Thursday, October 15, 2015

A new year

I've been meditating. 

That's not actually true. I've been reading a book about mindfulness meditation and doing the meditation exercises in my imagination, without actually meditating. 

That's also not actually true. I was reading the book over the Summer, but now it's Fall, and I haven't picked it up since the Summer. 

Of course, a book about mindfulness makes me think about living in the moment. And as I think about living in the moment, predictably I start thinking about the future. 

I think about the future a lot. Like, a real lot. Like, what should I do this weekend? What should I wear? What should I say? What will the weather be like? How should I handle this situation? How should I handle that situation? Which thing should I choose to do, because I have two things at the same time? What kind of daily practice might I want to engage in this coming year? What should I eat for lunch? 

All of which is pretty normal for a modern American, I know. And all of which makes me (and probably you) a prime candidate for a mindfulness meditation practice that focuses, in part, on living in the moment. 

I've never been great at living in the moment. I was a lonely kid. I spent hours by myself wishing someone wanted to play with me. Some people who spend a lot of time alone learn to love their own minds and their own company. Now I do much of the time, but 1) not all the time, and 2) it took me a long time to get here.

Even though I spent hours by myself—out in the woods, curled up with the cat, reading a book, playing music on the stereo, teaching myself songs or my guitar, shooting hoops in the driveway—if someone had called to invite me over, I would have left myself in a heartbeat. At later points in my life, I spent my alone time knitting, playing music, walking, jogging, baking, writing plays, watching movies, gardening. But just because I knew how to fill my time, doesn't mean that I knew how to love my own mind and my own company.

And to be honest, I'm still not sure I know how. At least not to the extent that I would like to.

Then this summer, I got sick. I got an auto-immune disease that manifests in off-the-charts pain. Suddenly I was very much with myself, and not under the best of circumstances—awake all night for months, unable to lie down because it hurt so freaking much. 

Ultimately, this reminded me that we are all, in the end, alone—and that no matter how wonderful our friends, family, and partners are, they don't feel the pain in your shoulders in the middle of the night. They can stand with you, but they are not you. And ultimately, I found it easier to be alone with the pain, maybe because the only way through it was to actually experience it, and not to try to distract myself from it.

The acute pain is gone for now, thanks to a diagnosis and to Prednisone I take every morning before 8 AM (and acupuncture and massages and physical therapy and hot showers and Advil and stretching and a daily fistful of supplements and walking and getting enough rest) but the lessons have stuck with me, and I've had to make some pretty big lifestyle changes. I can't go out late as much as I used to, and I need breaks for naps or just resting during the day. I have all the above mentioned appointments to fit in to an already full work schedule. And with all of that, I find myself needing some unscheduled down time.

For most of my adult life, people have been telling me I am over-scheduled. Like I said before, I have probably filled up my schedule because I haven't been great at being by myself, with myself. But also, I'm very interested in the world. I love to go to movies and theater, I love to make movies and theater, I love to garden, I love baseball, I love to hang out with friends, I love to be active with progressive/radical Jews, and I love to go walking outside, and more. Since March, I also have a very full-time job I love. Since I got sick, of course I still love all those things, but I also need lots of down time.

If you're good at putting two and two together and getting LIVE IN THE MOMENT, you've probably figured out what I'm getting at. For someone who is always thinking towards the future, and wants to learn to better live in the moment, what better practice than to stop scheduling things?

If you're a long-time reader of this one year on and one year off blog, you know that I choose a year-long daily practice, and I write about it.

I started writing this post on the evening of simkhes toyre, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the cycle of reading from the Torah, right before we start reading it all over again from the beginning. The night of simkhes toyre, I truly wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I might have gone home, and I might go to a JFREJ simkhes toyre where I knew I would see friends. I stood on the street corner and leaned towards the train home and then turned back and went toward my JFREJ friends, and I did this, literally, five times. For the life of me, I could not tell what I wanted to do. Home to rest, out to play; home to rest, out to play.

And in that dance of five, I realized what my year should be—I would start telling my story again, in the moment as much as possible. I would spend this year, as best I can, making many fewer plans—sometimes ending up by myself while other people are together, and sometimes ending up with other people when I wish I was alone, hopefully more frequently being available to say yes when people invite me to do something I want to do, hopefully more frequently being able to back out if I am not up to the commitment I made, and hopefully—and this is the big one—getting better and better determining what I really want to do in the moment.

As I understood all that, I walked off towards simkhes toyre to see a few friends, get a few hugs, and then head home to rest and write.

That was 9 nights ago, and it has taken me that long to write this blog post. But in that time, I have had more impromptu dates than usual, I have slept in more than once, I have canceled one commitment, and I have been much, much more present with myself and with my friends and family.

And I have still not meditated.