Archive | February, 2012

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back

27 Feb

After my last post, I was inundated with a blizzard of emails and comments (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I really needed to get in a snow reference because it is February and there is NO SNOW anywhere in the Northeast, which is making me slightly crazy).  But I did get a lot of responses.  Slightly hurt responses from all of the friends and acquaintances who I did not ask about meditation, and who, it turns out, all do it.  They are serious, committed meditators, all of the friends and acquaintances I didn’t ask, practically Bodhisattvas.

Many of them referenced a man by the name of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  After the third “you should check out Jon Kabat-Zinn” comment, I went to Amazon and checked him out.

I discovered that Mr. Kabat-Zinn had a 2-CD-set that seemed tailor-made for me: Mindfulness for Beginners.  I ordered it.

When it arrived two days later, I eagerly read the back of the box – “What if you could profoundly change your life just by becoming more mindful of your breathing? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, you can.” – and popped the first CD into my computer.

Then listened as Mr. Kabat-Zinn expounded on the benefits of meditation, or mindfulness, as he calls it, pretty much interchangeably: through mindfulness, one can become a better person, learn to be more present in one’s own life, learn to experience joy…

“Great, “ I thought.  “Let’s do it.”

I listened to the first track, but there was no doing it.  Just talking about doing it.  I kept listening, through the second track and the third, waiting for an actual mindfulness exercise, but one was not forthcoming.  Gradually, I found myself focusing on the way Kabat-Zinn spoke rather than on what he was saying. He spoke deliberately, with many pauses, but there was something more…a slight accent, an odd emphasis on the “t” sound, especially at the end of words, that reminded me of someone.  I couldn’t quite place it.

After six tracks and a half an hour, I had my profound moment: Gabe Kotter.

Jon Kabat-Zinn sounded like Mr. Kotter, if Mr. Kotter had given up teaching the Sweathogs and moved to western Massachusetts and began speaking (pause) very slowly (pause) and deliberately (pause) about the benefits of (pause) mindfulness.

But being lectured to about the benefits of mindfulness, with no actual mindfulness practice in sight, by Mr. Kotter no less, wasn’t what I had signed on for.  I wanted to shout at the calm, deliberate, Kotter-like Kabat-Zinn, “enough already!” but that would have been a total mindfulness no-no.  Mindfulness hari-kari.  Instead, I ejected the CD from my computer, logged onto YogaGlo, and did a 10-minute breath meditation.

The next morning, after breakfast, I resolved to give Mr. Kotter-Kabat-Zinn’s second CD a try.  I pulled it out of the sleeve, and read the track titles.  They looked promising.  After a 37-second introduction, there was “Eating Meditation” followed by “Mindfulness of Breathing.”

Since I had just eaten, and since the eating meditation was seventeen and a half minutes and “Mindful Breathing” was a little under 15, I opted to skip over eating and go right to breathing.  “Mindful Breathing” couldn’t possibly reference “Eating Meditation,” could it?

The track began with the ding of a bell, to focus my mind.  Then Mr. Kabat-Zinn began, speaking slowly and deliberately: “Let’s bring the same (pause) quality of attention that we just brought to (pause) eating the raisin—“

Two thoughts flashed simultaneously in my mind:

One: It’s only the first sentence and you’re already referencing the f#@!ing eating meditation!

And, two: Seventeen and a half minutes on eating a raisin?  What have I gotten myself into?

But I soldiered on, trying to focus positively – mindfully – on Mr. Kabat-Zinn’s instructions, and trying not to take it personally that the first 52 seconds of “Mindful Breathing” was a revisiting of the raisin-eating exercise.

And in the end, when I let go of my irritation with the failed promises of the first CD and the 52 seconds about the raisin, and opted to focus on Kabat-Zinn’s words rather than the fact that he sounded like Gabe Kotter saying them, I found “Mindful Breathing” both accessible and useful.  Kabat-Zinn spoke – slowly and with pauses – about simply focusing attention on the breath.  Mindfulness, he explained, is not about doing anything; it is about being, and being aware of being.  So for nearly fourteen minutes, I sat and tried to focus my awareness on my breathing, not judging my breath or analyzing it or trying to control it, but simply experiencing it.  My mind strayed, as Kabat-Zinn assured me it would, but I brought it back, non-judgmentally, in his words, to my breath.  I sat.  I breathed.  In and out.  I paid attention.

It wasn’t much.  It was all that mattered.

Now I’m off to buy a box of raisins.

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