be careful what you meditate for
This felt too much like praying, but I knew that was just my mind dragging up old junk. It wasn’t praying, and the outcome was nothing more than understandable coincidence.
Still … hmmmm….
I’ve been following the program in “Mindfulness - An 8-Week Plan” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman which uses a weekly series of guided meditations to help develop mindfulness in a sustainable manner. It is a program that has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but the religious elements have never been a part of the method. It is a fully practical and science-based program, in fact; Jon Kabatt-Zinn, who started the first such program in the last 70s, has a PhD in molecular biology from MIT and developed the program at UMass.
Not a woowoo type of thing.
Last week was Week 7 for me. “Befriending” meditation: expressing kindness and friendship towards yourself and others. Here’s the gist of the guided meditation:
May I be free from stress and suffering. (or, from pain and suffering)
May I be happy and healthy.
May I have ease-of-being.
This is based on a Buddhist meditation of the same name. There are variations, of course, usually longer versions. This version of the meditation is meant to be available to anyone, whatever their personal beliefs. It’s not a prayer. The thoughts go nowhere but through my synapses; it’s a fully embodied experience and practice.
After a few minutes of silently repeating these words and observing your body’s response, the next step is to repeat the three lines but this time with a loved one or good friend in mind. After that, a stranger or someone you know but have neutral feelings about (a person you see on the bus daily, a co-worker you have little interaction with); finally, someone you have some kind of negative feelings about.
Sunday, for the “neutral” person portion, I chose a man I work with; I know very little about him and 99% of our interactions are work-related. So, for a minute or so, I placed his name at the front of the meditation and expressed a desire for him to be safe, happy, healthy, and to have ease-of-being.
Because, why not? As I said, it’s not a prayer – but, with my background in my teens and early 20s as a fundamentalist Christian, praying for people in a similar manner was an important part of my worship. I have yet to excise the stuff I spent nearly a decade working hard to bury into my mind and beliefs.
And it worked. Boy howdy, did it work. All these years later, and those synapses remain intact enough to color this non-religious meditation.
Then it got weird.
I went to work that night, and I had a half-hour overlap with this man before his shift ended. And he had a favor to ask, a typical workplace request: to exchange our shifts next Saturday.
Next Saturday is the first local meetup for planning activities for Portland-area Elizabeth Warren supporters. I was excited that my schedule allowed me to attend that meeting; I am psyched to get working with other Warren supporters and push for her to win the nomination.
And now this very nice man asked me to give up that meeting (which he knew nothing about) so he could leave work at 6 pm, not 11 pm, and drive up to north of Everett and be ready to leave the next morning on vacation with his wife and five kids, who live up there (it’s complicated).
Jebux, how could I say no?
This is just a string of coincidences, of course: his scheduled vacation, the meetup schedule, our work schedules, Elizabeth Warren running for president, etc etc. Also: I decided to use him for my “neutral feelings” person in the Befriending meditation earlier that day. Just a string of coincidences or, as Arthur Dent put it in Life, the Universe, and Everything, “It’s just fate playing silly buggers” with me.
What I hate about all this isn’t that I agreed and gave up my meeting; how could I not? How hard-hearted would I have to be to not help this man get his family vacation off to a decent start? Under other circumstances, I say yes in a heart beat (under these circumstances, I’m saying yes 24 hours later because I am bummed to miss the meeting; a tiny spot of self-pity). What I hate isn’t the circumstances or the missed meeting or that stuff.
It’s the thought I can’t excise that this is like an answered prayer.
It isn’t. If there’s one good thing my meditation practice can do for me, it’s to make my brain as secular as possible. The purpose of the Befriending meditation isn’t to send out good vibes to the universe; it’s to rewire my synapses so that I approach the world with an attitude of friendliness and compassion for everyone, including myownself.
This remnant of my youthful religiosity is a part of my mental unhealthiness. I’ve only had a couple of months to work on changing that, and I haven’t even taken off the training wheels yet. It will take time, and a lot of practice – ie, meditation.
Right now, however, as irritated as I am with that, I am glad about this:
I am the type of person who will say yes to this request from someone who isn’t even a friend. I am willing to put his needs before mine, and, as embarrassing as it is to say out loud, that makes me a good person.