November 9, 2020
I found this article from 10 Percent Happier to be helpful to me. Often I don't have the time to do a 20 minute meditation when I am feeling out of sorts. This article describes a way of interrupting the "out of sorts."
If you’re on edge right now, good news: you’re normal! It’s hard to see how 2020 could get any more stressful, but that’s exactly what’s happened with the election and its contested aftermath. So, like clockwork, your genetically-programmed nervous system is probably responding with heightened anxiety, fear, tension. What’s helped me over these last few days has been a ten-second-long meditation practice focused on one word: And.
Here’s how it works. Contrary to some self-help teachers, I don’t think true happiness comes from looking on the bright side no matter what. Sometimes, of course that’s helpful; data shows, for example, that if people believe they can recover from an illness, they recover faster. But sometimes, it’s just not true. Actually, things may not get better. It may not be OK. And even if things do turn out OK for you, consider how they might be turning out for someone in a more vulnerable position than you. Look on the bright side, sure, but not to the exclusion of reality. Yet if false optimism isn’t the answer, neither are despair or anxiety. So how do we, on the one hand, acknowledge the truth of things being difficult (internally and externally), but on the other hand, not sink into stress or despair or rage? “And” is my way in. You can try a ten-second ‘And’ meditation right now. You don’t need to sit comfortably, close your eyes, slow your thoughts, or any of that stuff. Just acknowledge that difficult things are happening, both in the world and in your own body-mind-heart system, are happening. They are true. Some of them may even be dire. And also, here is the present moment. What is your body feeling, right now? Can you feel the weight of your body, wherever you’re sitting? Can you wait for a moment for the next inhalation to arise on its own, feel it, and then let go with an exhale? (Breathing in through the nose calms the vagus nerve, so try to do that.) And what do you see around you, right now? Now, you might have a few seconds of calm, or might not. Does that mean everything is okay? No way. It just means, things are not okay and there is this moment, whatever it feels like, with these sensations of the body and the senses, also. Both are true; the okay and the not-okay. Here’s how it just went for me: As I’m writing this at my desk, sunlight is streaming in the window. I can feel the weight of my body on the chair, and I hear the tapping of my fingers on the keys. Here comes an in-breath, there goes an out-breath. I feel quite anxious and here is the simple sensation of an in-breath through the nose, and a very familiar, soothing sense of a long exhale. I am profoundly concerned about the future of my country and here is this moment, just as it is, and here is the awareness of this moment, which if I can orient myself toward it, is spacious and vast. Try it again now, if you like—it only takes a single breath, even a single moment. The goal isn’t to calm yourself down, necessarily, but just to have a recognition of calm in the midst of the non-calm, if you follow that. One important part of “And” practice is not to expect lasting results. It’s not that kind of meditation. You may feel more relaxed for a few seconds, or even a minute, but if you go back to doomscrolling the news it won’t last. Different practices are needed (and available!) for that kind of lasting balance. “And” practice, however, is about what some Tibetan Buddhists call “small moments, many times.” Because you can do it as often as you like, and since it only lasts for a moment, it doesn’t take up a lot of time to do so. You can do it a hundred times a day. It doesn’t get old. And it doesn’t deny the reality that you and other people may be living in right now. It just adds something else that is also true, and that can provide you a moment of refuge.