Excerpt for The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



The Power of Acceptance: One Year of Mindfulness and Meditation


By Mollie Player


Copyright © 2016 by Mollie Player

Book Two of the You’re Getting Closer Series


Smashwords edition

ISBN: 9781370863617

All rights reserved


To contact the author, subscribe to her blog or discover your next great read, visit mollieplayer.com.



Also by Mollie Player:


You’re Getting Closer: One Year of Finding God and a Few Good Friends

The Emergency Diet: The Somewhat Hard, Very Controversial, Totally Unheard Of and Fastest Possible Way to Lose Weight

The Naked House: Five Principles for a More Peaceful Home

What I Learned from Jane

Unicorn

Being Good

Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby



This book is only mostly true.



For Leta. Love you.



January: Click!


I wish I could remember the exact phrase that got it into me, that finally made it go click! But maybe there wasn't one; maybe it was the book as a whole that implanted it, in some otherworldly, sibylline way. Whatever the case, soon afterward came the more important moment, the one I remember to this day.

It was the summer of 2013. I was sitting in our family room reading Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now as the baby played next to me on a big green comforter on the floor. As he mouthed one unsuspecting rattle after another and pressed buttons that rewarded him with nonsense, I finished the book for the third time. And though I still don't know the exact point at which it happened, by the time I set the book down, something had indeed changed inside me. I put a hand on Xavier's fresh little head and he turned to me, looking disoriented. I smiled and he held my gaze and smiled back, then held out his stubby arms. I pulled him into my lap and his head bobbed toward my breast and as I nursed him I considered what I'd just read.

Though I had been raised immersed (some may say half-drowned) in religion, the several years leading up to Xavier's conception had been focused elsewhere—mostly on my new partner, David, and my quickly growing freelance writing business. Spirituality was still there—part of me, part of my definition of myself—but it wasn't close to the surface.

A year before he was born, I discovered Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch, and a strange brand of spirituality called New Thought. By the time I picked up The Power of Now for the third time, a year and a half had passed, and Xavier was six months old. I had explored and applied my new beliefs in depth, and now it was time to take the next step. Long days of motherhood begged for community and friendship, as well as increased inner strength. And so, to my still-unfamiliar routine of play dates, car naps and Gymboree, I added going to church.

The first book in this series, You're Getting Closer: One Year of Finding God and a Few Good Friends, discusses my attempt to fulfill a two-pronged goal: increased earthly and divine connection. Meditation was a logical part of the plan.

Until that day with Tolle and baby, though, I had never really tried it. As a Christian I attended one Buddhist meditation session in a home that had been revamped into a temple. It was a minor act of rebellion, of open-mindedness, the kind of thing a goody-goody like myself found exciting.

Except one thing: It wasn't exciting—not at all. Not in the least little bit. In that room decorated all in red—red velvet pillows, red calligraphy wall hangings, red-patterned plush carpet—I felt like I could hardly breathe, and when I tried to focus on my breath, as the unsmiling leader suggested, I very nearly hyper-ventilated.

And that was just the first five minutes.

After that, I gave up, and watched the clock and the handful of people sitting with me. How do they do it? I wondered as my back started aching and my legs fell asleep. More to the point, why?

I shifted out of the kneeling position and moved against the back wall. I considered leaving, but didn't.

Slowly, slowly, time dripped from the clock, and the final instruction—to open our eyes—came as a great relief. I got out of there as fast as possible, shoes in hand, and fidgeted my way to the car.

Which is why it was strange that after finishing The Power of Now that day, I decided, twelve years later, to try it again.

Like I said: something had clicked.

I flipped back through the pages of the book I hadn’t wanted to read again, then hadn’t wanted to finish. I looked for a passage I’d underlined about Tolle’s unique meditation technique, namely, sensing the energy of the body.

I found it, re-read it, re-read it again. I was definitely intrigued.

You know what? This doesn't sound so bad. I don't even have to stop thinking. What if it really could help me connect with the Divine inside myself?

What if it actually worked?

I closed my eyes. I tried to sense my body, as he instructed—to feel the subtle energy moving in and through me.

And, miraculously, I did.

My hands tingled. My arms and legs pulsed in a way I'd never noticed before. It felt like love, peace, and joy coursing through my body—and becoming aware of it wasn't even that hard.

Suddenly, it hit me: I was mediating.

That evening I took a long walk with the baby, tried the technique again. This time, I didn't think of it as meditation—I wasn't sitting, after all—but the feeling I had was the same. The next day I decided to take the show on the road. I looked up meditation classes in my area.

Not long after that, I was hooked.

Before I knew it, Xavier was one year old and I had spent the past six sleep-deprived months honing this newly-discovered skill. The following year, as I wrote You're Getting Closer, I expanded my spiritual practices considerably, with mixed success.

A year passed. Xavier was now two years old, and as I reflected on that milestone in his life I thought about my own progress, too.

And one of the things I thought about most was my failure.


***

Last November, sometime in the middle of the month, I had the best two weeks of my year. After a couple of particularly enjoyable incidents—one being a trip to see my family—a warm, delicious feeling got into me and stuck, and every day—nearly every moment, even—I felt the presence of God.

I felt it when I read. I felt it when I played with my child. It was there all the time, a bit below the surface of my thoughts. Even when difficulties arose, the state of mind remained; I stayed an arm’s length from my disappointment. At one point during this time, for example, a friend got upset at me for not cleaning up the mess my kids had made at her house. Though our hour-long conversation about it was tense and uncomfortable, delving into past slights and wrongs, I got though it without anger. A few days later, on my most enjoyable birthday in recent memory, I told my husband I felt unequivocally at peace.

Then one day, a week or so later, the special feeling went away. I still don't know why it happened. Maybe I'd become complacent, wasn’t mediating as much, or maybe it was a new bout of depression. Whatever the cause, it was a great disappointment.

Unfortunately, it was a disappointment, too, that represented a much larger problem. This wasn't the only time a spiritual high was followed by a major low that year—or the year before, for that matter. I described a few of these experiences in You're Getting Closer, and after writing that book, I had at least several more.

And now I wanted to know why.

What am I doing wrong? I asked God over and over. More importantly, what was I doing right before that I am not doing now?

And I didn't just pray. Every day for a month straight, I attempted every trick I knew to get the feeling back. Of course, meditation was the first on my list, as it had been for the past year and a half. I upped my weekly goals from one class to three, enlisting my husband's support. He took the baby swimming while I went to church or temple, seeking that spiritual high. The hour-long sessions were helpful—but they didn't get me out of my rut.

Neither, unfortunately, did my mantras or my visualizations—or my walks, which often incorporated both.

I still felt like total crap.

And so, for a while, I gave up. I was tired of all the effort, the fruitless striving, and I just needed a break. What I didn't realize was that more than four months would pass before I even attempted another sitting meditation.

The time off wasn't a total loss. During it, I thought about what I needed that I didn't have—the missing link, so to speak. Intuitively I knew that there was some method I could use anytime, no matter how I felt, that would immediately get me in touch with the Divine. After all, all of the New Thought mentors out there say that spiritual connectedness is our natural state. So why, after several years of striving and seeking, was I still feeling it so infrequently?

Truly, I was missing something.

With this goal in mind, I resumed my current spiritual practices as well as my search for more effective ones. I read more books, discovered more techniques—prayers and ideas I hadn't yet tried. I counteracted negative thoughts with positive ones, as the collective entity known as Abraham recommends. I re-read You're Getting Closer and became inspired to again surrender each moment to divine guidance. But while these practices and many like them brought some encouragement, some peace, I never got back to where I was.

I am still not back. Currently, I'm swimming upstream, as Abraham says, very much against the current of the spirit. My thoughts are often negative. My mood is often recalcitrant. Most of the time, I want to be somewhere else. I'm easily annoyed, and easily insulted, and often downright neurotic.

In other words: I'm not feeling very spiritual.

It is the beginning of January, however, and if there's anything I love, it's a fresh start. Sure, it's only a date on the calendar—but it may be just the thing I need.

It's time for a New Year's resolution.


***

Although it was long before the beginning of the year that I decided to make a spiritually minded resolution, until a few days ago I knew only the criteria. The goal, I realized, would have to be doable, something I could stick to all year. It would have to allow for imperfection—lots of it—and be simple and clearly stated.

When one pen, two pieces of paper, my favorite chair and thirty free minutes collided in the Universe, I sat down to consider my options.

Should I do a sitting meditation every day, and if so, how long should it last? Would five minutes be enough to make it worth the effort, or need I do at least fifteen?

Should I resume my goal to hold myself in continuous meditation all day long? And if so, how would I do it? Would I say mantras, visualize my God-self, listen for action-by-action guidance? Or should I try something else entirely?

Finally, I made the decision. My twofold resolution this year isn't as bold as my last—and not nearly as frightening, either: I will do sitting meditation for at least five minutes every day, and I'll remain in the state of meditation as much a possible after that.

Five minutes is doable every day, I realized as the idea came—even for a busy mom like me. It's simple, and if I'm able to stick with it, I may eventually find my so-called “missing link”. But what really convinced me to choose this goal is that it removes a lot of pressure.


***

Recently, I was reflecting on some of the books I've read on New Thought spirituality and the law of attraction. Why do I like Eckhart Tolle so much? I asked myself. And Neale Donald Walsch, and Esther Hicks? And why are so many others drawn to them, too, with such similar intensity?

Is it because they’re so quotable, so poetic? Somehow, I don't think that's it. Is it because they claim to hear directly from Source? Maybe, but Tolle doesn't channel his books.

The number one reason we love them so much, I believe, is this: they are extreme. They don't merely describe a nice spiritual practice, or summarize a few lofty ideas. They aren’t conservative. They don’t pull a single punch.

They insist we can all be great.

We can be healthy and happy, they say—and maybe even wise and wealthy, too. Most of all, we can experience something we’ve been seeking a long time: our next major spiritual high.

And we believe them. We read them, then read them again, then try to practice what they preach. Our efforts pay off: we get a glimpse of the bliss they promise. Then we read the next book and wait for more.

Many of us—most of us—are still waiting.

Of course, our frequent failed attempts at inner peace are not the fault of these wonderful authors. Bliss, enlightenment, our next spiritual high—these are, as they say, truly possible for us all. The problem is this: obsessing about where we’re headed doesn’t help the car drive faster; if anything, it tends to slow it down.

Which is why five minutes of meditation feels right to me this year. It isn’t an overly optimistic goal. It isn’t going to cause me to expect fast miracles, or spiritual ascendance overnight.

Hopefully, it’ll remind me to stay humble.

And although the second part of my resolution is much like that in You're Getting Closer, namely, remaining in continuous communication with the Divine, there’s one important difference here. That difference comes in the middle part of the sentence: “as much as possible.”

As much as I can.

In a way, the qualifier is an escape clause—a way out of my resolution, should I need one. But I know me, and perfection can’t be my goal. If it is, I’ll just give up.

When I'm an old woman, with cropped curly hair, and eight pink sweaters and one pair of brown shoes, I’m going to be good at being spiritual. I'll have one of those blissed-out smiles for everyone, and upbeat catch phrases like “You do you, Martha!” I’ll be wise, and silly, and sane, too, damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it: I will.

Until then, though, I’ll just be consistent.

Every day, for five minutes, I’ll seek a peaceful mental place. And when I find it, I’ll try to stay a while.

As it turns out, I'm not Eckhart Tolle—or Esther Hicks, for that matter. I'm just a regular person, muddling my way through, hoping for a few answers to the usual questions, such as those I’m asking this year:


  • Will I be able to keep my resolution this year to meditate for five minutes a day?

  • Will I find it hard to do so, or will it be surprisingly easy?

  • Will I get rid of any part of my neurotic tendencies? Or will they mostly remain?

  • Maybe most important, will I find the missing link I’m looking for—a continuous meditation method that works every time?


I have no idea whether or not the perfect spiritual practice is out there, or whether there’s some other, more important lesson in store. But isn't the process of discovery a major part of the fun?

Seeking is what makes the finding interesting.



February: Sometimes, the majority is right


Last month I proved myself right—sort of. I proved I've been doing something wrong for some time, and that what I'm doing now is better.

Today is February 26th, and every day for the two months since I last wrote, I've sat and meditated for five minutes. The takeaway: Whereas in the past I was convinced that this small goal would be difficult (what about the baby? And my morning exhaustion? What about when I'm just in a bad mood?), I now firmly believe otherwise.

So far, these shorter but more frequent sessions have been not only easier than expected, but more effective as well. They’re enjoyable, and inspiring, and well worth the effort. It's like all those cheerful churchgoers say: a little bit of quiet time each day is the best thing for growth.

I guess sometimes the majority is right.

Here, a description of my practice so far.

Though any location is a good enough location for meditation, my usual routine takes place on my family room floor. As Xavier explores the various temptations I've spread out for him, I lean against a cushion and close my eyes. As I lay my hands on my legs, then turn up both palms, my attention falls on the tingling and warmth I find there. I choose a mantra that seems to hit the right note, then repeat it silently over and over. Notably, I do not try to stop thinking; instead, I carefully direct my thought. If my mantra has to do with the energy in my body, I imagine it coursing through me, cell by cell. If my mantra has to do with who I really am, I visualize every detail of my highest self.

I guess what has surprised me the most these two months is that the practice usually feels good.

Previously I believed, albeit subconsciously, that if I wasn’t in the right mood, it wouldn’t. I dreaded sitting for any length of time feeling uninspired and frustrated. But this morning, I woke up overtired and annoyed at my husband, yet when I closed my eyes, I felt the same as always during meditation.

It was just me, my hands and God.

Best of all: as I sat, some of the tension that had been hiding under my skin seemed to break into pieces. The anger and annoyance, particularly around my eyes and mouth, disseminated, then escaped out my pores. This evening, when David came home from work and I remembered our argument from last night, both of us noticed the lighter mood.

It was an argument, my new face said. Really not a big deal.

Five minutes of meditation a day isn't going to solve all my problems, smooth out every lump, bump and imperfection. But I'm looking forward to seeing the big change that the small changes will make—all the fine lines that replace the deep ones.


***

One Sunday morning at my Universalist Unitarian church, a nine-year-old girl sat on the floor facing her chair. As she played with ribbons, eventually constructing a bracelet, I sat directly facing her, eyes closed and palms raised. Together, we remained seated for the whole length of the service, even when asked to stand. We were the sole holdouts of the congregation, in unspoken cahoots—an ally I didn’t know by name.

Often, I feel self-conscious when I meditate in public, and church is no exception. That day, though, I had a semi-valid excuse for my inhibition: the girl was sneaking glances at me as often as I did her. My mind wandered: Did she know I was meditating? Did she think it strange?

Nine is the age of curiosity. But then, so is thirty-six. Her questioning glances caused me to question myself: What exactly was I doing, anyway?

What is this thing we call meditation?

When the service was over, and we stood to leave, I smiled at the girl and waved goodbye. She waved back, then ducked her head, turning to her mom. As I watched her file out, it came.

"Meditation is when you sit very still, and maybe close your eyes, and feel the feeling of feeling good."

It's not the definition you usually hear—but as I soon realized, none of them are.

After my first and solo attempt at meditation, I decided to start taking classes. I did a bit of research and was surprised to encounter a large number of interesting options.

I'm definitely going to find what I'm looking for, I thought as I bookmarked every group in my area. I was right—but it took some time.

One of the first group meditations I attended was held at a house-turned-bookstore one suburb over. When I got there, I wondered if I was in the right place: no teacher, no one tending the store. I looked for a bell but found nothing.

Ten minutes later, a troop of stylish hippies walked in: two young women, a young man, and a middle-aged man, clearly the leader. They wore the kind of clothes that are made to look bohemian but aren’t: for the men, pre-faded jeans and expertly crafted leather sandals, and for the women, skintight Lycra workout clothes paired with flower-patterned accessories.

Immediately, I felt out of place: the newcomer clad in tennis shoes and my husband's cast off T-shirt. I didn’t even have a yoga mat.

"Welcome," said the leader, who I immediately thought of as the Guru, as the group noticed me perusing the books. "I apologize for the wait. We just got back from a hike." His voice was airy, breathless, and deliberate, like an author being interviewed on NPR.

As the other attendees avoided my tentative greeting glances, the Guru fumbled around looking for his keys. He led us to one of the doors lining the long hallway, then unlocked it and entered the room.

"Come in,” he said as he took his place behind a large desk. “Choose a space you like and get comfortable."

The first to follow, I chose a fold-up chair near the wall, but it was the wrong thing to do. One by one, the others unrolled their mats and assumed the classic yoga pose, crossing their legs and keeping their back straight.

I slumped in my chair a bit further.

After a brief, generic introduction, the session officially began. The Guru began guiding us through various sensual scenarios, his breathy voice sucking in more air than ever.

"Think about water, how it sounds, how it feels, how it winds its way through the world with such ease. For the next few minutes, you are that water. Imagine it. Visualize it. Feel it. Let it be."

And I did. I closed my eyes and thought about water and the other elements he described, but instead of feeling Zen, I felt bored. I wished that I had just tuned the whole thing out, and stuck with my own tried-and-true technique.

When the hour was over, the Guru asked us to describe our experiences. One of the women volunteered to go first.

"There was an inner movement,” she said, in a voice nearly as breathy as the Guru’s. “It went in a pattern, like a figure eight. I felt myself moving with it, over and over.” She swayed her hands appropriately in the air.

I raised my eyebrows with the surprise of the uninitiated, then looked to the Guru for his reaction. His approving smile made me want to roll my eyes, but instead I just averted them quickly.

The young man went next, discussing a "clown-like angelic presence" and the second woman said she "entered the void." Then it was my turn to speak.

"It felt … good," I said lamely, shifting in my chair. "I felt … something. It was nice."

The Guru hesitated, then nodded slowly, his dark brow furrowed a bit. To cover the silence and attempt to salvage the moment, I tacked on hastily, "I've mediated a lot before, I just haven't taken a class."

Immediately, I regretted the out-of-context comment. Why can’t I ever be cool?

"I see." The Guru smiled. "Well, this class is for advanced mediators, people who have already learned the technique. We have other classes for beginners. I suggest that next time you come to one of those."

"Oh, okay," I said, but what I thought was, Elitist meditation? Really too bad that’s a thing.

The class ended, and the students gathered at the teacher’s desk to ask questions and (presumably) plan their next hike. He interrupted one of them to hand me something.

The Guru, it turned out, had a business card.

"Want to reduce your stress?" I read as I walked to my car. "The art of meditation is the art of relaxation. First class free."

I drove home that night knowing I would never return—no matter how many angels and figure eights I learned to sense. Meditation, I realized then, can’t be bought or sold, and no one teacher or technique is the best. It’s personal, and varied, and incredibly complex: a feeling, a knowing, ineffable.

Over the year that followed, I met a lot of meditators, and many of them disagreed with this perspective. The practice they loved most had worked well for them. Why wouldn’t it do the same for others?

It’s a good question—one I asked many times in the years to come, and still ask on occasion. It would be so much simpler if we all just did the same thing. Then I remember: what fun would that be?

The fun is in the discovery.



March: Being in the moment sucks (or do I just suck at it?)


If I never again hear the phrase “in the moment,” I won't miss it a bit. Like many other spirituality clichés (“letting go,” “surrendering” and “being at peace with what is,” to name a few), it's far too unspecific for my taste. What does “in the moment” even mean, anyway? Feeling happy about whatever I'm experiencing right now? What if I'm just … not?

And yes, the fact remains that being in the moment is one of the things I most need to learn. If I'm going to do this continuous meditation thing, I need to drastically lessen my preoccupation with the future and the past—to let go, to surrender, and yes, to be at peace with what is.

Esther Hicks and Abraham call present moment awareness “the vortex,” and I really like this metaphor. When you're in the vortex, everything's heightened—your power, your energy, your abilities. It's not unlike what happens when you capture the invincibility star in a Super Mario Brothers video game. The music changes, and speeds up. You start glowing and changing color. Most important, every enemy that dares cross your path dies at the merest blow.

That's the vortex and that's the state of meditation. Unfortunately, it's one that often eludes me. Apparently it's one thing to get up in the morning and meditate for a few minutes quietly, alone, and quite another to hold onto that feeling when distracted. So far this year, I've rarely done so.

There are reasons for this, of course; there are always reasons for these things. I’ve been sick a lot. And feeling a bit lonely, since my husband has been working overtime. Oh, and lest I forget to mention, I’m currently pregnant: well into my second trimester, and exhausted. But this is life, after all, just life; and along with the good, there's the rest.

And really, there is a lot of good. Right now, I’m lounging in a comfy beach chair wearing yoga pants (my favorite pair of the twelve I own). I’m sipping freshly brewed coffee and looking on as Xavier plays in a sandbox the size of two volleyball courts. Surrounded by some of his favorite things—trucks, wagons and slides—he’s content, which makes my job pretty easy. When the toddler is happy, I should be, too—and yet, currently I’m not.

In fact, I’m kinda depressed.

Even with an amazing child, and a wonderful husband, and spiritual awareness and an optimistic love-based understanding of the Divine. Even with consistent meditation, and all material things I really need.

Even with, even with, even with.

And so, the time has come for a change, and the change I'm making is a plan—clearly stated, and with instructions.

In You're Getting Closer I listed all of the techniques I've used in the past to get into my good-feeling spiritual place. And even though my results with them have been mixed, they're still the best options that I have. They are:


  • Asking my higher self for moment-by-moment guidance (where should I go right now? What should I do?);

  • Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones continually;

  • Saying mantras and affirmations;

  • Doing visualizations;

  • Mentally noting everything I'm grateful for;

  • Bringing my attention back to my “inner body”—the spirit energy that emanates from me— throughout the day;

  • Doing a sitting meditation;

  • Journaling;

  • Listening to music while focusing on love energy;

  • Reading spiritual books;

  • Smiling, even when I don't feel like it;

  • Doing nice things for others while sending them love energy; and

  • Continually reminding myself of the presence of the Divine.


The first part of my plan is this: Each morning after meditation, I will choose one of these techniques to try throughout the day. No tracking, no obsessing, perfection not required—I will just do the best I can. The second part: I'll do the research. I'll read a ton of books on spirituality and meditation, looking for new in-the-vortex techniques to add to my list.

Maybe then the invincibility star will be mine.

Incidentally, it's not just my frustration with my New Year's goals that inspired this plan. A few weeks ago, I read a book called 10 Percent Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story by agnostic news anchor Dan Harris. In it, he relates in detail his discovery of meditation, explaining how it helped him become a better, happier individual. His method: the classic breath-focused awareness. He listens to his breath and attempts to clear his mind, bringing his attention back to his breath when it wanders. One of the main takeaways is that learning meditation is a lot like learning a sport: every time you practice, you get better. Enjoying it—feeling good, doing it right—is not the goal. Just doing it regularly is. Sitting in the chair, trying again—“That’s the whole game,” he says.

This assertion, which I’ve heard before, made me wonder: Is he right? If meditation isn’t a feeling, what is it? Maybe I don’t know as much about it as I think I do.

Maybe I am doing it all wrong.

I don’t watch my breath. I’ve tried it and I hated it. It just caused me to hyperventilate. And I certainly don’t try not to think, as others do. Having a focal point, often a mantra, helps me stay on task.

That said, maybe there’s something to these techniques that is ultimately superior to my own. That early meditation class I went to during which I felt so inferior, so unpracticed—maybe there was good reason for that. Maybe everyone knows something I don’t yet know. Either way, I need to find out; I need to get reading.

I will of course let you know what I learn.


***

MEDITATION INTERVIEW #1: The Channel


While editing this manuscript, I sensed something was missing—but I couldn’t quite figure out what. Then I started working on the sequel, a collaborative effort, and with that came an idea.

What this book really needed, I decided, was a nice big dose of expertise.

I hope you enjoy the six interviews with long-time meditators interspersed throughout these pages; I sure did.

First up: my good friend and mentor Leta Hamilton. Summing up this earthy-yet-otherworldly creature called Leta in a paragraph is certainly no easy task. At first glance, she’s a suburban mother of four who wears multiple bracelets on both arms and long scarves. Dig just a little deeper, though, and suddenly you’re talking to someone else entirely, someone you really didn’t expect: an accomplished author and a channel for the angels. Either way, you can learn a lot from Leta.


Tell me what your definition of meditation is—just your own. (Don’t cheat.)


Breathing with presence and awareness of breath. Breathing intentionally. Breathing and knowing that you are breathing. Breathing in and out with a mindfulness about the breath. Then, as you move through your day, things come and go and you are present to them. Life becomes a walking meditation.


Describe for me your meditation practice.


I do a sitting meditation of five minutes a day where I am just sitting and breathing. Sometimes it lasts longer, but it’s always at least five minutes. Then I go back to my breath at all times of the day. I am praying consistently throughout the day. Not a prayer for something, just prayer. Life as a prayer. Life as a meditation. I pray peace, as my being-ness in the world. I pray in my heart with the mantra God, God, God. I say, “This—this—this is God.” I love what is and if I don’t love something, I watch myself as the observer and notice that I am not loving it and I love that I am not loving it. I step back and watch myself be in a situation and I love that.


What might you tell a new meditator to help them through the first part of the learning process?


Breathe. Breath is so important. Just listening to yourself breathe in and out, in and out, in and out. That is enough. Five minutes of just breathing. Then, notice your breath throughout the day. Always go back to the breath. Remember to breathe consciously, mindfully and with presence. When you think of it, breathe. At all times of the day, remember to take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. You are breathing, breathing, breathing and suddenly, life becomes the meditation. Meditation and prayer come together in harmony because you are no longer praying as a plea for something to change, you are being the prayer.


How long have you been practicing meditation?


Meditation has been in my life since my second child was six months old and my first was three and a half. That is about eight years. We used to walk William to his preschool and I would go walking with Oliver after drop off. He usually slept in his buggy and I would sit on a bench outside if the weather was decent or roll him into the apartment and sit on the couch if the weather was bad.

I would just sit and breathe. I continued with this practice when we moved into our new house and began to make a habit of getting up in the early morning hours before the children awoke. I sit on the couch and I just breathe.

If I don’t get up before the kids, I will look for another opportunity in the day to sit and breathe for five minutes.


Have you had any unusual experiences during meditation?


After I’d been meditating for a year or so “religiously” (every day), and while I was reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, I had a very profound personal experience where I felt a presence in the room with me as I meditated. I cannot explain it other than to say that it felt real. Though I could not prove it was there, or point to any evidence of its existence, I felt the presence of another being in that room as clearly as I felt the presence of my own body.

This presence stayed with me—strongly—for a full week. After that week, it went away, but soon after that another “outside of me” thought came into my consciousness while I was meditating: to go to the computer and type in the word “Michael.” I did so, and onto the screen came a dozen or more images of Archangel Michael. At that moment a voice over my right shoulder said, “Leta, this is Archangel Michael and I have come to work with you.”

I did exclusive work with Archangel Michael for some time and then, while driving home one day from a meeting with a friend, I heard, “Leta, this is Gabriel and you are also working with me now.”

I cannot explain these experiences rationally. They are not rational. Yet to me, they are as real as the experiences of giving birth to my children. They opened up a new path of expansion for me.

Since then I’ve had other experiences that are not rational, either, but are also real. One night, for example, I was awoken in the middle of the night by my husband, who was looking towards the ceiling of our bedroom and saying, “What the hell!” When I looked up, I saw a geometric figure of light that was directly on top of us. It had patterns and intricacy that was beyond a moon shadow. He got up and went to the bathroom, and the light went across the ceiling and out the window. I said, “I saw it too,” but we never spoke of it again. This was the beginning of another “opening” to other dimensions and ways of communicating with non-physical realities.

Another experience: Once, I was in the car and out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a child. I thought it was one of my children hiding in the backseat and I called out to them. However, when I looked behind me, nothing was there except the invisible presence of something.

“Okay. Who is here with me?” I asked.

The answer came in the form of a light being I can only reference as an elf. It sounds crazy. However, to me, it was as real as if I’d gone to Middle Earth and met the Elfin Kingdom itself! I sat there in the car and had a conversation with this elf who was telling me that I was now open to receiving messages from the elemental light beings who reside on this planet in non-physical form.

I have conversations with trees that are real. They talk to me and tell me what is up with my life from the perspective of a tree, which is a very long perspective considering how long trees live. I have also been visited by the trees in meditation and taken on journeys that expand lifetimes.


Have you ever been healed, bodily or otherwise, during meditation?


Through meditation, I have been able to receive the lessons my body parts want to teach me. I also have been expanded so dramatically that I can now communicate with angels and light beings throughout the cosmos and consciously extend my energy out in all directions and to every corner of the Universe.

Due to meditation, my inner world is just as exciting as the outer experiences of my manifested reality in form. I cannot say that everyone will have my experiences if they meditate, but I can say that what you are opened up to through meditation is so interesting, so mind-blowing and so much fun that it becomes your joy to be with yourself.

How many people can say they are truly in love with who they are? I am. I believe that the greatest healing this planet can experience is the healing of Self-Love. I love myself more than I ever thought possible. I also love what is. And that, in itself, is a great healing for the planet.


What are your spiritual beliefs? Are they grouped together as a recognized belief system of any kind?


Put simply, All That Is is spiritual.

I believe in the sacredness of the dirty diapers and the dirty laundry as well as that of the holy ceremony. I believe that if anything, the dirty laundry is more sacred than the holy ceremony because there is no pretention in it; it just is. Laundry is laundry. How you perceive the task of doing the laundry is either awakened to its beauty, its enlightened nature, its perfection, or not.

There is no established belief system or religion to which I subscribe. I am not Christian. I am not Buddhist. I am not Hindu or Muslim. I am the one who believes in the sacredness of dirty diapers and dirty laundry. I am the one who believes in heaven right here, right now, from the inside out. I am the one who works diligently to remove all beliefs so I am left with nothing—the great nothingness of my being. I am the one who examines my beliefs, my stories, and removes them one by one until I am left with only what is.

I am not here for people. I am not here to be anything to anyone. I am not here for my kids. They come for me, so I may learn from them, but I am not here for them. I nurture them to adulthood, but they don’t rely on me for anything, cosmically speaking.

I am here only for the earth. I am here to raise her vibration, to bring her peace, to place her at a higher vibration in the galaxy and beyond. I am here to be a peacemaker for the earth. If that helps humankind as well, it is a blessed byproduct. First and foremost, I bring peace to my Self so the earth may be more peaceful and thus raise its own vibration, one human loving him or her Self at a time.


What's the best thing about meditation for you?


I have enjoyed making meditation and contemplation the way I am in the world. I exist with my family and do all the usual mom things, but at the same time I’m never more than a breath away from a wonderful lightning bolt, an “ah-ha” moment where I suddenly understand something about humanity or the people around me or the universe in a way that was mysterious a moment before. It is fun!


We all talk about meditation as if it’s a similar experience for all. And we now know that the same regions of our brain are activated no matter which practice we use. What do you think: how close is what one person calls being "in touch with God" to the feeling experience another has of mere "rest and relaxation"?


Being in touch with God is being aware of the active, vital force within the Self—the electricity charge that animates the Self. It’s what is “behind” the manifested personality and the persona you call “you” in a conventional setting. I am alternatively relaxed, rested, overwhelmed, calm, angry, loving and all the other emotions of the human, life-on-earth experience, but none of them touch my trust and faith in the God that is always present in me as a living force.

For me, God is not a belief or an idea or a concept. It is a vibrating Life Force that I feel real-ly, as a real experience. It is like the Chi of Taoism. That is the only way I know how to come close to describing it. Images of God from my childhood of the man in a robe with a big white beard are nothing next to this force, which is faceless, formless, timeless and infinitely expansive. It is like I have electricity running through me all the time and it makes me feel very much a part of the cosmos—no matter what may be going on in the world around me (think: laundry, dirty dishes and chaos!).


What about when you’re depressed or angry or a bad mood? Does meditation still help you feel better? How often does it help you get out of your rut? How often does it fail to do so?


I rarely feel that I am in a bad mood these days, but that does happen sometimes. Then, meditation does make me feel better. I notice the bad mood and am grateful for the feeling of being in a bad mood. I remind myself that it is only the biggest and best blessing a person could ever have! Through all of these different feelings and emotions, I am given the opportunity to love God more, to experience the life force that is within me even more broadly and to expand into new understandings I didn’t have before. I am grateful for all of it. There is always another night’s sleep to come my way and a fresh start in the morning. I always have the opportunity to see myself from a deeper perspective and observe what is going on as I am angry, grumpy or whatever. I can notice at any moment how I am feeling and honor that immediately. When I am frustrated, I am lucky to have that emotion! All of it is a great blessing and I am grateful to be alive.


How often does meditation feel good in the moment? How often are you itching to get out of the chair?


Meditation feels good all of the time, as does contemplation. Contemplation is a way of pondering through your day seeking greater understanding of all things around you. It is a way of going through life with a sense of humility so you are always ready to learn and expand. Humility is a great force because it gives you the space to learn and grow. What you discover is beyond explanation. It is bliss, pure and simple.


What makes you continue to meditate?


Connecting to God, this life force I have described above, keeps me meditating and contemplating every day. I love how I feel inside. I love that in a moment I can go from “AAAAAHHHH!” (think: four boys all complaining about something at the same time, a house that was clean two minutes ago and is now a disaster, a dog that is barking, a husband who is not feeling well and a thousand other things that could be considered “my day”) to “I love you God. I’m so grateful. Thank you.”

Gratitude is always just a breath away. That is a really great feeling. I am beautifully blessed. There isn’t a lot else to it. It is incredibly difficult to describe. I don’t know if I have done it very well. I experience all the things that all humans experience, but I have a relationship with the inner divinity of Life (I call it God) that is hard to describe, but incredibly rewarding and incomprehensibly blissful.


Is there anything else you would like to communicate to the reader of this book?


I would want anyone reading the book to know that humility and surrender are great and powerful forces. They allow us to be moved in life to new vistas that are more glorious than anything we could have imagined. They allow life to work its magic on us. They create space for joy in IS-ness. They make the things we don't like seem like gifts (and gifts they are). They give us room to unwrap the gift and see it for the beautiful thing it is. They keep us on our toes, looking for new understandings, broadened perspectives and inner growth. They enable us to go from, "I don't understand this!" to "Oh, yeah, I totally get that" in about a millisecond (once we are practiced at it). I count humility and surrender as my very best friends in the non-physical realms. They make me laugh, cry good tears when I need them and have fun in life. So. Much. Fun!

I’ll give you an example. After I read over this interview to give my final approval before publication, I realized that I sound like a crazy person! I'd put myself in a hospital for deranged people if I weren't so functioning and normal in every other way! Even though the things I wrote are true for my experience, I feel very exposed in the re-reading of them.

So, I come back to surrender. I come back to knowing that these feelings of vulnerability are perfect. It is a perfectly normal thing to feel outside of one's comfort zone as you go into new places in your inner journey. These feelings are okay. I am allowing this book to be whatever it is meant to be, whatever will serve the highest good, despite some complicated emotions about it and my feeling of lack of control. This is surrender. This is humility.



April: The perfection of a nap and a walk


Great news this month: I'm meditating. Continuously. (Finally.)

I'm smack in the middle of the vortex.

It didn't happen as a result of The List, however. Or my five-minute habit, or the books. Though I’ve enjoyed these experiences with some frequency, they weren't enough to turn this boat around.

My thoughts were still largely negative.

Does Abraham realize how hard this is for me? I wondered in frustration. This whole getting in the vortex, continuous meditation thing? Does Seth or Archangel Michael know what it's like to have a less than carefree natural disposition?

When you're already heading downstream, of course, it feels natural and easy to continue. But when you're trying to turn the rudder, it's a pain.

And then—miracle of miracles!—it happened. I finally managed to change directions. All it took was a really big push.

That push happened on a swing.

Now, admittedly, a lengthy setup was involved. It started with a three-hour nap with Xavier. (This is something I'd been needing for a while.) Then together we took a beautiful evening walk, during which I listed, out loud, what I was grateful for that day.

I was grateful for the flowers, now in full bloomingest bloom; for the trees, recently reclothed in green. I was grateful for the ducks that greeted us eagerly as ever. And I was grateful when Xavier, content in his stroller till now, uttered his favorite of all words. It was his word for nursing: “boo-boo.”

Since we were just then passing our favorite sitting spot—a large porch swing with a view of the lake—his request was easily accommodated. I parked the stroller near the cabin and climbed the stairs, Xavier wrapped in a blanket to keep the wind off his body. With his face buried in my chest, I sat in the swing, then began pushing my feet against the railing in front of it: knees up, push, legs up, swing. Knees up, push, legs up, swing.

Maybe it was the cold that kept Xavi from squirming out of the blankets, or maybe it was the motion of the swing. Whatever the case, for nearly forty-five minutes he was silent and content—and I, too, became calm. As I looked at the lake and the trees and the street far beyond where a steady stream of headlights moved evenly through the dark, I finally felt the feeling of feeling good.

When I got home that night, I continued my gratitude meditation, noting with joy the small blessings. I focused on the feeling, just sat with it, refusing to let myself get distracted. The next day, and the next, when something didn’t go my way, I immediately found a way to feel better. I bought a new book. Planned a trip. Breathed deeply. Drank some coffee. I did what I could to get through it.

That was two weeks ago, and I'm happy to report that the feeling has been with me ever since. One day at a time, I found a way to feel good. Then I didn’t let the good day go.

In Super Mario Brothers, the clearest progress is made when the player completes another level. Ever after, till the game is over, she holds her new place, re-starting there when she dies.

Maybe it’s optimistic, even naive, but it feels like this discovery is a similar kind of achievement.

Spiritually speaking, I may have leveled up.

For fourteen days straight, I’ve had invincibility, holding onto the star even through challenges. More important, I may have discovered a way to get it back when I lose it: by simply doing more things I enjoy.

If the feeling of feeling good really is the feeling of meditation—what’s the difference what the feeling is about? Maybe instead of first meditating, then getting the feeling of it, I can come at it from the opposite side. I can get the good feeling, then turn it into meditation by remembering the divine nature of that joy. I can thank God, or think loving thoughts, and there! That’s it. That’s the star.

I can do what I can to have a good day—then not let the good day go.


***

The recorded voice, with its relaxing musical accompaniment, was serene yet authoritative. Which may be why. though no one else was in the room with me, I felt compelled to do what it said.

“Sit on folded legs in a kneeling posture, back straight. Then place your right hand on your stomach. Breathe in deeply, then hold your breath there, noticing all sensations that occur. Send love to the area, love, love. Now let the breath out and stand.” Instructions like these, highly detailed, somewhat difficult, came one after the other. There was bowing, and hand motioning, and yoga-like calisthenics, and a whole lot of sitting up straight. Soon, my arm was shaking, and my legs fast asleep—but what really bothered me was my back.

I do not have good posture. It's tiring. It's painful. And for some reason it makes it hard for me to breathe. So when after my encounter with the Guru I decided to try a traditional Buddhist meditation at a traditional Buddhist temple (complete with statues), it didn’t go so well.

Buddhists, man, I tell ya. They’re for real.

Though I never learned exactly what type of meditation this was supposed to be, I knew the point was to transcend my discomfort. The pain would help me access my inner resources, I figured. And I really liked the idea.

In fact, I liked everything about the place: the gold statues, the colorful array of sacred objects, the curtain made of tiny purple beads. I even liked that I was the only one who showed up that evening, and that there wasn't even a live leader, just a really good sound system. It was sort of like having my very own Hal, the artificial intelligence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The voice, though disembodied, was wise and fatherly, and in a rare mom moment, I got to be alone.

So I was disappointed that I hated it so much.

I didn't make it through that whole class. When the fourth chakra was fully blessed and explored, Hal mentioned that there were three more to go. Seven chakras? I thought. I turned to check the clock once again. It had only been a half hour.

Holy God, I’m only halfway through.

I took a deep breath, then got that feeling that you get during the cobra pose in Bikram yoga, the one where you sort of (or more than sort of) want to cry. But yoga classes are usually filled with pretty, judgy people, often with perfect posture, all of whom would see you leave.

There were no such people here.

I looked away from the clock, then slumped my shoulders, curling them far over my stomach.

Ah, that’s better, I thought, stretching out my legs. Maybe I’ll just ignore the instructions and do this my own way.

Then I thought, Or maybe not.

With a quick glance around the room, I stood up and grabbed my shoes. Then I snuck out of the room. When I got outside, I cleared the doors and windows.

Then I put on my shoes.

Hal was still in there, still talking, still bowing, on and on forevermore. He was stuck in that sound system, in that one ornate room.

I, however, was not.

Awesome things happen when you transcend your pain. I get it, I really do. Embracing discomfort isn’t only for hair-shirted monks; modern-day seekers benefit, too. In Eat, Pray, Love, the super cool Elizabeth Gilbert talks about meditating while mosquitoes feasted on her flesh. And in Sex, Drugs, and Meditation: How One Woman Changed Her Life, Saved Her Job and Found a Husband, Mary Lou Stephens endures a tortuous ten days of stillness and silence in a desperate attempt to fix her broken life.

In my car the evening of my great meditation escape, however, I came to a decision that holds to this day: I’m just not a pain kind of person. Pregnancy nausea, exhaustion, parenthood and marriage, plus regular bouts of inimical depression—in spite of the many great blessings in my life, when I need challenges, I have them. They help me grow, they help me remember what’s important, but what they don’t help me do is meditate.

If enlightenment ever happens to me, it likely won't be during an all-night vigil or a fast. It'll probably happen after a nap and a walk.


***

MEDITATION INTERVIEW #2: The Artist


For twenty years, Evan Griffith and his wife have owned and operated a sizable art gallery in Palm Beach County, Florida. Evan is the consummate artist: deep thinking, profound, highly excitable, and just the right amount crazy. Author of Burn, Baby, Burn: Spark the Creative Spirit Within, he’s also a talented writer. His blog, The World Is Freaky Beautiful (freakybeautiful.com) is a passionate exploration of the intersection of creativity and divinity. Here are his answers to my questions.


How long have you been practicing meditation? What was your first experience of meditation like?


In my teens in the ‘70s, my very conservative yet searching Christian mom brought me to a yoga class that ended with meditation. Later in high school and college I sporadically experimented with meditation. By my senior year I became so enamored with the possibilities that I created an independent study course in Human Potential with a friend—approved by the college!—that focused heavily on exploring different types of meditation, yoga, guided imagery, affirmations, New Thought books, sleep experiments and more. It sounds so normal now, but it felt daring at the time, a little less than four decades ago.

The most memorable early meditation I can recall was with a candle—simply focusing on the flickering flame. We were high so it really doesn't count. But it intrigued me enough to want to try it in a normal state of mind. Once I did so, mind-altering substances utterly lost their appeal. To me it was the difference between a sloppy beer-party tryst and falling in love. Deep, life-long, love.


What made you continue to meditate?


From my earliest meditation attempts in college, I took to it right away. Even while experimenting with different forms of meditation, I felt profoundly at home in the process. From then on, meditation was a part of my life—though I didn't develop an ironclad daily meditation process until many years later, after an intense spiritual experience.


What is meditation to you?



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