Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another Meditation on Meditation...and a Meditation on Slowing Down

In her memoir One More Time, Carol Burnett described how, as a child, she could leave her body if she really wanted to. All she had to do was look in the mirror, focus intensely on her reflection, and soon she'd find herself floating above, watching the world go by.

In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes the time she finally, after months of practicing, and often failing, at meditation, "got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute...I left my body, I left the room, I left the planet, I stepped through time and I entered the void. I was inside the void, but I also was the void and I was looking at the void, all at the same time." (p. 199)

After reading these descriptions of leaving one's body, of experiencing the absolute, I've been thinking about what it would be like if this could actually happen to me. Today, during the church service, as the sounds of the gong reverberated through the sanctuary, I was expecting to leave my body. I really, really wanted to enter that void, where I could just see myself and my friends and church community in an utter state of relaxing bliss.

And I have realized, I'm expecting way too much. WAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY too much.

I have never been good at relaxing. I am not very good at slowing down. Even during the summer months, as much as I look forward to the time off from academia, I get very bored, very quickly, with the lack of a routine. It's a weird dichotomy: there are days when I can't wait to get away from my school year routine, but when I don't have it, I miss it.

Why do I have trouble slowing down? Do I not want to deal with certain issues? It's possible. Do I like to keep busy? Absolutely. But if there's something that I've realized in the past year, there's one thing I haven't been taking good care of, either physically, mentally, and spiritually: myself. Writing and relating to the books I have read or am currently reading helps me process whatever is going on in my life. I know it may seem unorthodox for some, but it has been helping me out.

Jane Redmont over at Acts of Hope has been writing frequently about the "summer slowdown." I found this posting to be the most excellent of what she has written so far. One particular passage really struck me:

"There is more time, of course, to attend to inner realities, and those can be as challenging to face as the outer ones. Still, there is more space to be reverent. I try not to mourn the times I was not able to be reverent, mindful, eucharistic, in this past packed year. Perhaps summer can also be a time for reconciliation: for forgiveness of self as well as others."

It's the "inner realities" that I avoided for years--that is, those times when I beat on myself with a stick for not, simply, "feeling good enough" in my career, my personal life, my family life. By not dealing with these low times head on, they just grew and grew, like a tumor. Forgive me for the cliche, but that's the best way I can describe it.

So I have learned how to acknowledge those "inner realities." I'm pretty good at forgiving others, but I am terrible at forgiving myself.

Maybe that should be my mantra this summer: forgiveness. Self forgiveness. Keep having high expectations, but don't set the bar too high.

That's kind of like expecting to leave my body during a meditation practice: it's too much.

Maybe I should go in to meditation having no expectations and just let things happen.

Maybe that's also a part of slowing down: just letting things happen.

I've got two full months to do that.

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