How metta

After writing how I’d only tried meditation once at home, I felt pressure to try again. Doing it once a week in class is fine, but to reap all the benefits, I know I need to practice regularly. Yesterday morning, I found myself vexed over a difficult person I am forced to spend a lot of time around, and it dawned on me that meditation might help.

I guess everyone has someone like this in their life. My person is consistently negative, two-faced, ungrateful and oblivious to it all. Lately, everything about her rubs me the wrong way and the other day I overheard her whispering to someone else (yet again) and I think it might have been about me. Gossip is all fun and games until it’s about me.

And what do I do with all this negative energy towards someone with an already abundant supply of negative energy? Ignore her? Oh I wish. Tell her off? Not my style and not an option anyway. Pray for her? Maybe something like that.

The other day in meditation class the instructor had us do what’s called a metta meditation, also known as a loving kindness meditation. Instead of focusing on the breath, you silently repeat a series of phrases focused around wishing someone freedom from harm and distress. Usually you start with yourself as the subject and then move onto the people you love, animals, strangers, and even enraged people that gesture wildly at you from the safety of their own car.

This is an example of a traditional metta meditation directed towards another person:

1. May she be safe and protected.

2. May she be peaceful and happy.

3. May she be healthy and strong.

4. May she have ease of well being and accept all the conditions of the world.

Because I have a lifelong inability to memorize songs or phrases plus a handy tendency to just wing it when I need to recall unfamiliar words (as a kid, I knew you were supposed to follow the speed lemon and that my babysitter loved watching soap boxers), I made up my own list of four things I wished for this person. I don’t think the words matter so much as the sentiment. When I repeated them, I genuinely meant them. I was wishing goodwill towards her for ten solid minutes.

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Speed lemon (thanks google images, this makes up for all the scary searches!)

Why would metta meditation work? Does me sitting in my kitchen thinking positive thoughts send them drifting over like puffy clouds, which shower her with rainbow-glitter-happiness? Probably not, though that does sound kind of cool (or creepy).

I suspect it works by retraining the way I think about her. The metta meditation reminds me very much of the two-week resentment prayer I heard about long ago at a 12-step meeting.

If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free…Even when you don’t really want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.

I am not a pray-er because praying still calls to mind asking for a better grade than I deserve or immediate repeal of unfortunate consequences after I did something really stupid. Meditation is my version of prayer, plus there’s no mention of doing a metta meditation every day for two whole weeks.

Does it work? I did feel better afterwards. I felt less consumed by my own negative feelings. I felt more peaceful and focused, which is usually the case immediately after I meditate. Later in the day, I felt myself get riled up again, so maybe there are no shortcuts on the two week rule.

Because I can’t change difficult people or let everything roll off my back, the only thing I know to do is try and retrain the way I think about them. There have been plenty of people in my life that I’ve viewed in a more positive light than they probably deserved, myself included. Even if metta meditation is just a trick of the light, the end result is a greater good.

The master sticks to her tools.

                  – Lao Tzu (and probably more than a few fortune cookies)

For the past couple of months, I’ve been going to a weekly yoga/meditation class. It’s on Sunday mornings, so I’ve missed a couple when we were out of town, but I like the instructor and the class,  so I keep coming back. It’s hard, though. I consider myself in pretty good shape, but I’m about as  limber as an arthritic elephant. Instead of the usual gentle beginner’s yoga I’m used to, she has us do poses that stretch ligaments and fascia. The idea is to make it more comfortable to sit  for long periods of time and meditate.

About the meditation. One morning I sat for 15 minutes in my quiet darkened living room and kept bringing my focus back to the breath each time another thought scampered across my monkey brain. It wasn’t a bad experience – no worse than any in meditation class – but I haven’t done it since. Morning time, for now anyway, is for navel-gazing journaling and working out at home when I know I won’t be able to get out for a run or to the gym. I don’t want to fiddle with a routine that works, though I plan to  join a runner’s group that meets one morning a week for speedwork.

In my last post I said I wanted new writing and running goals, and both floated into my inbox within several days. The running goal came via an e-newsletter from our local running store.  The writing goal came in a post from Rising Woman, who’s off to writing camp next month. I may join her and you can too because the best part about this camp is it’s held in the comfort of your own life, which will require discipline but at least there won’t be poison ivy. It’s an offshoot of NaNoWriMo, which I’ve always wanted to try but the 50,000 word count loomed too large in my mind. Camp NaNoWriMo is still outside my comfort zone, but I can set my own goals. Now on to the simple task of picking what the hell I’ll write about.

The universe always seems to give me what I need. I’ve had another rough week that really bears no explanation because this is just Normal Life Stuff. And I’ve found help dealing with it in the handiest of places, like the internetz and from the people I love and even this book my yoga instructor recommended called Meditations from the Mat. It’s a daily collection of easily digestible teachings based on the eight limbs of yoga. I liked this book even before I learned the author is in recovery himself. (I love when I’m reading a book or blog and learn that. I feel like I’m meeting another member to some secret club.)

From Day 11 in Meditations from the Mat

We get the job, we don’t get the job; we get married, we don’t get married; our family is well, our family is troubled…our demons are melting away, our demons are at the door; we wake up with a love for life, we wake up with free-floating anxiety…Through it all, though, we come back to the mat…we do the next right thing.

The mat is literally a yoga mat in this case, but doing the next right thing became my higher power early in sobriety, so I like its real-world application. I do usually try to do the next right thing, but sometimes I don’t realize I’ve missed the mark until it’s too late. I can feel sorry for myself or deny any involvement, but the quickest way out of a low seems to be in accepting that life simply sucks sometimes and then looking at what I can do differently next time.

In like a lion

I’m still here. Still not drinking. Duh. But no such thing as a duh where that’s concerned, is there? Yesterday I was driving back from an oil change and went past the turn for my old favorite brew pub and had the thought no one would know, which freaked me out a little. Earlier in sobriety, I couldn’t wrap my head around that one — I got sober for myself, so I would know. I think I understand it better now. Maybe I don’t like myself very much right now and self-pity and lack of confidence are terrible triggers. I am never more at risk for shitty decisions than when I am feeling less than. And also jetlagged and hormonal.

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Seattle waterfront

Because onto the good stuff: I went to Seattle last weekend with just my husband. Everyone was right – Seattle is a wonderland. I suffered jet lag something fierce and self-medicated with delicious food and coffee. I did some sightseeing and basically a 360 from the last time I went to the west coast with just my husband (4 years ago) on what was basically one big bender. It felt good to behave like the human being I know I am in my heart. I am not just some silly drunk but a woman who loves setting out in the morning with a vague plan, open to whatever happens along the way. I had a great trip.

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Jet lag medication, so what of it?

The bad: nothing new, yet lately I’ve felt some old sources of pain triggered and felt myself sucked into a smallish vortex of self-pity and despair. But I know the only way out is through. I know this too shall pass. I know feelings aren’t facts. The only reason I don’t want to strangle myself for repeating these platitudes is because I know they are absofuckinglutely true.

I didn’t want to drink in Seattle. It didn’t even cross my mind. The only reason I mentioned the no one would know thought I had yesterday is because I think it needs harsh exposure to light. It takes about 2 seconds for me to remember oh yeah, drinking totally sucked at the end.

One more thing. I found out a close family member gave up drinking about 2 months ago. His drinking used to worry me and he was so hellbent on explaining how he had it under control the last time we talked about it that I’d given up hope he’d ever want to stop. But he did, unprompted by anyone. He’s at the end of the honeymoon phase of new sobriety – you know, the infatuation with that newfound energy and interest you feel for life itself. I remember that time well and the rough patch shortly thereafter, but I also remind myself everyone’s journey is different. I want to be there for him, but I also recognize I can’t fix or save him.

I think what I can do and what I should do is rekindle my own interest in moving forward. I need some new goals to work on so I don’t remain self-piteous and stagnant. This will involve new running and writing goals. Bring on spring, I say.

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