Thursday, November 21, 2013

Full Circle

Over ten years ago, I drove up to New Hampshire for the weekend, ostensibly to decorate my family's vacation home for the holidays. In the back of my SUV, I carried an oversized cardboard box with an artificial Christmas tree (some assembly required), a Tupperware container of glass ornaments, and a case of red and white wine, hand-picked for the outing, at the Hampton state liquor store (a virtual vending machine paradise that my children came to regard, euphemistically, as the candy store.) The truth is, I did plan to trim the tree, hang the stockings, and decorate the house, but I was really going away without my young family so I could drink.

At the house, I poured a glass of Merlot, ripped open the cardboard box, and to my horror, laid eyes on dozens of individually wrapped, color-coded plastic tree branches, and pages of instructions. I distinctly recall thinking, rather gleefully, "I may run out of patience, but I won't run out of wine." I inserted a lot of twisted, metal-tipped branches into pre-drilled holes that night, and I drank the way I wanted to---alone, and into the wee hours. To my surprise in the morning, the completed tree looked pretty good. My reflection in the mirror told a different story.

The memory of that winter weekend flashed back yesterday while I was standing in the fake Christmas tree aisle at Lowe's. As a child, I only knew artificial trees; my parents would never go to the trouble of displaying a real tree in the living room, but once married, with children of my own, it became tradition to tag, chop, and drag the prize home. I honored that tradition for a good, long time, but those days are behind me now. My children are grown, and it's up to me to decide which traditions to maintain, and which ones to create anew. Standing there in the aisle, I couldn't take my eyes off a 7 1/2-foot GE, pre-lit, frasier fir, looking surprisingly like the real deal. I wrestled with my decision, but I can think things through today. By the time I dragged that box up three flights of stairs into my apartment, made a cup of lemon tea, cut open the box (to blessedly find three pieces, not dozens, and a one-sided sheet of instructions), stacked the sections, and fanned out the branches, I knew---I'd come full circle.

I'm going up north again tomorrow, this time to Vermont, and I won't be alone, by golly. I'll be with a whole pack of women, sober women, women happy to be alive, celebrating this season with zest, vigor, a whole lot of laughter, and---no wine.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Meditation: Simply Notice

A group of women gathered at my studio last week to be trial subjects in an upcoming meditation workshop one of the women is presenting this month. Volumes have been written trumpeting the practical benefits of meditation, yet all too often I hear, "I can't do it. I can't quiet my mind. It doesn't work for me." Somewhere along the spiritual continuum, a lot of folks missed the point.

I don't practice to relax. I don't practice to quiet my mind. I don't practice to become a better meditator. I practice to notice. I practice to let go, without attachment, without judgement. If you're waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect mood, the perfect cushion, clothing, music, incense, CD, you are cheating yourself out of one of the most useful tools in our wellness arsenal. 

Try this. Find a spot to sit undisturbed for a few minutes---start slow. Get comfortable. Set your timer. Close your eyes. Breathe. When the siren outside screams past, notice (don't curse), the sound. When the cat jumps into your lap, notice the sensation. When your mind revisits the argument you had with your partner last night, notice the thought. Don't judge sounds, sensations, thoughts. Don't get mad at your mind for dragging you into the past, racing you into the future. Notice, then let go, detach. Stay. Breathe. Repeat, and then repeat the process again tomorrow, and the day after that.

You can't do this wrong. You can only not do it, and in not meditating, you are depriving yourself of learning to coexist peacefully with the world around you. Practically speaking, this means, the next time another driver cuts you off in traffic, notice, do not attach, do not react. Instead of railing against a co-worker's procrastination to complete a needed task, notice your resistance, your frustration, and in that moment of noticing, choose, without malice, without judgement, the higher thought. 

Notice. Simply notice.