by Holly Keich, LSW
My cup was empty. Imagine the large soup bowl type coffee cup that you can wrap both hands around to warm yourself on a chilly day. Imagine it EMPTY. That’s how I envisioned it anyway. I’d never stopped to fill it. Constantly trying to fill everyone else’s cup and keep things running smoothly. It’s as if I believed perfection could fill it up.
I’d bring my cup, even quite literally once, to communal events expecting others to fill it. But even if I left with my heart filled to the brim, I’d find it empty again soon. It seemed as if the cup was broken and the love would slowly slip away through the cracks leaving me again…EMPTY.
Over time it became obvious that maybe the cup needed to be fixed. Rather than continuing to reach for outside solutions, maybe this needed to be an inside job. And maybe, just maybe, when I doused the cup with attention, caring, and self-love I’d actually uncover an amazing vessel, not transformed by corrections but beautifully revealed anew. A vessel that could not only be filled with love until overflowing, but was actually itself constructed of love and compassion. For self-love is not merely the patch of a spa visit or the band-aid indulgence of a chocolate treat on a difficult day, it’s knowing yourself from within with a clarity like no other and honoring who you see.
In the past, I’d scoured the outside world for an answer to fill my cup, reading passages from Marianne Williamson, books by Brené Brown, listening to interviews and talks by Pema Chödrön and other guests on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.* I was seeking a deeper understanding of true happiness from a variety of sources. They all pointed me in a similar direction. To sit in the stillness of the moment with a curious eye and an open heart.
All the signs were there continually pointing me in the same direction, but yet instead, with a cautious heart, I chose to read about meditation, contemplate it, study it, listen to others experiences of it, but not actually sit still, relax, get comfortable and do it. In 2018, I resolve that will change. So the question now is, as a busy mom of two, with a full life on the side, how do I start a regular meditation practice and keep it going?
Well, the first tip I found was to “Just Breathe.” Lucky for me, I can do that. Wherever I am, my breath is there as a tool for mindfulness. Breathe in peace and find space. Exhale that sensation down throughout the body, checking in with a spirit of curiosity. How am I feeling in this moment physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually? Each breath is another opportunity to see myself more clearly, who I truly am here in this moment, without judgment.
While meditation conjures up thoughts of sitting in lotus on a cushion for hours, it luckily does not always have to mean complete stillness because we all know that’s not always possible. Incorporating mindful movement, where we move through an activity with focused attention in this moment, counts. It might be walking, yoga, folding laundry, showering, or even lying with my child until they drift off to sleep. The point is to stay focused on this moment, then this moment, now this moment. Focus on the twitter of birds in the distance; a drishti (or gazing point) in each pose; the feel of the material as it’s creased and folded from a mountain into neat, tidy piles of clean clothing; the temperature of the water as it rolls down the skin; and the smell of my child’s hair as I feel their chest begin to rise and fall more slowly under the warm glow of the nightlight. Paying full attention to the task at hand is something we all have the time to incorporate into our busy day.
In line with keeping it simple, I plan to develop a mantra. It might be one for each meditation, but maybe one that’s longer-lasting and more enduring with a broader purpose for each day, week, month or maybe even all of 2018. To help keep the habit, I’ll create reminders of the mantra tucked it into my current book, pasted on my bathroom mirror, folded into a note to keep in my purse, on a screen saver across my computer. It’s time to get creative. I’ll need to repeat the mantra as often as I can, consider it a prescription for my health to be provided in regular doses. Open. Warmth. Peace. Love.
Equipped with these new tools, I thought I’d start my New Year’s resolution promptly onNew Year’s Day. Best to start right away or else I might find myself at the end of the day with excuses at every turn. No need to roll out of bed. I’ll give it a go even before anyone knows I’m awake, best to have an undisturbed practice that way. So I tuned into my breath, placed my hands in hakini mudra, focused on my mantra of “open” and settled in to begin.
First I noticed the sounds in the house, my husband in the shower, the muffled sounds of my children watching TV in the living room. Wait, back to the breath. Open. Breathe. I wonder what there is for breakfast. There are leftovers still from Christmas breakfast. Those should probably get tossed. Guess no one liked them. Wait. Thinking. Watch the thoughts pass by as if on a cloud without attachment as I gently and lovingly I bring myself back to this moment, to this breath. With my arm around my inner self’s shoulders, I imagine leading myself back to my center and my mantra.
Scratching. I didn’t even know I had an itch. How did I get here? Pay attention. Wait, be loving. Open. Curious. Breathe again, here now. … Coming back to the conscious moment… I have no recollection of the past several minutes. I must have fallen asleep. Oh great. Well, lesson learned. Maybe there is something to that first tip about finding a meditation space in your house. Then I can leave the bed for it’s intended purpose, sleeping. Thinking mind. Back to the breath with a loving heart.
This is the practice of meditation. It was not a failure, I am not a failure for thinking, for wandering, for getting lost for that is part of the practice of meditation. It’s the coming back to the breath, to the mantra, to this moment here, now, again and again, that is the practice of meditation. So, tomorrow, I start with a fresh mind and a curious heart. As Sharon Salzberg says in “Real Happiness” “It’s completely possible to start over. Wherever we’ve gone, we can begin again.”
When we are open to change, teachers will arise from many directions. Along with Sharon Salzberg, here are some I hope to explore more in the new year ahead.
Sounds True: A Year of Mindfulness
Real Happiness Meditation Challenge / Sharon Salzberg
Self-Compassion / Dr. Kristin Neff
Perhaps you’re interested in joining me or maybe you’re already on the path and have suggestions or words of encouragement to keep it going. Feel free to leave them in the comments below.
May you have a blessed and peaceful New Year!
*Well, to be honest, this is still a regular practice. 😉
Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill. She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant student in the school of life.