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Sitting

Last night I went to the first session of my three-week meditation workshop.

I tried meditation for the first time last year, and for a while I was going to private sessions with a wonderful instructor at LA Dharma in Westwood. The experience I had in the couple of months that I was practicing was profound. I had no idea that there could even be space between the constant stream of thoughts in my head.

You would think that since it was so profound I would have been working away at regular meditation, but all I’ve really done is read about it. And I’ve loved reading about it and it always sounds so good in the books. Wow, I’m always thinking, I really need to get back into this. And then I never do. I just keep reading about it.

Needless to say, it felt really good to actually meditate in class last night. Walking home I thought about how far I’ve come in the last couple of years. It’s been just over two years now since I began doing yoga and, pretty early on into my practice, I went on a retreat to a place called Casa Barranca in Ojai. Looking back at this time in my life, I can hardly remember what was driving me to do these things — they were all experiences that I’d been resistant to for years. I think I’d simply become desperate in my attempts to change the way I was feeling about life and was willing to try anything, even yoga.

Anyway, about a year and a half ago, I found myself at this retreat with a bunch of practiced yogis whom I’d never met, and as scary as it was, it felt really good. After dinner the first night I took a walk up a trail nearby and found a hammock strung between two high trees overlooking a vista and I sat for a long time. And as I sat there, looking out into the dusky night sky, listening to the trees rustling in the breeze above me and feeling the gentle sway of the hammock, I began to cry.

In one simple moment I realized how very long it had been since I had let myself sit and be. I realized how, over the previous three years since my father died, I’d become very adept at filling every single space in my life. I’d constructed my days so that not one moment remained in which I had to sit alone and be with myself. I was amazed to suddenly see it all so clearly, to recognize how and why I’d been doing this for so long.

I realized that I’d been unable to sit still because of all the sadness and the pain I carried around with me. There was so much of it that, even if I sat for just a few minutes, it would bubble up through me so quickly that I felt like I would drown if I didn’t push it back down and cover it up.

That night, at the retreat, marked the beginning of the transformation I’ve undergone in the last couple of years. After that weekend I went home and I began to work at just sitting. For months I took a bath every night so that I was forced to just sit. At first it was so hard. I cried every night. I cried over my parents and all the sickness and death I’d seen. I cried for being alone and I cried for all the things I hated about myself. I cried in fear of all the pain that just kept coming up, night after night as I sat in the bath.

But eventually, (and I wasn’t even banking on this happening) the tears started to dissipate and I realized that all these things I’d been crying about simply needed to be let out and acknowledged. That all this time that I’d been filling up my days and pushing these feelings away, they weren’t actually going away — rather, they were just waiting to be let out.

If you’re interested, you can go back and read through some of that time period. Start in January of 2007.

Anyway, I thought about this a lot last night coming home from the meditation workshop and I felt really proud for seeing myself through all that misery. We all have it, to a certain degree. And it’s really hard to sit with. Now, when I sit quietly, the only things I battle are grocery lists and article deadlines, benign little reminders that don’t carry nearly a tenth of the punch that old stuff did.

But I really believe that had I not forced myself to sit, night after night, in that bath for three months and really let go of all of that pain, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I am so grateful for where I am.

(On a completely unrelated subject, please feel free to read about the chili-cheese dog I ate on the 4th of July in a new post on She Wrote, He Wrote.)

4 Comments

  1. I do remember those posts, Claire. And I continue to be so amazed at how much ground you’ve traveled. It really is inspirational.

    Comment by Bryce on July 10, 2008 at 1:44 pm

  2. I am glad you are coming to terms with the death of your father after 3 years struggle. I wonder if it has been made more difficult for you by our culture’s denial of death, youth-centric asperations, and solemn rituals.
    You have needed 3 years of remedial self-therapy because the emotions weren’t dealt with at the time of the funeral. Many other cultures have moaning, wailing, screaming, breast-beating, hair-pulling outbursts of grief. We have lulling music and leaden drapes, solemn words in sonorous tones, fussing over flowers and dress. It is considered a “lovely ceremony’ if it follows the script with just a few decorous sobs.
    As a grief councilor, psychology graduate, and someone who has been through the berevement process, you are in an ideal position to redesign the funeral rituals.
    Paul

    Comment by Paul on July 11, 2008 at 2:09 am

  3. Thank you, Bryce.
    Paul, just to clarify — my father actually died 5 years ago. It was around the 3 year mark that I began to really move through my grief. And I agree that our society is ill-equipped to handle the emotions associated with grief and loss. That’s part of what I love so much about the work I do — the ability to help people through a process that society itself doesn’t support. Thank you for your comments!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on July 11, 2008 at 9:30 am

  4. I had to LOL at what you wrote about meditation, how you have loved reading about it and it always sounds so good in books. Meditation is a profound experience, I was simply amazed the first time I discovered there were actually quiet spaces in between my thoughts. In facing your pain, you have allowed yourself to grow and move on. It shows how strong you are Claire that you took control of your own life and didn’t allow the fear and pain to consume you.

    Comment by Wendy on July 11, 2008 at 11:42 am

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