Why Do You Meditate?
“Why do you meditate?” people ask. I meditate because it puts me in touch with me and what matters. Not in the me sense, but me in the soul sense. In the deeply connected sense. In the meaning sense. Life is so full of distractions that I easily forget what is important. Sitting puts me back in touch. It answers questions and shows me where I am. It brings up things I’ve avoided because they are difficult, hard, or unwanted. I face them, and they shift. This does not necessarily happen consciously, though it can. Yoga can do this for me, or start to do this, especially if breathwork is involved. But to really get anywhere, I have to sit.
When I sat down for the weekthun, I thought I might have to face hurt and pain from various happenings of late. I had stories around them and I was expecting it, maybe even preparing myself in some way.
Things played out differently. My mind was fairly calm, when it wasn’t agitated. First, it was agitated by a few people who didn’t want to leave me alone. Worse, it was agitated by events that did not exist in real time. Stories about all sorts of things. One about Zeka, a dear friend who was moving back to Europe. She did this. She did that. Well, I would just to do this. And fine, that. Well, I see. Okay, then. You know what? I can just let this friendship go. She’s leaving. I don’t need her. I have plenty of friends.
Push, slam, shove away the pain of impending abandonment. That’s what I did in my mind, over and over again. I knew on some level what I was doing. We’d even discussed it on a different note earlier in the summer. What is tremendously painful and humbling is that I know what I am doing, and I still do it. And this is where meditation comes in.
There was space between all the thinking, understand, and a thousand times dragging attention back to breath. The spaces were sometimes large and sometimes small like claustrophobia. But they were there.
At one point, when fighting with myself about how to deal with the situation, I thought, “No. No. Next time.” My quieter, more aware voice gently pressed at me and I knew it was the wrong thing. “Next time. Next time I will deal with it differently,” I said, as if the next time I was in a difficult situation with a friend it would be any easier to take the higher ground. As we know, next time is never now.
I find that when I’m having this sort of argument, forcing myself to do the right thing is not really a better option than doing what my ego wants, because until my stubborn ego softens and wants it too, I’ll just be angry, bitter, and annoyed.
And that’s where the meditation comes in. Things shift when you sit on a cushion and watch your mind. Sitting the last morning of the retreat, centered, there, all of the sudden an image of Zeka’s little blond head bopping in the waves when we swam together popped into my mind and my eyes welled up. Though I’d been stoic all week, ignored emotions come up when I just shut up and sit. Frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, loneliness, annoyance, sadness, everything. If I was asked a week or two ago what would upset me, what would hit me hard, I’d have thought a few things. But I was totally wrong. Zeka’s bopping blond head just knocked me open.
Then, all the things I love about Zeka streamed into my mind, and the tears flowed. What bothered me the most, though, and kept the tears flowing, was not that she was leaving, but that we were shoving each other away. We were both crafting stories about the other to make the loss easier to bear, instead of facing our sadness about the change.
As all of this went through my mind, I did keep going back to my breath, but the thoughts and the tears kept coming. So I let them.
Because I felt sad about Zeka’s leaving does not mean I’m defined by it, or that I’m depressed. As a culture we are so against sad that we’ve forgotten that to feel sadness and let it pass is a fine, healthy thing to do. Like everything else, it comes and goes.
That’s why I meditate. To be honest with myself, to observe my mind, and to see clearly. It’s one thing to get it intellectually and it’s another thing to sit. You really, really have to sit.
Anastasia Kirtiklis is a NY Shambhalian, an ashtangi, and a vinyasa yoga teacher. She likes to write and take photos of ladies meditating on beaches. You can find her at grumpyyoga.com.