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Real Happiness Challenge: Week Two--Relaxation is a Skill

Hello, friends from IDP! Here I am! See me waving from Southern California? I'm sweating a bit. We are having a "mid-winter heat wave" here in Los Angeles. Ninety degrees in February! It's hard to pick the right socks to wear when the mornings are in the fifties and late afternoons are forty degrees warmer. 

Also, friends, to make the picture a little clearer, do you see these two small children clinging to me? The almost five year old girl and the one and a half year old boy? Have you noticed that the one and a half year old is on a mission to climb up the dollhouse to reach his dad's antique typewriter? The almost five year old is calling from the bathroom. Listen....do you hear it? "Mom! Mom? MOM! I pooped!"

You know, I'd like the record to show that she knows how to manage that herself. We run a tight toilet training program around here. But she will shout until you come, then look up at you calmly and say, "I need company."

Heading back to the living room, I'd like to direct your attention to the rice and beans on the floor. I'm going to leave that there until it's dry. Have you ever tried to sweep up fresh rice and beans? It's not worth it, unless you want to pick individual rice and bean particles out of your broom bristles. I point this out as I believe it is evidence of the high level of domestic strategizing my spouse and I have reached. 

Now, coming over here to my little work area at the dining room table, do you seen this very impressive stack of algebra textbooks? This is where I go when the cats wake me up at four AM because they are still confused about daylight savings time. I get up and make my coffee and study the algebra that I have forgotten since 1992, so I can teach it to eighth graders. Either that or I'm studying Chemistry, or complex sentence structure, or Medieval History.

All of this context is to tell you that this is where I've been doing the Challenge. Here, where my husband's longtime bachelor friend once remarked, "You have so many living beings in this house!" 

What follows are some thoughts from the first two weeks of the Challenge, which for me was a hard restart of a sitting practice. 

It started off well, with two short sits in the morning that weren't interrupted by children. Feeling successful, I wrote in my journal some thoughts towards the blog entry I had due that first week. But things fell apart for me by Day 3, because I discovered I was much more out of practice than I had realized, and that the twenty minutes I had to sit in the mornings were barely long enough to get focused on the instructions.

Part of being out of practice showed up in my thoughts while meditating: I was preoccupied by the commitment I had made to blog about the challenge, and found it difficult to fully arrive for the sitting sessions. The thoughts about my blog entry were excruciatingly boring and smug, like the online dating profile of an articulate but painfully insecure person. They were elaborate excuses for the difficulties I was having settling in, largely focused on how uniquely busy and cramped my life is at the moment. 

That evening, when I was scheduled to post, I fell asleep with my daughter at 7:30, exhausted by my own thoughts. 

I felt terrible about blowing my time slot at first, but with each day of further commitment to sitting, the practices started to work. The distractedness and scatteredness, the anxiety and tension started to dissolve. The decisive turning point for me was the first weekend, when I gave myself a full hour to practice and another hour to write. 

It's good to take whatever time is available in the midst of a busy householder's life, but I have learned that without longer stretches to practice, ten or twenty minute sessions don't have enough potency for me. Perhaps this will change as I become better able to sustain this practice over months and years. It will be something to explore.

Another point at which I settled into more a more restful, aware practice was as we moved into Week 2. This week's guided meditations have been drawing our attention to sensations in the body. Over and over, Sharon says, "Let your attention rest..." and guides it to a specific place, with distinct guidelines for what to try in terms of focusing awareness on our direct experience of sensations and shifting subtly away from judging, comparing or projecting sensations into the future.

"Let your attention rest." How often do I let my attention rest? It is most certainly overworked. I am reminded of what a therapist said a few weeks after the birth of our son: "Self care is part of your job. No one else will do it."

This week's focus on relaxation as a skill has been a return to exciting territory, for in the place where relaxation and concentration practice starts to work, it has the effect, I find, of dissolving the sense that my own particular suffering is unique. It is a huge relief.

IDP is participating in lineage mentor Sharon Salzberg's REAL HAPPINESS Meditation Challenge.  This 28-day practice follows the the program outlined in Sharon’s New York Times bestseller, Real Happiness for the entire month of February. We encourage everyone to join us; since 2011, thousands have participated in this challenge which will help you develop your meditation with support from the entire community.

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