I believe we are genetically programmed to want enlightenment.
We are bliss-seeking creatures, and we’ve heard good things about nirvana.
The absence of suffering and confusion.
But clarity sorta sucks. Sometimes it brings the suffering of others into excruciating focus. You’re hit with a barrage of emotions, and then clarity is gone.
You have to learn to be still amid the chaos, to avoid stirring up all the shit, to look life in the eye and say, “okay,” and let go.
So that’s why I meditate.
Because I am a shameless spiritual junkie. Because someone said life is suffering, and I’m the kid trying to prove them wrong. Because I know if I am still, right here and now, I can find quiet. Because I just got back from a week-long visit with my family, and I didn’t fight with my dad or anything! Because I was looking for truth and someone said, “inquire within,” and it’s by far the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever been given.
In just a few days, I’m offering my first Introduction to Meditation workshop at Shakti Studio in Arnold, MD, and I would love beyond words to have you there.
Here’s how you register:
Go to this link. You will probably be prompted to create an account. Do that, and then you’ll see the class schedule, etc. Click the “Workshops” tab at the top of the page, and you’ll see several workshop descriptions including the “Introduction to Meditation.” Click the blue button that says, “Sign up now!” Follow the instructions from there.
Also, join the Facebook event for the workshop so we can get in touch. There, you can ask me questions if needed or get in touch with other workshop participants.
If you have any trouble signing up, please send me a note or just show up early so we can get you all squared away.
Michael has a really cool approach, that I think everyone can use, and while I can’t give you the entire workshop via blog post, here are some of the highlights of what I learned in the workshop.
The body is a more reliable instrument than the mind for navigating the world. The mind can dwell on the past, fantasize about the future, or obsess about things that have no basis in reality whatsoever. Meanwhile, the body is always in the present moment. If you find yourself distracted often or lost in thought, creating a stronger connection to your body is a good way to get grounded and focused. In addition, the mind can be a bit wily. Sometimes what you want to be true is simply not in sync with reality, and your mind will talk you into doing things that may not be in your best interest. (Ever had just one more drink, even though your stomach told you it was a bad idea? Be honest.) Meanwhile, the body won’t lie. It typically gives pretty clear signals: I like this or I don’t like this. Learning to tune in to those signals through mindful practice (like yoga) is an extraordinarily valuable tool.
While there’s no replacement for Michael’s teaching, here are some simple steps you can experiment with:
Stand in tadasana or mountain pose. Simply — feet hip-distance apart, arms down by your sides.
Close your eyes and scan the body. Are there any places where your body feels tense, places that feel warm or cold, areas that immediately draw your attention? Tune in and take note of what you feel.
Resist the urge to judge. Don’t have a conversation with your mind about why your shoulder feels tight. Don’t pick apart your posture. Simply acknowledge what is, take a deep breath, and let it go.
Make micro-movements. What little adjustments can you make that would create more ease in the body? Don’t worry about them being “correct,” but rather, just do what makes your body feel nurtured. Something small like shoulder rolls or a gentle back bend is a good place to start if you’re not sure what to do.
Ease in to larger movements. Begin slowly and intentionally stretching or moving in any way that feels good to you. Whatever the body wants in this moment is great.
Come back to stillness. After a few minutes of movement, return to tadasana and see if you feel any differently.
Listen. If your body were telling you something right now, what would it be? Maybe it’s “thank you for the attention,” or “slow down,” or “I need more movement.”
Set an intention with the body as your guide. What can you do right now, today or tomorrow in response to what your body told you during this practice? It’s most effective to choose something simple and measurable like, “Go outside every day,” or “stretch for five minutes each morning.” Taking these specific actions will help nurture the connection to the body.
This entire process can take just a few minutes, or you can stretch it out into a fuller practice of asana or whatever form of exercise makes you feel good. Even though this is a “yogic” process, whatever form of movement works for you is awesome, and you should do it. The key is to focus on nurturing your own wellbeing, not conforming to the “right way” to do it.
Finally, if you have an opportunity to take a workshop with Michael or any other Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy teacher, I highly recommend it. While yoga workshops may seem intimidating, Michael’s teaching style is very warm and friendly, and he attracts a really pleasant bunch of students. Some workshops seem to be intended for super-flexible, long-time students of yoga, but our group included a great variety of people. I think the youngest student in the group was around 21 while the oldest was at least 70. One person in the group had never done yoga even once in her life, and she seemed perfectly comfortable, so there’s no need to be afraid if you’re a beginner!
I’d love to hear how this goes for you if you try it. The first time I did it, the message from my body was simply, “Appreciate me, please!” And throughout the weekend as we practiced mindful movement, the connection became deeper and more rewarding.
How about you? How does your body respond to this level of attention? What can you do to deepen that connection?
My mentor for this semester set what I thought was a firm limit of 15 pages for each student to submit for our workshop. I sent in 13 or 14, another classmate sent about 12. One person’s work I have not yet opened. But one person sent us a little note with her submission saying basically, “Sorry this is a little bit longer than the limit. Please bear with me.” I appreciated the note and would not mind reading a couple extra pages, but then I opened the file to find it was 28 pages long, nearly twice the limit. I was irritated, to say the least, but since no one else had complained and our teacher hadn’t commented on it, I decided to start reading.
But here’s the thing that really upsets me. This writing? It’s lovely. Beautiful. It flows perfectly. It’s funny without being crass. It’s sincere without being boring or mushy. It’s really pretty much great. In fact, of all the things a student can submit to workshop, I wonder if she missed the point of workshopping because she sent us something that needs very little work whereas I sent the second draft of a very new, very shaky little essay. Who does this person think she is, sending us something lovely and enjoyable and 28 pages long?
And to top it off, she is a 1st-year student. When I was a 1st-year, I struggled pathetically, much like I struggle now but without the indignation and weariness. Her writing betrays no sense of struggle or weariness, and where the indignation does show through, it’s pure hilarity. I’m furious to say this, but I love this goddamned essay/chapter we’ve been sent, and of course, I’m jealous as hell.
This should not be allowed.
(Note: The title is a line from Tori Amos’s song “Girl Disappearing.”)