By Deb Avery
The image that often comes to mind when we think of meditation is one of a monk in robes on a cushion, legs crossed with feet resting on upper thighs (the pretzel position), palms pressed together or perhaps with thumbs and index fingers touching and positioned on each knee.
This works amazingly if you are a monk complete with robes and young and flexible enough to obtain the sitting position and maintain that position for 15 – 60 minutes.
Alas, most of us are not monks and some of us, for various reasons cannot obtain or maintain the classic position mentioned above. But does that mean that a deep working meditation practice is above our grasp? Absolutely not!
When I first began meditating many years ago, I was young, in good health and very flexible. I practiced outside when weather permitted, on a yoga mat placed on a wooden platform in my backyard, in the classic position. My biggest problem then was finding time with an active toddler and learning to stay in the moment and with my breath.
Years have now passed. Health issues—one after the other—came along and life is very different from those seemingly idyllic days of the past.
As my body aged and my health declined, meditating became more of a challenge.
But as with my yoga practice, I eventually learned to modify, modify and modify some more. I have meditated (and done yoga) in bed, sitting outside or in a quiet spot in a chair and also in the beautiful practice made popular by Thich Nhat Hahn called, walking meditation.
I found that I could modify my practice to fit even the most challenging of issues.
Then, about four years ago, along came Meniere’s Disease. Most people, like myself at the time, had never even heard of this chronic, seemingly incurable illness. Hearing loss in one ear, (in my case, severe and permanent) along with vertigo and nausea are only a few of its symptoms. Those last two however do come and go both in occurrences and severity. The tinnitus however, came and never went away.
How does one explain severe tinnitus to those who have never encountered its presence? Imagine being inside an industrial plant with all the high volume machines humming and roaring along with no ear protection, and oh yeah, add in the constant buzzing of a hive of bees right outside your ear.
At first I thought I was going to lose my mind. It can be that bad.
Then, very gradually, over time, I learned to cope a bit better, but for awhile my meditation practice was put on hold. During that time it was a constant effort to keep my composure and to try and learn to sleep at night again.
But just as with all things in life, our minds and bodies learn to adapt. Nothing is ever the same, but we do learn ways of coping and continuing on with our lives.
We learn to not focus on what we can’t do, but be grateful of all the things that we still can do.
It was at this junction in life that walking meditation became my everyday practice. I loved to walk and needed it to help with balance issues. I even learned to meditate while walking with my eyes closed and walking for short intervals backwards. Of course all this was done on my long driveway and quiet, flat, rural roadway for short distances. Please don’t try this on uneven terrain or on a moderately traveled roadway. Better yet, if you ever try this, do so in the company of a co-walker.
I am very persistent and somewhat stubborn, so it took several ant bites on my sandal clad foot after stepping into a fire ant bed while walking with eyes closed, to teach me the hazards and to be extra vigilant. But my meditation experience did become enjoyable and efficient once more.
Then, just recently, another illness has blindsided me. For over almost two months now I have been on a walker.
It’s a nice modern one with wheels and even brakes, but it’s still a walker. And my mobility has been lessened tremendously. I can still walk my driveway, but it’s very tiring and jarring. Why don’t they make these walkers with all terrain tires?
So, here I am again trying to adjust and find another form of meditation practice that works for me.
Right now it’s sitting on my back porch swing early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The gentle rhythm of the swing, the gentle flow of my breath along with the birdsong and nature sounds keep me grounded in the moment and soothe my psyche.
So, the whole point of this little story is this: Don’t be so concerned about what form of meditation practice you choose. Experiment, have a healthy curiosity and seek out new ways that work for you, your body, mind and ability.
We are all different.
We are all journeying through life with different skills, different challenges and different ways of seeing and being in the world. Don’t be afraid to seek out what works best for you. There is no wrong way to meditate. There are only possibilities.
I honestly think now that I could probably sit in the middle of New York Times Square on the busiest of days and meditate the day away.
Editor: Dana Gornall