When I first decided to start taking this meditation thing seriously 10 years ago, I wanted to find out what I was thinking that prevented me from having a clear mind. I knew from my study of Buddhist teachings that a cluttered mind was an obstacle to spiritual progress. I also knew from Western success-coaching that setting up the proper space and equipment is necessary to ensure follow-through. My plan was to start a regular meditation practice. So, the night before my first early morning sitting, I picked out a special space to sit in my living room, and carefully chose the items I needed for meditation success!
I placed a blank writing journal and a sharpened pencil next to my new purple buckwheat-hull zafu cushion on my space on the living room floor. Knowing many serious Buddhists (including the Dalai Lama!) meditate long before sunrise, I had my heart in the right place by setting my alarm clock for 5am and settled into bed with my husband. I shared with him my plans to meditate before sunrise. The snort in the dark indicated his disbelief that I could follow through with such a plan, knowing full well that I love to sleep and cannot even speak until well after 7am. The in-the-dark conversation went like this:
Husband: “So tomorrow’s the day you start meditating?”
Me: “Well, I'll wake up at five, but chime-time is 5:15am. I have to wake up a bit before I sit."
Husband: "Chime time?"
Me: “I found this website called Tree Leaf Zendo where lay-Buddhists can meditate and receive guidance from a Roshi (teacher) anywhere in the world. When you click ‘Meditate,’ a little chime signals the start and end of the sitting. Oh, and they burn a virtual incense stick that is exactly as long as the sitting. I can watch the thing burn while I sit to pass the time. Cute, huh?"
Husband: "Good luck." He's so positive for my sake.
Me: ”I have to sit before the baby wakes up or I really have no chance. The day gets going, and I'll forget, so it's the only time I have to do it. And I have to do it."
Husband: “I see. Good luck, honey. Good night."
And he kisses me with good wishes, knowing this will be extremely hard for me to do, and encouraging me to do my best. Sometimes the significant effort it takes to do a thing is all that is needed to get to the next level, and that's what I was after. Despite my husband's doubt, I was excited to wake up the next morning at 5am. I was on a new journey to self-discovery!
I woke right up with a cool washcloth on my face and a glass of water with lemon that I kept on my bedside table, and hustled out to turn on my computer and log into my supportive online virtual tribe. I thought, a 15 minute stick of incense should be enough time to set my mind straight. I settled onto the cushion, set my posture, then dimmed my eyes to the virtual incense stick on my computer monitor.
The very first minute I experienced a full-on parade of thoughts. I felt an itch on my foot. Should I resist scratching it, or give it a scratch? Then I felt a tickle on my forehead. I reached up and rubbed it. Then I felt hungry. I looked at the time. (it HAD to be at least 10 minutes, didn’t it?) Barely four minutes. Well, I scratched and fidgeted, ached and agitated—and finally the chime tinkled its sound of sweet relief that I had survived my first sitting.
I kept this up for 2 weeks, writing it all down in short, choppy, agitated pen-smeared printing so I would know, once and for all, what was so important in the far reaches of my mind. I took a look at what I wrote. It was all a bunch of distractions from realizing my actual state of my mind. Nevermind that I had a profoundly spiritual awakening when I was six; I clearly could not handle even ten minutes of quiet with myself!
On a much deeper level, I realized the heart of my anxiety and fear was a deep sadness over a pained and frustrated relationship with my mother. I included a part of my meditation to feel my feelings, and practice letting them go. I slowly detached from the frustration and learned to love without attachment. I discovered that I had great personal power and freedom to decide how I view and respond to adversity in my life.
Although brief at first, I had a revelation about myself every single time I sat to meditate. The 5am sittings did not last long, but I had set the foundation for a disciplined mind: I had figured out how to sit and be still. This was the basis of a less formal, but more frequent, meditation practice I learned to fit into my life which I have kept in my routine ever since. I simply cannot do without it.
Kristen is a mindfulness and meditation teacher who provides private and group meditation sessions in person and by Skype. Contact her at 714-404-2576.