Monday, 10 December 2012

Insight Meditation

One of the meditation styles I practice is insight meditation. “Insight” refers to looking into the true nature of reality, or seeing things as they really are. One way of doing this is to focus on your breath and the sensations in your body as you meditate.

One of the very first things you’ll notice is that everything is in a state of change. The breath changes, your mood changes, and random thoughts come and go. If you feel tension in your back muscles and bring your attention to it, the pain will shift and change. It will become a sensation of warmth, or it may move to another section of your body entirely. You are not your pain, or your thoughts, or your emotions. These are things that pass and change.

It was during one of these practice sessions that I had my favorite insight. Out of nowhere came one, clear thought: It doesn’t fucking matter. This thought may not seem very insightful, but it wouldn’t be my thought if it wasn’t slightly off-color.

We waste so much time focusing on things that don’t matter. Ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, wondering if we’re good enough or if we sounded stupid earlier.

Being stuck in the past leaves us depressed, and worrying about the future leaves us fearful. Take a moment to look around, and notice what’s happening right now, in this moment. Chances are you’re sitting comfortably at your computer, and nothing tragic is happening. Bask in the lack of chaos for a moment.

Yes, there is value in reflecting on the past and learning from your experiences, but there’s a limit. If you’re marinating yourself in old memories and past pain, you’re not opening yourself up to the present. Maybe you’d be better off today if things had been different in your childhood, but you can’t change that now. Work with what you have. You can’t grow if you’re continually rehashing the past. It’s like trying to drive while staring exclusively in the rear-view mirror. As someone who has driven her car into the back of a tow-truck, I can say with full authority that you should pay attention to what’s happening in front of you.

If we never thought about the future, we’d be wandering around aimlessly without goals. We’d also probably blow through our savings accounts by 3:00 pm. So I wholeheartedly agree that it’s important to plan for the future, but know that your best-laid plans might not pan out. Conversely, the worst-case scenarios that you replay over and over probably won’t work out that way either, so stop stressing about it so much.

Yes, there’s a chance you might blow that big project and everyone will think you’re a loser and you’ll get fired or kicked out of grad school and have to live in a cardboard box behind the truck stop where you’ll inevitably die friendless and alone, but it’s highly unlikely. Thinking that you’re going to fail can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nothing has ever turned out as badly as I have pictured it in my head, but that doesn’t stop me from panicking.

Now that we’re focusing on the present for a few minutes, here’s a few tips on how to relax and just enjoy today.

Someone, somewhere, doesn’t like you.

And that’s perfectly ok! If everyone loves you, you’ve either never stood up for anything in your life or you’re only associating with people who think just like you. Either way, you’re not going to grow or learn if you’re spending your time being a people pleaser. Vanilla is fine, but no one is passionate about vanilla the way they are about mint chocolate chip or rocky road. If you love vanilla, then love vanilla, but don’t get down on yourself if everyone else doesn’t agree with you. You’re not wrong for being different.

Some people will love you, some people won’t, and for the most part, people won’t even notice you. Everyone else is so wrapped up in their own lives that some minor mistake you made isn’t even likely to register on their radar.

Don’t be perfect.

No one is perfect, and if they were, they’d be exceptionally boring. Every bad decision can result in an awesomely funny story for later in life. Perfectionism is exhausting because it exists on a pinnacle. It's hard to balance on a point; one wobble and you'll fall to the bottom. Being "good enough" is a bell curve. There's plenty of room to move around and if you slip, you have space to catch yourself.

If you’re focused on being perfect, you’re less likely to take a chance at something new. If you take up a new hobby, you’re probably not going to be good at it right away. Success feels awesome, but you’ll learn more from your mistakes.

You have to make a lot of mistakes before you paint the next Picasso. I know how to destroy a painting, but because of that, I also know how to breathe so that my hands don’t shake the brush. I made a god-awful rosary before I learned how to correctly make a beading loop.

It's worse in person.

For the record, making a rosary is way worse than saying a rosary. If I’d had to make rosaries after every confession in Catholic school, I’d probably be a much more moral person.

Have weird interests.

And then be passionate about them. If you love Star Wars, by all means dress up and camp outside the theater for 4 days to buy tickets. I met some really interesting people that way, and I only had to stand in line for 12 hours. One of my friends has some of the most off-the-wall interests of anyone I’ve ever met, and I love him for it. If I ever have a question about Buffy fanfic, he’s the person I’ll turn to. If you love something, even if no one else does, own it. Life should be fun, and you’ll be a more interesting person for embracing whatever weirdness floats your boat.

Do something new, or do something differently.

If you want to gain insight into yourself, you’ve got to try new things. Nothing will change if you keep doing the same things the same way. Try a new restaurant, get lost, take up a new sport, or meet someone new. As I mentioned in a previous post, I signed up for fencing, because why not? (After I signed up for the class, I went back and read the class description just to make sure it wasn’t a class on how to put up fences. We are in farm country, after all.)

If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, you’re not going to find out by sitting on your couch. Get out there and try something new. Some new experiences will suck, but you’ll quickly learn that you hate (and I mean hate) hot yoga. Or you might find out that cranking the heat to 100+ degrees and trying not to pass out during downward dog is your new thing.

Do little things everyday that make you smile.

Sing in the car. Dance. Go out with friends. Watch a funny YouTube video. Get dessert. Read a book. Color a picture. Play on the swings. Go swimming. See a movie. Whatever you do, do it because you want to do it and it makes you happy. It’s your life. If you’re not enjoying it, find things you love and do them everyday.

When you listen, really listen.

There’s no point in having a conversation with someone if you’re not going to listen to what they’re saying. Listening is an art. You can’t listen if you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next or internally tearing apart their opinion. Just listen. Then, when it’s your turn, demand the same respect. This is how you learn about other people and in turn, learn about yourself.

Similarly, listen to your own thoughts. All of those odd thoughts that keep popping up are trying to tell you something. The more you try to ignore that inner voice, the louder it gets. It’s like telling yourself not to think about a white elephant. As soon as you say it, it’s all you can think about.

True insight comes from listening to yourself and being able to determine fact from fiction. Not every thought is going to helpful, but occasionally your mind will remind you that it doesn’t fucking matter, and you will smile. For every big catastrophe in life, there are a thousand other little successes. Delight in the small things, and the big things with fall into place.

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