Tag Archives: meditation

I Wish I Knew What I Did….

A thing happened today, while I was leading my taiji class through the form—one of those things I don’t understand but would oh, so, like to.

When we do the form (Yang-style long form) during the second half of class, I talk. I describe what I am doing, sometimes name the move or point out that we’re in a section of repetition, or make suggestions regarding weight distribution or body alignment. Nothing is scripted. It’s whatever comes into my mind as something that might be helpful to say, depending on who has come to class.

Today, about two-thirds of the way into the form, I felt something shift. I knew I had entered an altered state of consciousness. I relaxed into lightness of body and mind. I felt a quiet within me and around me. I was still talking, but I said less. I felt very good, very complete. After class, I went up to my apartment and did a bit more taiji and then sat on the sofa for a time with my eyes closed. Gradually the state dissolved, and within an hour, I was at my computer going through emails.

I wish I knew how I had reached that state so that I could return to it at will, but I don’t.

I do think one factor may have been that, as I spoke our way through the form, I was emphasizing sinking, sitting down into the hips, relaxing the shoulders, pausing for a moment to really settle into a posture. I was doing this partly for myself, although I had not planned to, and partly for one of the students who had said at our last class, when I talked about relaxing the shoulders, that a therapist once told her she carried all her emotional problems in her shoulders.

I suspect that sinking, relaxing, grounding may have been key to this morning’s experience in part because a couple of weeks ago, about two thirds of the way into doing the form with my long-time Saturday morning taiji partner, I similarly entered a similar state. That time, because nothing had seemed to be going well, I had decided that maybe I should just focus on my feet, and the shifting of weight from one to the other.

Of course, I tried the same approach the following Saturday to absolutely no avail. I guess connecting with earth may be key, but not a guarantee.

One more experience comes to mind, one that happened more than a month ago during a 3-hour meditation session at the convent where I go for Zen-style sitting.

About two-thirds (hmmm… there’s that fraction again)—anyway, about two-thirds of the way into the first half of the session, I entered into a delicious space—soft, quiet, relaxed, accepting. It had the same quality of being separate from my normal awareness as did the two taiji experiences. As I was in it, I knew that it was wonderful and also that it would not last, but that that was OK.

Though I am grateful for all three experiences, in a small way they trouble me because they are akin to some of the more extreme experiences I had two and a half years ago—experiences that a neurologist labeled “spells” when he told me he didn’t think I had epilepsy even though I had had two “unusual” EEGs.

So what is it, what is it, what is it that I am experiencing?

Brain deviance or spiritual growth?

It seems possible that the sole meaning of experiences like the one I had today is that the 3 pound mass of tissue inside my skull has gotten a bit wonky in some of its particulars as a result of my various practices. My brain gets wonky; my perception of reality shifts; I feel good; end of story.

Of course, it is also possible—and, I hope, true—that there is some greater, objective reality that I may somehow be able to access as a result of my various practices.

It would be nice if there was more than just me, my brain and I….

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Into Quiet….

In the past few months, something has shifted. I’m not sure what, and not sure why. Nor do I know if I appear changed to other people, but I feel more quiet inside.

I find I often can and want to be still, to sit without moving or wanting to move. I had pretty much abandoned my morning meditation practice, but now I am doing it again and finding it easier to let go of obsessive thinking and return to breathing in and out, observing as my body fills with breath, expanding and then relaxing, expanding, letting go.

I have been drinking Pu-Erh tea first thing every morning for almost three years, but only now am I noticing, as I sit very still, how the caffeine sets my entire body to tingling.

I pause at various times during the day to observe my hands as they cut an apple or to contemplate the flower stalk of my amaryllis bulb as it races upwards to bloom. These are the sorts of moments of mindfulness that I’ve tried to remember to cultivate in the past, but now they just seem to unfold.

Being pulled towards stillness seems natural enough—but it has worried me. I will be 76 in a few weeks. What if my body and mind are becoming quiet because some part of my brain is beginning to malfunction or shut down? Do I feel empty because my brain is, in fact, empty, a shrinking walnut knocking around inside my cranium?

Oh, my, I hope not.

However, as I meditated yesterday morning I realized something that made me feel a whole lot better about my turn towards stillness—that made me, actually, almost giddy.

It occurred to me that the place, or the mental/physical state, to which I feel drawn is akin to something I have experienced for a while now when doing taiji.

When I do the form slowly, with relaxation and focus, my movements become very steady, very smooth—indeed, very still. I feel as if I’m engaged in some kind of flow, riding or possibly creating an almost palpable stream that may curve or change direction but that continues without interruption until I stop moving—or lose focus. It is lovely—and I am certain it is not dementia.

Perhaps I am becoming able to be in that same space, or substance, when I’m not doing taiji. Perhaps I have entered another stage of whatever journey I am on.

Meanwhile, as I’ve been floundering, wondering what is happening to me and where I’m going, I’ve been wanting to find a spiritual home or teacher or companions in meditation, and through a series of coincidences, on New Year’s Eve, I did.

I am now meditating with a group of lay people at a convent in my city. It is an extremely odd place for me to be feeling at home. I am a lifelong agnostic with deep prejudice against the Catholic Church taught to me by my mother, and to her by her parents, who had been disgusted with the hypocrisy they witnessed in the church in Europe.

But so it has happened. The sessions I attend are referred to as contemplative prayer, although the format is pretty much the same as at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Oregon where I once did a number of retreats. Indeed, the nun who leads the group is also a Zen master (and I am not naming her because, by the self-imposed rules of my blog, I would need to ask her to read this before doing so, and I have come to feel that asking people to read what I’ve written for any reason is pretentious).

During our meditation sessions, which are two 20-minute sessions with a period of silent, meditative walking in between, we can ask to have a consultation with the leader in a separate room, as was done in Oregon. Last week, she said to me, as she had said before to the group, that one might choose to use the word God, or life force, or some other term, but that it is all the same, it is all the spark of life that flows through us—but somehow, as she said it to me as we sat face to face, my tears welled up.

“You’ve felt it,” she said. “Yes,” I said, “perhaps I have.”

Felt what? Now I’m not sure. I think my tears may have come because, as she spoke of that something flowing through us, her hands depicted that flow by moving outwards from her body—and because I was sitting across from her, they moved towards me. It wasn’t that I felt that she, personally, was giving me something, but that I felt that I have been given something the various times I’ve had ah-hah moments in qigong.

When those moments have happened, I have always felt awed—and grateful. Perhaps that is what worship is about. There’s a book about Chinese medicine titled “The Web That Has No Weaver.” Perhaps, at least for me, this flow of life is the gift that has no giver.

I don’t have any idea how this pull to quiet is going to turn out, but I feel an unaccustomed acceptance of not knowing. For now, I’m just going to sit and breathe….

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The Melting Face of Love

It was during a seated meditation that I looked into the eyes of the melting face of love.

I was just back from Estes Park, Colorado, where I’d gone with 10 family members to scatter the ashes of six people who had loved that place—my parents; an aunt who died this year at 101; and a second aunt, her husband, and their daughter, who had died long before they did in her 30s.

I had never been to Estes Park before, but I could see why they had so often spoken of it. It was so beautiful, and so different from Chicago and Maryland and California and Seattle, the places where they and I had lived.

A few days after returning home, during my seated-meditation-with-cat, I found myself chanting the words “mountains, rocks, trees, earth” in my head, with each word bringing a remembered image from Estes Park to mind.

I may have been slipping towards sleep because I have no sense of leaving those images and arriving elsewhere, but suddenly I was seeing a face, looking into eyes, and as I looked into them, the eyes softened, becoming warm, totally loving, totally accepting. Actually, I don’t know if the eyes and the face melted, or if I melted into them—but then they were gone and I felt a wave of almost palpable energy, white, like water vapor, leaving the face and settling onto my shoulders and upper chest. It was warm and lovely. I felt a smile and it may be that I actually did smile. And I felt good all day.

But the face was gone. It had been a woman’s face, clearly. I cannot now bring it to mind’s eye, but it wasn’t the face of anyone I have known—not my mother’s, not mine, not a Chinese face, as might befit my qigong practice, not a brown Native American face, as might befit Colorado.

But so nice, so warm.

I of course wanted more.

I tried going back to chanting “mountains, rocks, trees, earth,” adding “sky, clouds and moon”—and I’m not sure why I didn’t have the moon in there from the beginning, because when I was in Estes Park there was a full moon, and it was everywhere in the night sky, unlike in the Seattle area, where you have to find a place where there are no trees to see it.

I knew that trying to experience the face again wouldn’t work. All of my powerful energy experiences have been one-offs, things that came completely out of the blue and never returned. But I did so want to feel the love of the face again that I tried anyway. Continue reading

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