intertwined lives.
A sentence I love:
In bed, though, he returned to the thought that had crept, tendril-like, from some dark space of his mind and had insinuated itself into his consciousness like a thin green vine: maybe one of them had discovered something about the person he once was.
“tiny beautiful things—Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed
The last word my mother ever said to me was “love.”
So starts the first sentence of the first answer to the first question in this collection of…well, there has to be a better word than advice. Her answers are not just little nuggets of wisdom she tosses out. No. Her answers come from a place deep within her heart, she dredges them from the guts of and soul of her life. The advice is not always pretty or nice or simple. In fact, she often reminds us how complicated life is. How complicated we humans are. And how simple it can be if we look past our own bullshit. After reading this, I felt a piece of her remained with me and when confronted with my own decisions in my own life I started asking myself “What would Dear Sugar say?”
A sentence I love:
There are so many tiny revolutions in a life, a million ways we have to circle around ourselves to grow and change and be okay. And perhaps the body is our final frontier.
“Twin Study” stories by Stacey Richter
I’ve been a human specimen going on twenty years now, ever since my sister and I were twelve, when my parents enrolled us in the California State University Twin Study.
Reality and the surreal coexist seamlessly in this innovative collection—one never more plausible than the other. Whether it’s about Cavemen intruding on suburbia or a woman who is raising her clone the stories are sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing but always thought-provoking. They remind me that what is at the heart of any story are the characters.
A sentence I love:
I think we just feel and feel as children, or as kids or whatever, and then at some point, we get older and have to decide how much to feel, because it’s too arduous to go through that every day—it’s just too much, like listening to heavy metal nonstop.
“The Untethered Soul- The Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael A. Singer
In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops.
I remember picking this book up in the store, reading that first line and thinking, “YES! Yes, I do!”
I found this book life-changing. Almost every page is underlined. I chose it for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio where I teach and am really looking forward to the discussion. So much to think about. So much to digest. I appreciated the different metaphors he used to describe concepts that seem indescribable. But I’d read it and think, “Oh, now I get it.”
It’s all about noticing the thoughts and emotions but not getting swept away by them. Putting distance between the “You” having the thoughts and the “You” watching them. Easier said than done, but so worth the lifetime of practice trying to do so.
Sentences I love:
Just decide that no matter what the mind says, you aren’t getting involved. You don’t fight the mind. In fact, you don’t even try to change it. You just make a game out of relaxing in the face of its melodrama.
“Imagine This—Creating the Work You Love” by Maxine Clair
I first heard of this little gem of a book from Tayari Jones and once I read it I can see why she was so enamored. I could sense her own vital creativity and her own passion to share what she’s learned just as Clair does. Part memoir, part writing process, part spirituality this book earned many, many marks on the pages. You don’t have to want to be a writer to appreciate her story and her advice. It’s about cultivating a life you love through hard work, mindfulness and trust. Each chapter ends with exercises to explore to help you truly create work and a life you love.
A sentence I love:
Becoming one with your expression, you are more than you have ever been. Nothing is needed to complete you; you are more than enough; you harmonize with everything and everyone.
She had been wearing it for so long that the mask had molded to the contours of her face. A thick veil between her and the world. Between who she pretended to be and who she really was. Between who she was and who she wanted to be. The mask felt safe. Everyone knew the mask. She knew the mask. It was familiar. It had been with her for so long that she forgot it wasn’t naturally a part of her. Then she remembered. And it began to feel completely unnatural. Foreign. So other. Her eyelids were closed on the mask. Her vision obstructed. Gutted. The day came when she was tired of the darkness. Tired of the feeling trapped behind the stale breath of the mask. But could it be removed? She was tentative at first, not wanted it to hurt. But she knew that at some point it would. It was inevitable. And she was okay with that. She had to be. And so she lifted it off and it pulled away from her in one complete piece. No longer a part of her. Only a reminder. A reminder to not hide. Ever again.
I just played with my first haiku since high school.
As part of the Write Yourself Alive challenge, I am trying to do the prompts that, well, challenge me.
Poetry challenges me.
Structured poetry challenges me even more.
But here’s what I learned. Or, maybe, it’s something I remembered.
Structure is essential to creativity.
It seems counterintuitive, I know. Creativity is free flowing,exactly the opposite of structured.
But nothing gets done without a structure.
All those pages I have filled over the years would have just stayed pages of free-writing, or practice unless I came up with a structure to contain them whether it was a story, novel, essay, blog post or even just a Facebook post.
We need to structure our time or nothing gets written or created. Nothing gets finished. Nothing gets submitted or shared with the world.
My yoga mat is a type of structure. My practice is a container for my attention. I have this one hour on my mat to connect with my body, my mind, with this moment. Without the structure of a practice I would completely lose that connection.
A recipe is a structure for a meal.
The tools you choose to create are the structure for the next piece or art whether its paper, scissors and glue or paint and canvas.
A pattern gives structure to a dress, otherwise it stays a lump of material.
Goals give structure to our dreams otherwise they stay dreams.
Where do you need more structure in your life? Feel free to share in the comments!
Oh, and here’s the Haiku Series I wrote:
The days of just us
in our own little cocoon
of freedom and love.
crept in with charts and hormones
leaving us afloat.
Let go of that dream.
Immersed myself in college
then the line appears.
And two became three.
Three easily became four
Perfect square of love.
Small and big moments
Wove us together as one
Fights, fun, tears and joys.
Then college takes one
Creating a triangle
Leaving a true gap.
Then the other leaves.
Two there and two here alone.
Learning to embrace
The silence and space.
Standing face to face once more
Just the two of us.
Okay…so this is a little anxiety-producing.
As part of the Write Yourself Alive Challenge, I wrote a rambling meditation, then recorded it and now…gulp…am sharing it here. But, hey, this was part of the reason I joined this challenge—to break the hell out of my comfort zone.
This is a rambling meditation through the silky seaweed of thoughts
undulating through the dark shadowy spaces of my mind.
Mining the mind for what is truly there,
not merely what I think is there.
Diving below that still surface of
polite thoughts of please and thank you and,
most insidious of all, I’m sorry.
Those apologies of the soul, for the soul.
Apologizing for taking up too much space,
for saying the wrong thing on the outside though it felt so right on the inside.
Slipping into the crevice between apologizing and owning.
Owning the space inside my head,
inside my heart.
Daring to disturb the mirror-like surface with
one pebble of truth
and allowing those ripples to flow wherever they may go.
Watching them extend far beyond the safety of polite
I’ve written for fifty days in a row.
I’ve meditated for thirty-five.
How do I know this? I am keeping track. Each day that I write, I make a red “x” on the dry erase board in my office. The app, “Insight Timer” keeps track of the days I meditate, alerting me of each upcoming milestone as well as the ones achieved.
I am proud of each “x” I am able to make, of each milestone I reach. But.
But there is this lingering fear, just beneath the surface that I will blow it. And soon.
I mean, I always have in the past.
See, I am not much of follow-through type of person. I start stories but don’t finish them. Or I finish them but don’t submit them. Or I meditate for several weeks in a row then one day I don’t and it’s hard to start again.
I’ve met me. This is how I roll.
So, each day that I show up to my writing and meditation practice is a win but there’s also this voice whispering, “Huh, how long do you really think this is gonna last?”
The truth is, I don’t know.
What I do know is this: Each day I have a choice to make and that is all I need to focus on. Will I write today? Will I meditate today?
Writer and teacher, Ron Carlson, has said that we need to make each day a yes or no day. Choose, one or the other. Maybe days will kill you.
I get that. Maybe days leave me in limbo. They make me think what I choose is out of my control. Maybe I’ll write if I’m inspired or I figure out how that scene ends or if I have time.
The truth is, showing up is totally in my control. And that is reassuring since not many things are.
So, am I positive I will show up tomorrow or the next day or still be showing up next year? Of course not.
But I am sure that the choice is mine.