I consider myself to be a reasonably serious meditator. I’ve taken the time to look deeply at my mind, with varying degrees of intensity, for going on twenty years now. I’m still no kind of expert, but I have noticed a few significant changes for the better. One big difference is that I find meditating to be less effort and more fun.
I was thinking about that as I drove home today after meditating with Kristine Zakarison and two other friends this afternoon, and I thought it might be a good subject for her blog.
One reason I have more fun meditating now is that I’m no longer imposing so many expectations on what I should experience. In the early days, I expected that by watching my breath and being aware of my thoughts I should be able to make the thoughts go away, or at least reduce them enough to produce a calm state of mind. If I didn’t manage that I gave myself a mental scolding. “Bad meditator!” I said. “Bad!”
I also thought I should never fall asleep, squirm on my cushion or fantasize about food. (Honestly, I remember a week-long retreat when I couldn’t seem to quit visualizing bell peppers. Go figure.) I had a long list of things I could do wrong.
Over the years, I have let that go (at least to a large degree). Each morning I approach my meditation with curiosity. “What will my meditation be like today?” I ask myself. “Will I relax into the joy of pure consciousness or will I feel like I’m half crazy?” It’s fun to see what turns up! I simply try to perceive what is present without identifying with it. All kinds of mental phenomena (or the lack of it) comes and goes.
I didn’t tell myself to quit having expectations and judgments. It just happened naturally over time. And, here’s what was surprising to me: the less I tried to force a sense of well-being into my meditations, the more it arose naturally on its own. I had made friends with the experience! Now, whether I struggle to stay awake, fight an urge to plan my grocery list, come up with a brilliant insight, acknowledge some worry, or sit in blessed awareness of the present moment, I consider it a privilege to live the adventure.
I love to share words from others about why you value your practice, and how you manifest your practice in your daily life. I share some words Marji Neill shared with me, along with an image of where Marji meets herself/her spirit:
It was great being with you in class today! I’ve missed seeing everyone. I had to chuckle when you were talking about being mindful, slowing down, and making eye contact. Lots of thoughts came to my mind. I do not have many natural talents [editorial note from KZ: this is not true!], but for whatever reason, complete strangers have always opened up to me. My girls noticed this when they were young and it is something that drives my husband nuts. When we are out, and I speak with total strangers, he will often ask, “Do you KNOW that person?” Growing up with an “always be busy, busy, busy” mentality, I tend to walk briskly, but I like to smile and greet anyone I see. This has led to a ton of “little while friends” and fun conversations. Also, it seems like my guardian angel or spirit guide (or whatever energy is helping me through life on earth), likes to draw my attention to wildlife at just the right moment, and it’s been a fun part of my life. Lately I’ve noticed I’m not walking as fast. It made me wonder if I was holding back to not irritate my cranky knee (chronic), or if I am just getting older. But, you gave me hope that maybe I am finally understanding that if I zoom through life with my head down, I will miss a lot. After all, I want to know how that wild turkey family with seeming limited good sense, is doing!”
Sept 29, 2015
Nia has an active, international, online community. I was struck by this recent post by Irit Orr. Those of us choose Nia do so for many different reasons. We love the community aspect of dancing together, we use it as our form of fitness, we dance beause it’s fun, in dancing, we experience joy and express ourselves. Here, Irit shares her reasons.
“Thanks for moving to heal – NIA. This method helps me move forward during hard and sad days. It embraces me gently and helps me move on with harmony and respect to the situation. On easy flowing days this movement helps me reach heights, reach depths, and reach new dimensions. I fell in love with moving to heal. I exercise couple of times a week, and can’t wait to the next teacher training course with Debbie Rosas.”
We are college students, retired types, professors, moms, dads, men, women, professionals, able-bodied and living with disabilities, pre-teens and teens . . . We are young(ish) and old(er) . . . We are a whole lot of different types of people, and we get together to engage our bodies, minds, and spirits through exercise, stretch, yoga, and dance. Mostly, we are an open community that welcomes you to come and try a class and find a fit. We laugh together, and we also enjoy the practice and discipline that yoga and Nia bring into our lives. We support one another and we take things at our level. Our teachers make it a priority to help you find you body’s way in yoga and Nia. We have a variety of classes . . . Why not give it a try?
Come dance with your friends! Experience the freedom and joy that is Nia. Strengthen your body, work out your mind, exercise your creativity, engage your spirit, have fun! Let your inner dancer come out to play!
Mondays at 8:30 a.m. or 1/2 Nia and 1/2 yoga on Mondays at 4:30
Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m.
Wednesdays at 8:30 or 4:30
Fridays at 8:30
Nia is dance designed for EveryBody, from “newbie” to dance enthusiast. It’s a great whole body workout, and the music is fantastic!
I think that most of you know that, very soon, I am heading out to Boston to have brain surgery to attempt to remedy my epilepsy. I am very fortunate to have a talented and loving community of teachers to teach and substitute while I’m away, although classes will be more limited, so please be sure and check the schedule every week. I feel incredibly graced to have such a wonderful group of friends/teachers who have agreed to teach while I’m away, and also to have a loving community of students who have been understanding and supportive. I’m convinced that it takes a village to face up to brain surgery . . . Thanks for being my village.
I’m going to write a separate post about this, but one of the things I find myself wanting to do, as I face this surgery, is dance, and dance, and dance. I have loved having the opportunity to do Nia with many of you, and the joy and the freedom of dancing together seems to be keeping me in just the right, hope-filled space, living in the moment of now, that I need to be in to deal with what is coming up. So keep dancing with me while I’m away and send me your good energy!
Another thing I’ve learned a lot about is the incredible power of the stillness that yoga and meditation/prayer have taught me. About a month ago, I had an extensive series of brain scans at the Martinos Center, a research center of the Mass. General Hospital. Turns out I have a strong ability to make my body and mind very still for long periods of time, which makes for great brain scans. It has been interesting to “see” the images of my own meditating mind, and to discuss with researchers and doctors the power of learning stillness and how it does create a different looking brain.
So dance with me, or be still with me, in the weeks ahead. If you want to follow the details of what’s going on, I have another blog, epileptica.com, that is specifically about the surgery. My husband Jonathan as well as myself will be posting about my journey. In the meantime, I am grateful for the presence of all of you in my life, and it is an honor to teach you . . . One that I don’t take for granted.
Let’s face it . . . We all need a break sometimes. We need moment to step back, gain some perspective, recognize that we are more than the thoughts and emotions we are having in the immediate moment. We need a moment to realize that we are more than the physical pain, the grief, the fear, or the illness we are experiencing. It’s no wonder that, within the traditional path of yoga, four of it’s eight limbs are dedicated to learning to quiet and focus our minds. In yoga, it’s sometimes called “cultivating the witness.” We use our breath, our ability to focus and concentrate, our posture, and our intention to become familiar with that part of ourselves that can “witness” our thoughts, feelings, even our discomfort. We initially learn to recognize, and then gradually to be at home with, this witnessing part of ourselves. Once found, the witnessing place within us can be a powerful reminder that we are more than the sum of our immediate strong feelings, thoughts, story-lines, physical pain, even illness. Cultivation of the witness within ourselves empowers us to make choices where before we felt victim to circumstances and situations beyond our control. We meet the witness as a loving, non-judgmental place within ourselves. Spending time in this witnessing place creates a sense of sanctuary and peace.
We begin learning this process early on in yoga practice, and then we integrate it into our asana practice. Once we are able to consistently find it in yoga, it has the benefit of expanding outward into the rest of our lives.
I really, really love this youtube video of Norwegian explorer, Aleksander Gamme. He’s been out trekking across Antarctica, storing caches of food along the way. At this point, he’s been without food for awhile, and he reaches one of his original caches. He has forgotten what he stored in it. As he unloads it, he first finds “standard survival stuff” — vaseline, cables, etc. But then, he begins discovering the good stuff — Cheese Doodles, chocolate, and Mentos. What transpires is a full-out, unadulterated expression of joy.
For me, yoga and Nia often take me out of my own difficult places and into a place where I can express my pure joy. Yoga, because the combination of breath, focus, and mindfulness seem to “clear out” the stuff that accumulates between myself and my sense of bliss — I see yoga as a practice that creates a “clear channel” so that I can not only have a personal experience, but then share it through my work and life. As I dance with others through Nia, I have this sense of making a public statement about the sheer value of joy. There is something powerful about letting go of how we look, doing it “right,” and just dancing our hearts out together, in community. As we look out the windows and dance with the tree tops, the clouds, and whatever birds may be flying by, there’s a sense of first letting go, that leads into joy and finally into a sense of wholeness and peace. Here’s a great quote on why we dance, believe it or not, it’s generally attributed to Albert Einstein, although it isn’t clear: “We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers, we create the dreams.”