So very, very scared, but doing it anyway

I quit my job. Thursday is my last day at my nice, benefits-laden job that pays me to write. Yeah, I know, let's not even get into it. It's a career I've had for 10 years, and instead, I'm choosing to teach yoga. It's pretty dang terrifying. You'd think it would be the scariest thing I've done so far in 2011. Wrong-o! I'm frightened off my rocker that I just applied for a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat at the Northwest Vipassana Center. It's unsettling on the financial level (I'm leaving paid vacation behind), but it mostly freaked me out me because I'm afraid of everything on the daily schedule. I've heard from many that meditation retreats are the hardest thing they've ever done. To quote Omar, NO DOUBT. Although it's not like the center makes it sound easy. It states very clearly on the website: 10 days of noble silence; 10 days of 4 a.m. wake up calls; 10 days of me and my head. I'd be crazy not to be afraid. I mean, doesn't this place look threatening?

But it also has become clear that 10 days was the only way. Let's take my New Year's resolution -- made eight days ago -- to meditate daily. I've already skipped two days. I don't have that kind of resistance with yoga. Oops. I spend more time overthinking meditation than doing it. (Clearly.) Unlike with yoga, I haven't had a "eureka" moment with meditation. My yoga moment was a huge shift. I was on retreat with San Francisco teachers Rusty Wells and Janet Stone in 2007 on Isla Mujeres in Mexico; Janet was working our hips like, well, a mo-fo. It was brutal. All of a sudden I felt a curious twinge. By shoulder stand, tears were leaking onto my mat. I straight-up bawled during savasana. Since then, nobody has had to talk me into keeping up my yoga practice. But meditation brings up a whole boatload of crazy-ass resistance. My motto this year is "Scared But Doing It Anyway." I've mostly gotten over the fear of quitting my job, but have not come close to conquering scary, scary meditation. So tonight, I went to the Northwest Center website, filled out the application for a week in March, shuddered and clicked send. And maybe screamed a little bit.


How to survive 365 days of meditation

I have a sweet meditation set up. There's a cute little mirrored altar table, a pretty patterned cloth, a picture of my grandma, candles, Ribbit the frog and in the summer, fresh tulips or dahlias. I recently bought a cherry blossom-print meditation cushion filled with cushy buckwheat.

But do I sit? When guilt takes over, yes. That is to say, very, very rarely. Motivation comes in weird spurts. I went to a daylong retreat with teacher Howard Cohn of California's Spirit Rock in November. He explained so many things so well. I vowed to sit again. I sat once.

But on New Years Day, something lurks in the air deeper than ordinary guilt. Resolutions and I have a fraught history, but my meditation practice needed an intervention. At 11:40 p.m. on 1/01/11, I sat my butt down on that cushion. I told myself I would do this not just tonight, but every night. There's a movement among yogis on Twitter to practice yoga 365 days this year. Real life has a bad habit of getting in the way of even the most dedicated yoga practice, and a 365-day commitment to daily asana practice seemed like lunacy. But meditation? Sweet, sweet meditation can be done anywhere where you won't be interrupted for 15 minutes. I don't know what has come over me, but apparently 2011 will involve a lot of time sitting. It's Day 3 of 365, and I don't have anything to confess. Yet.

If you're new to the practice of meditation, here are a few tips to help get you through a 15-minute sit.

1. Find a comfortable seat on a block or a chair. Set an alarm.
2. Don't try to "meditate." Just sit, and breathe.
3. When your mind starts making up stories about how bad you are at meditation, politely tell it to shut its trap, and sit and breathe.
4. If your foot falls asleep, just sit and breathe.
5. If you are wondering if your 15 minutes are up yet, they aren't. Sit, and breathe.

Happy New Year!
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr