The following post is the second in a four-part series on developing a meditation practice by Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg, a graduate of our Yoga Pedagogy program and, most recently, an Independent Study student with TaraMarie Perri. Kellis currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she is a company member of the Marigny Opera Ballet. She is also an adjunct instructor in the University of Southern Mississippi Department of Dance, as well as a freelance choreographer, teacher, and yoga instructor.
An Oldie but a Goodie: Loving-Kindness
As my journey of meditation progressed, I decided to try a different tactic with my meditation practice: loving-kindness. This was not a new concept by any means, but it was one that had been asleep in my life for quite some time. It harkened back to my yoga training in 2012, when I was first introduced to the literature of Pema Chödrön and her concept of loving-kindness. With Chödrön’s teachings in mind, I came to my seat by cutting myself some slack, meeting myself where I was, and letting go of MOST of my expectations. In an effort to avoid quantification or putting a label on my meditation practice, I will say that my loving-kindness-focused meditation sessions came with much more ease and calmness than my first meditation attempt.
Upon reflecting on this loving-kindness practice, I noticed several elements that contributed to the ease of my seat:
I started meditating in the morning when my mind was most awake and refreshed. My brain was not yet full of the events and happenings of the day, and I was able to let thoughts flow in and out more easily, letting them go with understanding. Meditating in the morning also allowed me to start my day from a renewed and centered place, and the loving-kindness of the morning meditation followed me throughout the day.
I allowed myself to be comfortable. I sat in my favorite oversized chair, still in Sukhasana, with my morning coffee resting in my hands in my lap. I knew the risks of being comfortable: it could turn into sleepiness or boredom. However, I was just comfortable enough to allow myself to find a “safe place.” By holding my coffee, I kept my hands busy but still, taking out the fidgeting. With the support of the chair behind my back and the cushion under my seat, my body didn’t scream at me in discomfort. By finding a place where I felt safe and “at home,” I was able to let go of the distracting sights and sounds of my surroundings and send my gaze inward.
As I’ve mentioned previously, my mind is always in motion, buzzing with things to do, places to go, tasks to accomplish. My knee-jerk response would typically be to chastise myself for this mental buzzing and to try to force or expel the thoughts from my mind. However, with the focus of loving-kindness, I am learning to just let my thoughts pass in and out with relative ease. Judgement still arises and I still latch on to some thoughts that seem important at the time, but I’m learning how to not only let the thoughts go, but to also be compassionate towards myself when I can’t let them go.
I gave myself permission to find my seat. One of my biggest challenges with meditation is that I feel guilty or restless for taking the time to be still when there is so much else to be done. By giving myself permission, I recognized that meditation is just as important to me as exercising, dancing, teaching, and all of the other daily tasks I am presented with. In the words of Pico Iyer, “Going nowhere...isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.”
Lastly, I accepted that quieting my restless mind is going to be a lifelong journey, which was the most liberating aspect of all. When I let go of the expectation of reaching a certain goal or peak with my meditation practice, I felt a weight lift off of me. Without the desire of a destination or “end-game,” I felt lighter and more free in my seat because there was no beginning and no end, just the journey; just the present. In Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape, she speaks about renunciation, or the will to let go. She states, “You could say that renunciation is the same thing as opening to the teachings of the present moment.” By letting go of my “goals” for my meditation practice, I am finding more vitality, joy, loving-kindness, and presence in each moment, whether meditating or in my daily life.