7 Unexpected Insights into Meditation as a Daily Practice (First Published on June 27, 2012)

Meditation has come in and out of my life since I was little in various forms, everything from creative visualization to simple breathing to Zen practices to “oms” at the end of yoga classes, in groups and solo, depending largely on where or what was happening at the time. Some things from these experiences took hold and stayed close to my heart, but a true daily practice remained just of my reach. I would start out with great enthusiasm only to find myself a week later more confused, more lost, and in many ways, much more uncomfortable than when I began. I would unfold into the practice expecting peace of mind, and tranquility, only to hit a wall that would send me running back to my numbed little world convinced it wasn’t working or I was defective or peace of mind was clearly a myth. Clearly.

A few months ago after another round of frustrating, and haphazard meditation practices, something inside chipped just enough for me to catch a glimpse of the depth, and grace hidden behind that stubborn, old wall. It was a moment so undeniably beautiful, and drew me in so completely that I became hooked, and worse, deeply curious. I decided to take a two day silent retreat to allow myself ample time to try to go deeper, to get past the wall once and for all, and to come out on the other side with answers (to read about the 2 day solo silent retreat – please click here and here). For reasons beyond me, I committed myself to this. I surrendered to the process fully, and broke through. I had no idea the hell that was awaiting me, nor the heaven I found existing inside me all along.

I discovered a great many things, both dark and light, all beautiful, all graceful at the core, and have continued a daily practice ever since. I am grateful, because I’m fairly certain it has been the very thing keeping me on my feet (and bike) these days. So I thought I would share my experiences to date, mostly because I had it so wrong when I started, and for anyone thinking of trying this, maybe it would prove helpful.

7 Insights into Mediation as a Daily Practice: The First Few Months

1. Meditation is a perfect reflection which is sort of the problem.

Welcome to yourself. If you are lucky enough to already love yourself, than woohoo you and please continue with whatever is working for you (and maybe leave a comment with how…). For the rest of us, this meeting is probably going to get ugly. It will get a whole lot better in time, but at first, you won’t experience any blossoming lotus flowers, so just get over it, and don’t expect it. Be ready for ample amounts of pain, fear, and anger to bubble to the surface once the honeymoon stage wears off. You will shatter, and keep shattering until you finally listen in full to the intelligence of your own heart, and not one moment before. Sometimes there is a seemingly impenetrable fog, and sometimes there is cutting clarity, both states fading and renewing with no particular regard for timing or your daily life. There are other states no less confounding, and every once in awhile, when everything aligns, there is deep peace. Practicing meditation creates doors, gateways, openings, and paths into your inner world, and what you find there doesn’t stay isolated in the act of sitting on your cushion for twenty minutes. It spills over into your life, and at first, life becomes total chaos. Until you get the lay of the land, until you figure out the truth of your landscape and a way in which to handle all of the incoming information, everything goes a bit bizerk. Peace comes later. Don’t dismay, take your seat if this is what you want to do, accept the truth of yourself as best you can, have faith in those blessed moments of peace, grab a compass, and busy yourself with coming to terms with your deranged monkey brain.

2. The silence is deafening.

Oh how I would love a dollar for every time I exclaimed out loud, and usually in complete frustration, my wish for a quiet moment before I started this practice. I would be one rich lady. When that moment finally came, it scared the hell out of me. I had no idea how much fear I carried in the very quiet I believed my creativity, my true self, my sanity existed. And although those things do reside there, there are demons, shadows, and things that go bump in the night that have also rooted in, taken up residence, and balked at my search for peace. Silence contains my deepest and darkest childhood monsters, and I had no idea how crippling these would be to face, how deep the pain would go, and how hard it would be to heal. Coming to terms with the totality of silence has been the hardest-earned, most heart-wrenching, most beautifully excavated gem my meditation practice has uncovered to date. There is true peace to be found but it comes with a hefty price of many tears (of the endless, wailing variety), profound acceptance, and real forgiveness. There is no half way here – you either stand up within yourself or you retreat in fear. It’s overwhelming, potentially spirit crushing, stressful and well, just heart-breaking. I mostly love the silence now. Some days are harder than others, but for the most part, I can’t wait to take my seat, be still, and ease into the quiet. I love that deep sigh that happens when meditating, the one that lets you know you’ve crossed over. It’s the same sigh I would listen for when my children were babies that let me know they were finally sleeping peacefully, and that they had fully let go. It feels exactly like what I imagine they felt like as newborns – deeply at peace, protected, and just being. These moments of simply being, of deep sighing have become so necessary these days. So if you are still interested in facing your demons, becoming friends with your shadows, taking those things that go bump in the night out for a much needed cocktail, and transforming it all into a beautifully quiet life then godspeed. I wish you much luck, the heart of a lion, nerves of steel, and lots of faith. It’s possible. It’s intense, and it takes time, but it’s possible.

3. Life is going to suck for a while.

All that stuff you push down and don’t want to deal with is conveniently waiting for you just under the surface, just under the noise – and I mean ALL of it. In fact, in many ways it’s probably pushing back at you through body aches, headaches, anxiety, illness, addictions, instability, ect. ect. And as all of this crap comes to the forefront, you are not going to like it. No one around you is going to like it either. They are going to fight it. You are going to fight them fighting it, and you are going to fight yourself too. Your resolve will be tested over and over to the point of exhaustion, and you will watch in horror as your life cracks open before your eyes, wondering why peace and tranquility are alluding you and why your life has gone from bad to worse when you are supposedly making positive lifestyle changes. The reality is that your meditation practice does not care a rat’s ass about your positive lifestyle changes, cutting right through your bullshit, and everyone else’s too. It mostly sucks for a good long time, but it will heal you…eventually. Underneath these first and probably ugliest blocks, your true self is waiting for you. It’s worth it. Just keep sitting down. Try your best to find something resembling center. Keep your faith. Speak your truth when necessary, be quiet when you can, and stay the course. You are going to be cranky. It will pass.

3. Illuminations are coming, and usually when you think you can’t take one more minute of yourself or this “healthy transformation”.

There will be moments that change everything, and somehow these will help you find the strength, and courage to keep going. Usually this seems to happen right at the time I feel there is nothing left to smash, that I have been reduced to complete and utter dust. Then, there will be a small give somewhere, a tension released, a place of breath, another opening that connects to another puzzle piece, that connects everything you have gained so far, and that moment is so lovely that there is no way to go back, because now you know. And you can’t un-know. On a deep level, you’ve shifted and there is no going back. And then, you are in this beautiful state of openness, until you come to a new block, and it all starts over, and you reach your breaking point again, and once again there will be a moment that changes everything. I believe this is what people refer to as “healing”. All of it eventually settles down, but not just yet. First you have to understand the cycles, and the triggers, break them down, and rebuild. This takes effort, and time. And will probably drive everyone in your life a little crazy. It will probably drive you a little crazy. Again, don’t despair. It is all temporary. Things change on their own. Take deep cleansing breathes often. Surrender. Your true path is clearing. You are moving towards center, and it is all ok. This is your choice. Keep moving inward, or just say screw it, grab a bag of cheetos and the remote, and head for the couch. Both count, and are a part of the process. You decide which path to follow.

4. It will teach you everything you need to know.

From the way you take your seat to meditate. From the way you sink into the quiet. From the way you open your heart. From the way you surrender your thoughts. From the way you sit like a mountain, like a temple, like a tree, like a river. From the way you glow. From the fear you release. From the love you radiate. From the way you embrace it all. From the way you hand it all back over. From the way you breathe. From the techniques you use. From the beauty and trust you create. From the depths you go. From how you close your meditation. From how you stand up to move about your day. From how you take in what you’ve learned. All of this is a pure reflection of how you are in your life. It will show you everything you need to know. It will affirm your most beautiful parts, your gifts, and will light those things that need attention to grow. It’s a door that swings both ways – discover or change your meditation practice, your life changes in reflection. Change something in your life, your practice shifts too. It’s never ending and it just sort of takes over, and before you know it everything calms to the center. Closing a door, opening a card, taking a sip, releasing a hand, accepting a hug, smiling at a friend. You get the idea. It’s pretty amazing. And there is always something new to learn, ways to go deeper, and more ways to sink in to the wonder of your life.

5. Emotions aren’t numbed through meditation. They become finely honed, ninja sharp, and a bit over the top for awhile.

Eventually, you’ll mellow, but at first the only way to stay in this process is to address these intriguing new things bubbling to the surface called “feelings” and “emotions”. And since you were probably pretty bad at “feelings” and “emotions” before you started meditating, chances are things are going to get a whole lot worse. There will be no serenity until you get past this part, so I recommend pouring your heart and soul into your emotions until you have a firm grasp of their purpose, and what all of these feelings mean to you. All of them. This is the part where your true friends sort themselves out from your un-true friends, because as you begin to sort out your own emotions you are also simultaneously learning about the emotions of others. You begin to see with acute clarity other people’s bullshit, making you almost impossible to be around for a while. In contrast, there will also be truly beautiful, resonate moments of love and friendship, helping you come to terms with this hurricane that has become your waking life, and to further define for yourself what these words really mean as you move forward. The people around you who can withstand this crazy stage and not hold it against you are the ones worth keeping around, as for the others, let them go, and create space for friends, mentors, and loves that will accept all of you, in all of your stages of growth, and love you anyway. Emotions are your safeguards if you are willing to listen, understand, and honor them. Those that block this process are probably already fading away anyway. Don’t hold on, wave goodbye, and be grateful they are gone. Better things lie ahead. Others come forward in support, and be grateful for that too. Emotions aren’t numbed through meditation, turning you into a Zen-ned out zombie. Your emotions are awakened, and peace follows once you fully accept the breadth of what, and who you are – in forgiveness, in acceptance, in wisdom. If you are still in and wanting to engage in this both amazing and insane process, forgive yourself for the confounding things you will do during this stage, wake up anyway, sit down anyway, go easy on those sticking by you, enjoy these beautiful new “feelings” in all of their glory, know that this thrashing will soften and still, and rest peacefully that this process is indeed keeping you safe, protected, free to experience all that you are, and genuinely loved.

6. Be careful what you wish for.

Your heart’s deepest desires, dreams, and wishes also come forward along with a seemingly endless river of questions, and a genuine curiosity to seek the answers. So be careful in these moments, of both what you wish for, and how you wish for it. Take care to slow yourself down, and take your time. Allow these deep desires to mature a bit, and make sure you are grounded and centered when you craft the details. What you clearly state as a want is what you will get, so take caution, be courageous, be certain, be specific, harm none, be focused, and dive. The universe is profoundly wondrous, and open to collaboration. If you show up, it will answer with a gift, a lesson, a moment, an experience. Sometimes these gifts are returned in beautiful, and deeply meaningful ways, touching your now un-numbed heart, and confirming what you need to know. And sometimes the world likes to display it ‘s grand sense of humor, and impeccable timing, offering the delightfully humbling gifts of great irony, slapstick pies in the face, and/or just a good laugh at your expense…lest we take ourselves too seriously at any given moment. And then sometimes, the universe hands you an all out smack-down. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Whichever way, or some mix of it all, you will get what you wish. And don’t forget, you asked for it. It’s possible it might hurt a bit. It’s definitely going to inspire wonder at the head-shaking mystery of it all. And it will always be in the exact form of what you need. Every time. Hello humility. Hello grace. Hello Universe. Hello heart. Hello self.

7. It will transform you, show you real love, and light your path, but only after it has completely kicked your ass.

Ah yes, here in lies the truth of meditation. Every one of us has to come to grips with ourselves. Every one of us has the choice to keep running in circles, creating chaos, creating more drama, or to stand still, turn around, face down the hell at our backs, and learn the truth about ourselves. There are a million ways to accomplish this – as many ways as there are people on the planet. None better or worse. Choose heaven. Choose hell. It all counts, and is out there in the greater web of all of our existence. There are balances, and the only way to tip the scales, to create beauty where there was once pain, is through transformation, and transcendence. Take the energy of hell, and create heaven, and in so doing, rise up. The world is doing this all the time. So yes, I’ll take the ass kicking if it means a shot at living my life on my true path, illuminating my gifts, in my own time, in ways unique to me, and in hostage to no one, and nothing. Thank you Universe. May I have another?

Last notes…

I have come a long way. I have been to hell and back countless times in the last few months, and the hardest part at this moment, is to allow, and support myself in these vulnerable places I now exist. There is wisdom in this vulnerability, and much to learn about my own strength. I’ve made the choice to stand my ground, as weak as I feel, and heal with grace. I won’t rebuild with illusions, with lies, with someone else’s distorted idea of who I am, or with anything but my own heart leading the way. My energy is re-balancing, my soul is re-calibrating, and my spirit is coming back to life. This time, I’m building a temple, and this is the path I’ve chosen. I’m also working on becoming a biking super ninja, but that’s an entirely different post…same path, but definitely a different post.

Over these past months, I have used a few different meditative techniques. Currently, I am working with the book (ironically) The Blooming of a Lotus by Thich Nhat Hahn along with a podcast of these teachings on iTunes – you can find the recordings under Right Diligence. My boys think the gongs are funny. I think they are amazing. These teachings concern guided meditation, so I’ve taken a small break from total silence to let these lessons shape where I’m heading next in my practice, and to improve my technique. The silence will still be waiting for me when I return.

Thank you to everyone who has stuck by me through this journey. I am staying the course, and my gratitude for each of you is endless.

125 Images Project Gallery – THE FIRST 25 IMAGES!!! Color Sketches (Series 4)

25 down, 100 to go….

the forest for the trees #24 Color Sketches (Series 4)

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Today I decided to add a detail image (below) of the above image – so often these little bits of magic happen when I am painting that you might not see in the bigger image – sometimes they get lost. The detail image shown below is why I love watercolor so much – the way the water shapes these organic spaces and transitions, fusing or not fusing the color in such beautiful ways. So much like movement. I love the edges and curves. The places where the light remains or where the colors darken.

So far not one of these works have gone as planned – not one. Watercolor does what it wants, how it wants. It is at once the most graceful expression with the most thug stubbornness in its insistence to be exactly what it wishes in the space and time it was created.

I appreciate its wildness and refusal to be tamed into an expected vision. Each night, the story asks me to follow it. And so I do. And it’s never what I expect, and I always find the experience to be beautiful. The saying “seeing the forest for the trees” suggests that we step back in order to see the whole and gain perspective. Much like this project, there is so much to learn in flipping things/ideas around. So I am suggesting that a fullness of perspective can also be gained from a look at the smaller details.

“As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul…”  Hermes Trismegistus

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Announcing the 4th 125 Images Project: The Color and Pattern Series

After all of the darkness of the last year, I say let there be color – lots and lots of glorious, beautiful, bright, saturated, and deep color. Color that makes you dream. Color that feeds your eyes. Just color and more color and when you think there couldn’t possibly be any more color there will indeed be even more gorgeous color. And yes, after all of the darkness, and tough times, and after a great deal of thought of when and what the next project should be, I find myself wishing with all of my heart to move forward into this new year with an abundance of color and light.

And so I announce the fourth series of the 125 Images Project will feature color and pattern. The start date is February 1, and it will end on June 5. For this series, I am circling back to some color experiments I worked on in the 2nd series as a jumping off point, and I will also be going back to posting every day for the 125 days – which is going to be challenging considering my actual life, but I’m going to do it anyways. No rest for the wicked.

My goals for this series are simple: To work everyday with water and color to see what more it can do, where it can lead and to move beyond my beloved black ink. Time to open up and see what magic there is to discover on 125 sheets of paper and a whole lot of color and water. I am hoping by the end, I will have an interesting new bag of tricks, and a deeper perspective on where all of this is going.

The three experiments below are from the 2nd 125 Images Project, and were splattered, and poured some time in the Spring of 2013. I’ve posted them here so you can see which exact cliff I am flinging myself off of – haha – just kidding:) Or not… As it turns out this first image featured below has an unexpected role in Scott Putman’s new dance work for the VCU Dance Now concert coming up in February – it will be digitally manipulated and intermittently projected behind the dancers. How awesome is that? I say it’s super awesome.

To view the 3 other 125 Images Projects please click here.

An Experiment (7 of 11) – Watercolors #120

An Experiment (7 of 11) – Watercolors #120

An Experiment (10 of 11) – Watercolors #123

An Experiment (10 of 11) – Watercolors #123

An Experiment (9 of 11) – Watercolor #122

An Experiment (9 of 11) – Watercolor #122