Post-Pandemic Practice Blues: Navigating the New Normal June 30, 2021 18:30
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I'm on summer break... I'm fully vaccinated... COVID restrictions are lifting!
I have had a couple of opportunities to meet friends who I haven't seen in ages for lunch. I attended a Summer Solstice event at a local park recently as a vendor and sold a couple of malas in person.
I've had more time to read and attend book club meetings (virtual ones--which is just fine).
On the outside, things are looking really good--almost, dare I say, normal?
However, on the inside, things are a bit shaky.
My meditation practice, especially, has been sputtering a bit.
During the pandemic, I looked forward to meditation practice. My cushion was a safe place, and the practice, a welcome refuge.
Over the course of these last few weeks, I've noticed that I've been putting off the things that have brought me comfort and solace during the pandemic, including my meditation practice. I typically sit in the evening when the house is quiet and still. Lately, I have been delaying my practice, pushing it off to later and later in the evening, until I'm too tired to practice with a clear head, and, as a result, I haven't been sitting as long, and the quality of the practices haven't been as beneficial.
Even when I do practice early enough in the evening, I feel anxious or jumpy. I can't settle in on the cushion like before, and random thoughts, memories, and worries interrupt and intrude more frequently.
Sadhana practices feel more mechanical, like I'm reciting on auto-pilot.
I'm having trouble focusing on any task for very long, really. I feel scattered and pulled in different directions.
The doors to the world are opening, and the distractions and anxieties are flying in!
Transitions are not easy, and reintegration after pandemic lockdown is no exception.
While this shift is a bit disconcerting and frustrating, I take solace in knowing that nothing is permanent. I've also taken a few simple steps to navigate and remedy this transition.
* Shorter Sitting Times
Instead of putting all of my meditation eggs in one basket and having one longer sitting session in the evening, I've found that sitting for short periods of time a few times each day is helpful.
* Embracing Variety
Sometimes the distractions and discursive thoughts are so intense that meditating in a traditional seated posture is just not going to happen. So, I've found that giving myself permission to meditate while lying down, or even while moving slowly and mindfully, helps me to maintain single-pointed focus more effectively.
The other day, my meditation practice consisted of mindfully sweeping and mopping the floors upstairs. Honestly, it was one of the best sessions I've had all week--and, as an added bonus, my floors are clean, too :).
* Comparisons and Expectations are Saboteurs
After experiencing several months of meditation sessions that were fairly steady and smooth, and then suddenly experiencing choppy waters of resistance and worry, it's easy to fall into thought spirals fraught with comparisons and expectations. Each meditation session is different, so comparing a session to one from the day or week or month before is usually counter productive. Similarly, sitting with an expectation to have a "successful" practice is just as useless. Comparisons and expectations can sabotage any practice (not just meditation).
Gently reminding myself that each practice will be different, and that sitting (lying down, or moving mindfully) without any expectations is both reassuring and helpful.
* Parts and Sections
Instead of completing a full sadhana practice with all the bells and whistles, I have found that focusing on one part or section of the practice to be very helpful. For example, reciting the Refuge Prayer or Generating Bodhicitta, and then pausing to sit and contemplate this part of the practice has been extremely helpful. It allows me to slow down, still the chattering mind, and take in (and enjoy) a specific part of the practice without feeling compelled to jump ahead.
*Words of Inspiration
Another strategy that I've found helpful (and is a practice in and of itself) is reading a short passage or page from an inspiring book or article. Then, taking time to sit and think about this passage for a few minutes.
I keep a few books on my altar space. I gravitate to books with very short chapters or even poetry collections (i.e. Natalie Goldberg's Three Simple Lines, Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace Is Every Step).
Right before I sat down to write this article, a Feldenkrais friend of mine had posted an inspiring quotation on her Facebook page.
"Busy-ness steals imagination.
Being constantly over scheduled dims creativity.
Doing the most limits your capacity to expand.
This quotation resonates--and I just might sit with it this afternoon.
* Be Gentle and Patient
Baby steps are essential for navigating most transitions. I am at my best when I am kind, patient, and operating from a place of non-judgment. Berating myself is not helpful, neither are getting huffy and worked up because I can't sit still. Cultivating kindness and reminding myself to be gentle and easy with myself is a practice in an of itself!
Finally, being consistent has been extremely helpful during this unsteady, awkward time. If I do some form of practice every day, I feel more grounded, and I feel like I've done something meaningful to benefit myself (and hopefully others as well).
I hope all of you are well, and I hope you are navigating these unpredictable times with grace, courage, and dignity.
Keep practicing :)
By the way--for those of you who might be interested in a new mala to celebrate the summer season or to enhance your own practice, check out the online shop (middlemoonmalas.com). I've added several new designs since last month.