It occurs to me, since I've been talking about meditation a lot in recent posts and because I had a particularly emotional meditation today that I should perhaps dispel some myths about meditation that people may have who have not done it or that I may have contributed to by generally referring to the happier parts of the practice.
I have been meditating daily since 1995 or 1996 - it's a while back and honestly I can't remember what summer it was. I started meditating because I was beginning each day in a state of anxiety that I would usually assault my then-husband with upon waking. We were running a theater company together out of our apartment at the time, and everything I needed to do and thought had to happen Now would rush into my mind when I woke up and I would try to accomplish it all 5 minutes ago and of course he had to help immediately...
I woke up one day and realized, I am crazy now. I have to stop this. So I went to the sofa, sat down with a cup of coffee and perhaps a cigarette, and closed my eyes for 20 minutes. I remembered some basics I had learned from various yoga teachers and other people who had told me about meditation, such as "just let the thoughts flow on by, you don't have to push them away or hold onto them", vague ideas about paying attention to breath and something a woman who helped me in my early days of letting go of drinking said "There's no such thing as a good or bad meditation." With that information, I did what I could and remember a moment or two of calm.
Then, much to my surprise, I did the same thing the next day, and the next day and the day after that...and haven't stopped doing it since. This still amazes me.
I have worked with breathing meditation, loving kindness meditation, my usual dumb-ass meditation (see above), listening meditation, walking meditation...etc. Sometimes saying things in my head, sometimes silent, sometimes focusing on the space between my eyebrows, the so-called third eye, etc...
What started happening at some point, and I don't remember when precisely, is that emotions came up, really strong emotions. I could spend most of a meditation crying or furious or whatever. I haven't yet read the chapter in Salzberg's book about meditating with emotion and will be interested to see what she suggests. However, I decided to do with the emotions what was suggested for the thoughts - let them be. Don't try to move them or push them away or - crucially - hold onto them.
So, today, I was doing another of the Salzberg variations (yes, I think I will - in honor of her meditation virtuosity begin referring to her instructions this way) - and it was a body scan. Paying attention to each part of the body, starting with the top of the head and moving on down.
All was fine and groovy, until I got to my chest - started feeling a kind of buzzy unsettled feeling - the way it has felt a lot recently - like I've been punched and it's healing, sort of...then down further to the abdomen, which was OK but a little sad, then after the back to the pelvic region at which point I began sobbing...and sobbing...and sobbing.
This has to do with my separation from my husband, missing him in a very visceral way and also the sense I have that right now my sexuality is somewhere in deep freeze and my fear it will never come out again and also older historical things...but what I did was not worry about any of that and allowed the feeling. This was not fun, this was not detached in the negative sense of the word, this was hard work and Very, very real..and healing...
But, to move on in the body scan, because I knew I couldn't stay there, I brought back in the five part witnessing process Stephen Cope suggests in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (a book of sheer brilliance - read it if you are at all interested in healing old wounds for real and not just for show), which is: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow. I had already done the first three, but the crucial moment was 'watch' - it gave me crucial space between me - the witness - and the emotions, so I could both allow them and also allow myself to finish the body scan through my legs and on down to my feet. I felt it was important not to get stuck.
I then got up and continued my day, which was gentled down to accommodate this emotional time.
So, in case you think meditation is just for people who want to get outside of themselves or for people who want to run away from reality or whatever, may I respectfully suggest that you are wrong. Yes, there are some people who use it like a drug I suppose, but no one I know.
Meditation is practice for noticing and sitting through life, oneself and everything else. This may seem like a small thing, but I'm relatively sure it's why I don't react to every little thing that happens in my life and why I'm still alive and somewhat sane. And also why I haven't ever so far needed to resort to anti-depressants or the like (though I know for some folks, that's necessary, too - so not suggesting that meditation is a panacea, it's just my experience).
Meditation gives me access to the space between my reaction and my response. It's in that space whatever God/dess is or isn't resides...or the Universe or whatever works for you...it's the space of choice, of inspiration, of something besides habitual reactivity.
I am grateful to now be taking this practice seriously again. I have been practicing all along but was frankly getting lazy - letting it be 25 minutes of thinking about what to do when it was over. This was better than nothing, but just. By following Salzberg's directions and letting myself begin again with each breath, doing body scans and allowing mindfulness to come into every day activities, I'm bringing the real power of this practice back into my life.
An example of the exquisite nature of daily mindfulness - after the body scan I took a shower. While showering, I realized I was doing what I usually do in the shower - thinking about a million other things. So, I took a moment to breathe and begin again. I then received the gift: I noticed for the first time ever the delicate arcs of spray coming off of my shoulder - tiny drops that arced in so many little dashes...like watery sparklers, reflecting off the black shower curtain. A prosaic moment became a visual symphony.
Does this take away the pain? Absolutely not. Does it make it bearable and less likely I will act in self-destructive ways to prolong the pain and thereby cause suffering? Absolutely. And sometimes moments of beauty and joy the likes of which cannot be adequately described, and have nothing to do with anything other than being mindful in the moment. As we say in certain meetings I go to "it's an inside job." Indeed.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani