A new practice, a fresh start.

I've had long, casual relationship with Buddhism. It fascinated me as a teenager; having made the choice back then not to be confirmed in the Methodist church, but being of the spiritual sort, I was drawn to look into other religious traditions. Buddhism was really at the forefront of this exploration, and has remained an interest of mine through the years. Do I consider myself a Buddhist? No, not at this point. But the teachings and philosophies have always resonated with me. This has been especially true in the last year, as I've experienced major life changes, physical and psychological discomfort, confronted struggles I did not know how to manage, and need to exert more patience and self-forgiveness than I've ever had to in my life.

I picked up one of Pema Chodron's books, When Things Fall Apart, and found wisdom in her teachings for coping with pain and difficulties. It was at this time that I tried to start a meditation practice at home, but found it challenging. My tendency to busy-body, both physically and mentally, as well as some lack of structure, made it really hard for me to establish a good practice alone. What am I doing? How do I do this? What do I do with these feelings and thoughts that come up as I sit? I didn't know, and while Pema's books and the writings of others were insightful, I found it really hard to be disciplined. After months of trying to do it alone, I needed something one-on-one. I needed structure. I needed community.

Fast forward to last week Saturday. I had a particularly cathartic acupuncture session that left me feeling like I was in an emotional-spiritual crisis. I have the tendency to keep pushing, even when I'm at my limit. I am very effective at using my mind to cover up struggles, but my body doesn't hide a thing. It absorbs everything; my back, my shoulders, my entire digestive system are like sponges for emotional and psychological distress. When I showed up to my acupuncturist, she felt my pulse, looked at me, and said what I already knew: that I needed to address the emotional side of my current situation, and learn to release the bottled up doubts, fear, frustration, and grief. It was collecting in my heart and lung meridian, blocking qi, creating tension, and hindering the huge leaps we've made in healing my physical self. The moment the words left her lips, I started to cry, because I know what she said was true. I felt it, I knew it was there, it's been growing for a long time.

The body never lies.

I've been focusing so much energy on taking care of my physical self. But I know I haven't been feeding the rest of me equally, partially because those are the harder, more complex things to heal. I decided I needed to make time to nourish what is starved, and learn to let go of those things that have been bottled up inside of me for way too long. I needed to make time for mindfulness, stillness, non-judgement, and acceptance. I needed to make time for meditation. And I couldn't do it alone.

It was this combination of factors that drove me to attend a the Intro to Zen Meditation class at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center last Sunday. I woke, I arrived, I sat. I learned about the Center and their mission, and how they apply Zen teachings in their practice. I listened to a great lecture about seeking guidance and taking refuge in the Three Jewels when one encounters times of struggle and anguish. Then I stayed for tea, and chatted with some of the folks there. The environment was friendly, warm, welcoming, and honest. There was an open attitude and a structured format. It was exactly what I needed. I left feeling energized, refreshed, and hopeful.

So, I went back on Tuesday for the bi-weekly beginners discussion group. It was one of the best Tuesday nights I've had in a long time. As our group of eight sat in the dimly lit room, I found warmth and stillness on the cold, blustery night. Sure, I fell off track and found my overactive my wandering. Feelings and memories came up out of the depths of my brain that surprised me. And I found myself getting frustrated at my incapability to clear my head. But then I remembered non-judgement. I remembered that the mere practice of sitting, recognizing emotions and thoughts, acknowledging them, then calmly brushing them away was good enough. It was about taking time to breath, to sit, to clear away distractions and thoughts, and be present in the current moment - no matter creeped in. What do you do when you sit? Nothing! Just be. Be with whatever comes. After meditation, we discussed what we felt, asked questions, and shared our points of view. I was surprised to feel so open and comfortable with a totally new group of people. While it was kind of scary and vulnerable to open up and discuss my fears and challenges, it felt really good, and I left feeling happier and more relaxed than I had felt in a long, long time.

Tomorrow morning I plan to go to the morning service, which will include a sit and walking meditation, which I have not experienced. While I haven't made time to sit at home yet, I think that's okay. Easing into a new habit is always better than making a huge change. I want this to be free of judgement and critique. I want to further develop my practice, and learn to apply the same kind of intention, mindfulness, and non-judgement that is embraced while sitting to the actions of daily life. I feel this has been a long time coming, and that now is finally the right time. Like anything, I'm sure the road will be bumpy, and I'll probably fall off the wagon at some point. But if I do, I can always get back on, take a deep breath, and start over fresh. And there is nothing more hopeful than a fresh start.