Late last January, I made a resolution to meditate every day for a year and yesterday I hit my 300th consecutive day milestone. I use an excellent meditation app called Insight Timer. There are thousands of free guided meditations and also a cool timer. (At the moment I prefer the ambient sound “Winter fire” with Ombu interval bells.)
Occasionally I browse through comments on the 365 Days Together group page and I’m amazed by what people write. They claim that meditation has completely changed their lives for the better. In contrast, my discoveries have been more subtle. The most helpful thing that I’ve observed is how painful it can be to think. I don’t mean mental/emotional pain either. I mean that there is physical discomfort associated with mental movie-making. Numerous times during meditation, I have caught myself feeling an unpleasant pressure or tightness in my neck and head. As soon as I notice it, I’m able to slow down the images in my mind. I kind of breathe through the thoughts and there’s immediate relief. Picture your hand clenching something and then easing up on it—allowing your fingers and hand to relax. It’s possible to do this with the brain as well. I’m averse to the phrase “let it go,” but I once heard a meditation teacher describe it as temporarily putting down something that you’ve picked up (like a stone), which sounds kinder and makes more sense to me.
The question “How are you?” seems probing to me lately because it’s not one that I feel I can answer simply or truthfully. My mother died less than two months ago. I miss her. I want to hear her voice. There are things I want to tell her. While it was an honour and a privilege to be there for mom in the last week of her life, I was painfully aware that I was witnessing all her “lasts.” The last time she walked, talked, and fed herself, for example. In many ways, when I was caring for her, I felt like a mother with a newborn. I slept less than 20 hours that week. I spent countless hours by mom’s side—holding her hand and quietly encouraging her. “You’re so brave.” “You’re almost there!” “Everyone loves you!” For the most part, I felt calm and purposeful. One of the last things my mom said to me was, “I’m sorry you have to see this.” I assured her that there was no place I would rather be. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me. Although it was intense and sad, there was a certain grace in her transition.
In less than two weeks, my daughter Hope will be having her second heart surgery. We learned about its inevitability just over two years ago. We’ve had time to wrap our heads around it and accept it, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. Occasionally at night, it will weigh heavy on Hope’s mind and she will tearfully ask me existential questions like, “Why are we here [on earth]?” and “Did we choose to be here or are we forced to be here?” Of course I don’t have any answers because these are profound and fundamental questions. Questions that sensitive humans have probably been asking for as long as we have roamed this planet. It’s heartbreaking to me that she is asking them at the tender age of 11. In a way though, I am delighted and proud because I know from Hope’s ruminations that she is deep, intelligent, and spiritual. Is there anything more important than pondering the reason for existence?
How am I? When I think about the uncertain future, I get light-headed and nauseous. So I try to refrain from mental time travel and remain in the present. It’s not at all easy, but mindfulness brings my attention back to the simple things that I’m grateful for. Like the changing seasons, crunching maple leaves underfoot, a latte sweetened with maple syrup, fresh linens, snuggles, a compelling memoir, and the magic of watching monarch butterflies migrate. For now, my enjoyment of these things is my gauge for wellness. When caring family or friends ask how I am doing, I guess I’m not being dishonest when I reservedly reply, “I’m alright.”