Each Moment is A Completely New Start - January 2017

New Year's Eve and right into the new year, I spent meditating (as part of a retreat). But it wasn't the blissed out, one-with-everything, transcendent experience of meditation that might seem fitting to usher in a new year. Oh no, I was literally in the throes of battle with that insidious little voice we think of as our "self." Here's how it went down...

The first few days of the retreat I was practicing Focus on Everything, one of the (many) techniques my teacher teaches. In this style, you allow your attention to freely float until it's pulled to a particular sensory experience, and then you sink in and penetrate that experience until your attention is pulled elsewhere, and repeat. How lovely! I was enjoying the delicious array of sensory experiences (bird chirping, gazing at bark, feeling a breeze, etc), and the sheer pleasure of deeply soaking into each experience. I did vaguely notice how I seemed to be drawn to external experiences more often (as opposed to internal talk, internal images or emotions). I also noticed a brief sense of confusion or flailing between the sinking in to each discreet sensory experience. So, I asked my teacher for some guidance around these confusing "in between" seconds, and he directed me to pay attention to internal space to see what might be present there during those instances. Damn! As I did so, I immediately detected a torrent of half formed judging statements ("Am I doing this right?", "What should I focus on next?", "is it okay to have this much pleasure?", etc, etc, etc). Can anyone out there relate???

Recognizing these thoughts then triggered a second wave ("holy crap--that's a lot of bad judging! What are you doing???!" "You haven't progressed at all!" "Look at all this anxiety and pressure to get it right! you just can't relax can you?!!"). And then of course comes the flood of bad feelings (thoughts and feelings seem to go hand in hand). And so I sat there being tossed about like a dinghy in a hurricane of my ego. I felt impatient. I felt frustrated. I felt small.

I gained some relief by breaking the internal experience into its parts (just talk, just feel) and sinking into each of those as if they were simple, discreet sensory experiences divorced from the story of me as a failed meditator.

Then I joined the larger group at the retreat to chant in the new year. I allowed the chanting to wash over me, letting all my self talk and bad feelings about myself fade into the background. And at that moment, I experienced, just for a minute, that each new moment is fresh and new.

"I" was not always and forever a bundle of self-criticism. "I" was also free to experience and relax into any number of myriad sounds, sights, feelings that are present at any given time. "I" was not stuck.

Even if this is an insight I have to rediscover over and over again. And even if the self-critical, judging self-talk may reemerge, it is not permanent or true.

This freedom will be our theme for January. A New Year, a clean slate, a fresh start! But not just on New Year's Day. As I was chanting it also occurred to me that this night was no different in any fundamental way to any other night. There is the pure, freely given opportunity AT EVERY MOMENT, to let go and see with new eyes.

Happy New Moment!!!