On Changing the Story



A couple of months ago, I decided to re-up my commitment to a daily meditation practice. I’ve written about meditation here on this blog before (here and here, both from 2013), and over the years I’ve had a difficult time keeping it up after a few weeks. I’m too busy, I can’t settle down into it, I’m too distracted, and I’m not a morning person were all running excuses in my mind. Essentially, I was unable to make it a habit. I decided this time was going to be different. I’ve been reading a lot about (and working a lot on) living a more peaceful, less anxious life, and every single thing I read, from Eastern philosophers to Western medical doctors alike, suggests daily meditation as away to improve and heal countless aspects of life — from concentration to self awareness to acceptance to an overall sense of well-being to cardiovascular health to slowing aging — and most of all, to relieving the weight of stress and anxiety.

I’ve been contemplating big questions about my life and art practice in my continual search for meaning, and I believe meditation can help me here too — in gaining clarity as I move through my life and make decisions about how to spend my time and energy. So here I am again, trying again to do this thing that has the potential to change my life for the better.

This time, as a way of staying accountable and also for some good guidance, I’ve been checking in with a meditation teacher who I met over the summer, and about 10 days into my new practice, we had a call over the phone. He asked me how it was going, and I said that I was having trouble settling down — that when I sat and began to breathe, I was plagued with every thing I’d forgotten to do that morning or the previous day. For example: Oh, man, I forgot to email so-and-so back! Or: Oh crap, I forgot to take the trash out. And my only urge was to write those thoughts down while I was meditating so I wouldn’t forget them again.

“So, to clarify,” he said, “It’s like when you begin to clear your mind, all the thoughts that have been buried come to the surface?”

“Yes,” I responded, “That’s exactly it. And I can’t get them out.”

“When do you meditate and what do you do before you meditate?” he asked. I told him that I got up at 6 am every day, got dressed, went downstairs, drank coffee, ate breakfast, went to a very loud and intense spin class at my spin gym, came home, showered, got dressed again, and went in to a quiet room to meditate before heading to my studio for a day’s work.

“I think you have too much stimulation and opportunity for your mind to start reeling before you’re meditating,” he said. “What about if you woke up and went straight into that quiet room to sit — before coffee or food or spin class or any opportunity to look at your iPhone. Make it the first thing you do in the morning and not the last thing you do before you go to work. Our minds are most conducive to meditation first thing in the morning.”

“Oh, I’m not a morning person,” I responded immediately. “That would mean I would have to wake up at 5:30 so I could get to spin class on time, and it’s getting darker in the morning and I am terrible at waking up early. I could never meditate straight out of bed at 5:30 a.m.”

“You said you get up at 6 am normally?” he asked.

“Yes,” I responded, “pretty much every day.”

“Then I have news for you,” he chuckled. “You are a morning person.”

I blushed and took a deep sigh. He continued, “I take it that you are not a morning person is a story you have been telling yourself for a long time — possibly since you were a kid?” I admitted that it was. In my teenage years I was known in my house for being grumpy in the morning. My mom used to joke that you don’t talk to Lisa until she’s had her bagel and coffee and it was at least 10 am.

“That’s the story you’ve been telling yourself — that you can’t wake up early to do anything, much less meditate, because you don’t like waking up early,” he said. “But the truth is, you already wake up early. And you do lots of things, like make coffee and go to a vigorous exercise class — almost every day. So why not change the story?”

“You mean start to think of myself as a morning person so I can get up even earlier to meditate?” I asked.

“Yes, change the story so that it’s no longer ‘I can’t because’ to ‘I can.’ See what happens.”

“Okay, I’ll try that. But how do I keep from falling asleep at 5:30 am when I go into that quiet room to sit before I’ve had my coffee?” I asked.

He told me to get up first thing and drink a glass of water. Water wakes us up, he told me. “And stretch a bit. Then go sit up with a straight posture. Light a candle. You won’t fall asleep, I promise.”

So the very next day I changed my story. I set my alarm for 5:30. And it really sucked when it went off. But I didn’t hit snooze. I drank some water. And sat up and stretched my arms. And went into my quiet room and lit a candle. And guess what? My mind was already so quiet from just waking up that I didn’t think of one thing I’d forgotten to do the day before. It was one of the most peaceful meditations I’d ever had.

I discovered a wonderful app (The Insight Timer) that both times your meditations for you and offers tons of guided mediations. Last night I went to my first group meditation in over 10 years. I am taking an online class from Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. I am happy to report that I have woken up early and meditated for 40 days straight now. My mediations are not always peaceful. In fact, most of the time they are not. And it sometimes feels excruciating to go beyond 10 minutes. But I’m doing it, and, like everything in life, it takes practice (or so I’ve heard.)

I’ve also begun to wonder what other stories I tell myself that limit what I feel I can do or accomplish in my life? Where else I might need to change a story I tell myself to open myself up to new possibilities?

Thanks for listening. And have a great Thursday, friends.

CATEGORIES: Personal Essays