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Clearing My Head

I’m late to a lot of parties. Sometimes I don’t even make it at all. So many trends and fads have passed me by in my lifetime that I’ve lost count. For one reason or another, I’ve missed everything from Pilates to snowboarding to line dancing to Game of Thrones. So, it’s no wonder that I am just now, at nearly 70, taking up meditation. I’ve tried it before over the years, but it’s only now that it all makes sense to me. Before I started meditating this spring, I thought I knew that it was a chance to get quiet and find inner peace. Now I know that, for me, it’s also the secret to a lot of what I’ve been looking for in my life.

But this isn’t designed to convince readers of the power of meditation. More than anything, it’s a reminder that we’re never too old to learn something new, or at least to learn it in a new way. One of the lessons I’ve been lucky to take away is that practicing meditation is actually just like it sounds. The more you practice it, the easier it gets to use it at other times. And it turns out that the other times—when I’m stressed about work or worried about something that might or might not happen—are when I really need it most. In my very limited experience with meditating in the 1960s and 70s, I thought the focus was on the feeling I got for the few minutes I was doing it. Who knew the practice actually prepares me for the times when, out of the blue, I'm anxious and worked up about something that feels out of my control?

We’re never too old to learn something new, or at least to learn it in a new way.

Discovering the power of meditation in the last few months has been a hidden benefit of having more open time during the pandemic. And it’s giving me a chance to test my skills in a super unusual, wildly stressful time. Every day, worried about politics, nervous about how many tasks are piling up on my desk, and frazzled by the endless days of unknowns, I know I have a few quiet moments stored away to give me a softer landing. Being able to really use meditation like this is a surprise. Every aspect of actually using it as a tool in my life is different than I imagined it would be.

As many times pre-pandemic that I used to advise myself and others to see a situation with a beginner’s mind, I didn’t realize until recently what that really means. I thought of it as simply being open and non-judgmental, but I understood it this week in a whole new way. Having a beginner’s mind is experiencing a situation without all of the fears and expectations and hopes I often do. Just thinking about it that way makes me realize how often I don’t do it. I regularly walk right into a situation with a head full of "hoping to God something doesn’t happen" or crossing my fingers that something does. If I really do let myself stand with a beginner’s mind, I'm able to just be in the moment, let it happen and feel everything that comes with it. Not easy, but always a relief.

A great thing about getting older is somehow having the wherewithal to experience the world with so much more wisdom and experience that when we were younger. But I see now that living a long time, putting a lot of stock in many “might happen” dreams, and making my share of mistakes has left me a little cynical. So this week, I’m practicing clearing my head when I remember to. On a run, instead of listing all I have to do the rest of the day, I am looking a bit longer at the egrets on the canal and feeling so grateful to catch a glimpse of one as he nabs a tiny fish from the water below him. No judgment; no expectations. The moment has no power to change all I’ve been fretting over, but it changes me a little, and reminds me of what is real, and important, and right in front of me.

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