This morning I hit 169 days of meditation in a row. That is a big accomplishment for me. My longest meditation streak ever.
The day I started this streak, I participated in a meditation workshop and the leader suggested that all we needed to do was notice during our sits. Put another way, all we needed to do was be mindful of our noticings. So that’s what I’m doing.
Here are 9 noticings that prickle my curiosity and offer me enough new insight to keep me coming back for more:
- I’m in a constant state of re-learning what I already knew, but somehow forgot or thought I had changed. Or I’m discovering that circumstances have changed and what I learned no longer applies. Or I am the circumstance that’s changed and therefore needs to learn anew. I don’t got this, but I am getting it. Very few changes stick forever, no matter what, no backsliding. Good to know, so we don’t judge ourselves as falling short! This whole streak has been about impermanence and the wow-reallys? of staying curious. Sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?
- Practicing daily makes it easier to drop into a meditation. Every day is different, but most days there’s a moment (often in the last moments of the sit) when I feel like my mind drops away, my body simultaneously gains 1,000 pounds, sinks into the earth and slips the bonds of gravity. This moment now may happen right away. Not that the grounded-yet-floating lasts the whole meditation, but the opening fidgets hardly have time to squirm before I’m noticing my mind and body in a more concerted meditation-type way.
- A short meditation is better than no meditation. When I started this streak, I sat for 10 minutes a day. I knew that if I demanded more from myself that I would fail. Why set myself up for failure in advance? There have been days when I’ve only managed eight minutes of riding on the personal rollercoaster of my mind. Great. I accomplished what I set out to do. Often, I am more open to a longer meditation when I’ve given myself the grace of a short one the day before.
- Noticing feeds itself, so I notice more details when I’m not meditating. During the last months, I’ve become more aware of the complexities and hidden corners of how I am in the world. What feels most sharpened is my sense of responsibility for who and how I am. I notice that blame is futile. Better to open my heart, to consider how I might change the circumstance, even if that’s just changing my own attitude. Pissed off by someone else’s thoughtlessness, how can I be more thoughtful somewhere else? Noticing slows the world down enough to create a pause for reflection.
- There’s a lot of dogma around meditation, which we should not be dogmatic about. A lot of people prepared to say that there’s one right way to meditate and at the end of their suggested path lies… fill in the blank—peace, bliss, no pain, wealth, happiness, fulfillment, career success, spectacular sex, love, the source of infinite wisdom and so on. So many dogmas conflict. No surprise. We have to self-test and find the combination that works for each of us. Doing that requires tuning into where our mind and body is at, making an honest assessment of our condition and situation and choosing for ourselves what feels right, which, by the way, may change. I’ve been self-testing many different modes on my meditation app (Insight Timer)—various guided, recorded music or chanting, timer with background of rolling OM chants; plus some other guided meditations I’ve downloaded. Also, meditating on specific subjects or objects (my spirit guides, space-time, elevated emotions like joy and gratitude, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, fear).
- Meditating on fear is squirrely and uncomfortable. I recently read Kristen Ulmer’s book, The Art of Fear. These past days, I’ve tried on a bit of her dogma, meditating on fear. The idea is that getting intimate with my fear will transform the feeling into a healthy catalyst, instead of a dreaded obstacle. My list of fears stretches the length of the alphabet and more, ranging from losing my ability to move easily, to not connecting with people, to my washing machine going on the fritz and flooding the downstairs neighbor’s apartment. Plus, the existential, running subtext fear that my life doesn’t have meaning. Simply allowing fear the space to express itself, instead of telling myself to get over it, is new. I feel a small catalytic effect. As in: okay you’re scared, that’s okay, let it be, and hey, maybe you can still do the scary thing.
- Owning my woo-woo is scary. Meditating on, for example, one’s spirit guides feels out there. I fear that I’ll lose credibility (whatever that means) if I admit to any kind of woo-woo experiences or encounters. I am allowing myself to be more woo-woo curious and owning up to it (like in this piece about a puppy in India, that I wrote around day 100).
- I think a lot of non-contemplative thoughts when I’m meditating. In addition to thinking about sex when I’m meditating, back on day 45, I narrated a succession of interior design thoughts I had while meditating. I still have such thoughts. Everyone does, even monks on high mountains. Oh, and I did get the new duvet from Boll and Branch I was thinking about, which makes bedtime even more delicious.
- Meditating regularly enables me to be kinder to myself. Noticing generates the gentle pause in which we see our suffering from the outside and thus cultivate compassion. A truism worth repeating—if we are more compassionate toward ourselves, we will be so with others.
All of these noticings are small. Yet, as they accumulate, their combined significance has the power to create change. As in so much else in life, transformation comes slowly, step-by-tiny-step and then all of a sudden we feel radically different.
Mina Samuels is a writer, playwright and performer, and in a previous incarnation, a litigation lawyer and human rights advocate. Her books include, Run Like A Girl 365 Days: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes (Skyhorse Press; June 2019), Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives (for which she appeared on The Today Show); a novel, The Queen of Cups; and The Think Big Manifesto, co-authored with Michael Port. She created and performed two award-winning solo shows, and her ensemble play, Because I Am Your Queen, has its first production at University of Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in March 2019. She also posts a weekly translation of one of Jean de La Fontaine’s 17thcentury French fables with contemporary commentary. For more about Mina, or to get in touch, visit her website at: www.minasamuels.com.