The Pause

The way meditation works still freaks me out. I’ve been practicing with more or less consistency for a couple of years now, and the part that is consistently weird — like in a good way — is that the benefits of meditation sneak up on you. During meditation you just sit there focusing on your breath and trying to get your brain to shut up. Its not profound. Its not even particularly interesting. If nothing else, I’ve discovered how perfectly boring my head is most of the time.

The cool part of meditation doesn’t happen during meditation. It happens when you start noticing the pause. It is the little space between one thought and the next. Between one thought and an action that follows it. It’s a space I have been searching for my whole life.

One of my great struggles in life has been wrestling down my “big feelings.” I remember so many times expressing my frustration in counseling sessions — how the strategies I tried to manage my feelings amounted to trying to corral wild horses with a three foot fence. Even when I wanted to slow down or tame my feelings, it was so difficult. I felt I failed more often than not.

Meditation seems to do the trick here in ways nothing else has. Mostly it is subtle. I’ll catch myself having a shitty feeling or thought, and its followed by a little space where I can check the thing out and ask if it is useful. Most always it isn’t. And then you re-frame the thought or forget about it.

There are two reasons in particular that this makes me happy. The first is that I don’t get sucked into vortexes of crappy feelings like I used to. The second is that it is easier to be kind. I don’t know if I have any fewer unkind or judge-y thoughts about other people than I used to; they always just seem to pop in to one’s head. But there’s the pause again where I can replace the petty unkind appraisal with something. It goes like that:

Bitchy Me: “Wow that’s a skanky top she’s wearing.”

Pause: “That’s a mean thing to think about a perfect stranger. What the hell?”

Better Me: “She looks like she is enjoying feeling sexy. She looks confident and happy. Good for her! ”

Better me is much better than bitchy me.

So the thing is, this happens to me all the time now. I think it is because when you meditate you get used to seeing your thoughts and feelings and (usually boring) stories much more objectively. So if things pop in to your head you don’t have such a sense of attachment to them. Instead, you can choose who and how you want to be in the world instead of just “you happening to you” all the time.

I am profoundly grateful for this turn. For the pause. It’s a work in progress of course. But it does yield some little rewards most days, and I think it’s helping me to be more calm and more compassionate. I really value these things even if I can’t live up to them all the time. So progress is good.