Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Monkey Mind - On Meditation

In the throes of my alcoholism, I found a way to drink everyday.  So I'm doing my best to find a way to engage in self-care every day.

Meditation has always been a kind of scary word for me.  Maybe scary is the wrong word - maybe more skeptical?  And I always told myself I don't have time. I have two young, noisy kids. I have a small business to run...  blah, blah, blah.

But then I remember that I always found a way to get my fix when I was addicted, and that shuts me up.

I read (and strongly, strongly recommend to anyone - even people who aren't in recovery) Lorna Kelly's "In the Footsteps of the Camel" (the Kindle edition is less expensive than the paperback version).  She is in recovery, and has a fascinating life story as an auctioneer at Sotheby's, and then a close relationship with Mother Teresa, and a really interesting blend of studying faiths and perspectives on her own spiritual path.  And she's funny.  Funny is so important to me when it comes to these weighty topics.  (I'll stop here to send a big shout-out to Lisa H. who turned me on to her in the first place by sending me a copy of a CD of her speaking at a recovery convention).  

So, anyway, Lorna talks not just about the fact that she meditates, but how she does.  She uses Vipassana Meditation, which in my very neophyte way I will define as "thought observation".   Every morning she puts her alarm clock across the room so she can't hit snooze.  She then splashes cold water on her face to wake herself up, and goes downstairs for 20 minutes of quiet time (no screen time, no radio, no television). She sips tea, or looks out the window, but no noise.   Then she goes upstairs and sits on her mat for 45 minutes of meditation (setting an egg timer she can't hear ticking down the hall from her room).  After 45 minutes, no matter how blissful she's feeling (or how edgy), when the timer goes off, she stops.

During the meditation, she observes her thoughts, without judgement or fear, and if she gets too deep into some practical problem or daily snarl, she pulls herself back to baseline through breathing.  She also got to the point where she can meditate on her own death, and it brings her peace.  In my Buddhist readings I learned how Buddhist monks consider this ability - meditating on your own death - to be a joyous breakthrough.  I'm not quite there, yet, but I'm curious.

Lorna's practice just makes sense to me. A practical interpretation of an ancient form of meditation (I'm sure long-time practitioners of this are rolling their eyes).  But this is what I love about Lorna - she's totally committed to her recovery, her meditation practice, her reaching out to others, but she's so human, so grounded, so real.  So busy, too.

And she is a cancer survivor.

So I've been trying this.  Every morning.  Watching my thoughts - without getting caught up in them, or owned by them - is fascinating.  My brain never stops and the sheer number of topics it will hit upon in 45 minutes is astounding.  I know I'm not unique in this way, but it still surprises me. 

It's challenging with the kids - getting up before them means about 5:30am, so if I miss that window I have to tell them to find their own quiet activities for 45 minutes while I meditate somewhere in the house where I can't hear them (thankfully, they are old enough that I can do this safely, now).   That's good for them, too.

As a last result, I'll go for a walk.  No music, just walking and mindfulness. 

I can feel it helping, although I can't really put into words why.  Maybe getting used to observing some of my scarier thoughts without obsessing about them is helping me embrace fear more.  Because a lot of my thoughts revolve around fear.  

And I'm learning that it's okay.  That my mind creates thoughts like my heart pumps blood, or my lungs breathe air.  There are no "bad" thoughts - and it's not my monkey mind's fault that it is a thought-making machine. I'm just trying to learn to make peace with it.

One day at a time.

P.S. - I don't recommend many books.. only when I really feel they are unique or impactful in some way.   This endorsement of her book is all me - I was not paid or asked to write about it.


  1. Meditation has always been difficult for me – to rest in one place and not fall to sleep, but I rather like the idea of mindfulness and quiet. Breakfast in silence, it sounds blissful and grounding. Thank you for the idea, I’m going to try and find some quiet time to just think and reflect upon that thinking.

    Great post!

  2. How wonderful that you are finding some peace in your surroundings and within. Meditation helps me on a semi-regular basis and it has been my go-to rec for others who ask how to calm that mind rattle. Thanks for sharing; I am glad you are feeling better.

  3. I am delighted... I will order that book. I hope you have enough patience and discipline to stick with it...if you drift from the practice, just keep going back. My experience with meditation is that the "monkey-mind" that is forever stirring the water to a muddy mess eventually, with enough consistent practice, begins to settle down quite a bit... though there are always a few surprises along the way as the water clears! Let it bring you to a place of spaciousness and compassion and love, and then send some outward (as you already do). Isn't it such a blessing that cancer journies, like addiction journies, somehow, (perhaps through the act of surrender?) can become such a huge spiritual catapult! I may never fully understand why that is, why it hardens some and softens others, but I am grateful to find you here!

  4. Interesting ...

    I just picked up a book called, "It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness," by Sylvia Boorstein. I had heard her talking on NPR one day and was actually looking to no avail for another book of hers, "That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist!" I'm barely into it, but feel as if the concepts she is discussing are a good adjunct to recovery principles. You might like it.:)

  5. Gillian in WalesJune 27, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    I started doing Tai Chi a while ago (Master Moy style, for anyone who knows anything at all about it) and I found it the only way I have ever been able to meditate. My mind is *constantly* thinking about at least 3 or 4 things at the very same time. If I try to observe what I am thinking, it just added yet another layer!

    But doing Tai Chi helped - a physical movement that I had to concentrate on so that it pushed other thoughts out of my mind; and a movement that was calming in and of itself. Now to push myself to actually *do* it, and to find a time that works for me. My son wakes at 5:30 anyway most days and although he will play in his room on his own, my inclination then is always for SLEEP! But your commitment is going to help me make my own commitment to me.

    Thank you :-)

  6. Thanks so much for this and your other posts - found you via BlogHer and needed this perspective.
    Cheap blog editing and proofreading - when your blog has too many readers to pretend it doesn't matter because no one's going to see it.

  7. What is the old saying? That religion is for people who are seeking heaven but spirituality belongs to those that have already been through hell? Or something like that. Stick with it. Meditation changed my life. Learning to be still and present (non-attached, non-judgmental, non-reactive) is the most important work you will ever do (in my opinion). I recommend "The Power of Now" and/or "A New Earth", as well (both by Eckhart Tolle)... a whole world opens up to you when you realize that you are NOT your thoughts but the observer of your thoughts. I wish I could stay in that mindset all of the time but it is very difficult (and the ego is strong), but that is why they call it a "practice". Be well, my dear...