In the last month or so I had a period where I felt things going into a bit of a tailspin. It is a cyclical thing where life just feels overwhelming, out of control, meaningless even. I spent almost a week feeling down in the dumps and like I was letting everyone around me down. I didn't know what to do "about it" so I just sat with it, really poking at it for a few days. By the end of the week I had come to accept some things about myself and life. I'll forget them and eventually, around some other corner, I'll meet the dip in the road again. That's how it goes, but every time I ride the roller coaster I learn more about myself and navigating through life. The main thing that occurred to me that week was that I can not be what everyone thinks I am, including myself. I ended up letting go of a lot of notions I have about who I "am" and where my priorities really lie. I'm petty and giving, angry and joyful, ignorant and smart. And I suddenly felt OK with all of it. My life, and life in general, is much bigger than all of these things. I felt like I have been pushing to be a wave on the ocean; the biggest, fastest one I can be, and then I realized that even if I break the surface and become a stunning wave for a few minutes, I'm still going back into the ocean. The drive to punch through the surface and create that illusory feeling of "being different" than all the rest, seemed to recede once I really looked at it.
The continuation of that week of hard introspection and letting go, has brought me back to meditating. Now, I have meditated on and off for over half of my life, but I've never done it regularly. I'll normally sit for a few days, or maybe two weeks, and then I get bored or frustrated and I stop. This time though, things seem to have shifted. I've been sitting every day for a month now and the big difference is that I want to, rather than feeling like I should. I used to try to make myself sit for a minimum period of time, 5, 10, 30 minutes. Now I sit for however long I happen to. I don't even have a clock in the room so that I won't be tempted to keep peeking to see if I'm doing it "long enough." Some days it is five minutes, others, maybe half an hour. Not every day is some blissful nirvana either, far from it. Many a day I am agitated or excited and my monkey-mind is all over the place, but even taking the time to sit and recognize where I am at the moment is immensely helpful. Saying "I'm afraid today" at least lets me acknowledge what's up. I stop and listen to myself. It's amazing what you can find out when you do that. I've also managed to really take to heart Pema Chödrön's words of wisdom in "When Things Fall Apart" (amazing book btw) about caring for your self, so that most days I can smile at my crazy monkey-mind and not get angry or dismissive. Until I read that book years ago, and really let it sink in, I tended to scold myself during meditation, rather than paying attention.
Currently I am re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh's "The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings," which is a great review of the fundamentals of Buddhist thought. Each day, after I sit, I pick it up and read a chapter or a section of chapter to contemplate for the day. I don't always keep it in mind but getting some perspective from my paper "sangha" helps me set off on a more even keel. The sitting, stopping and listening make a horrible day not feel quite so oppressive, and sometimes it even lets me realign my thinking enough that I can actually help make the day better for myself and others. So, anyway, this is a reminder that sometimes moving into the chaos and sitting with it, when you feel like things are exploding or slipping away, can be a grounding and freeing experience. I leave this note to my future self. :-)