"Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree" from On Meditating, Sort Of by Mary Oliver
As someone who has had the great fortune to dedicate thousands of hours in silence whether that's been in the comfort of my own home, or at centers with qualified facilitators and as extreme as attending a 30-day Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Nepal at a monastery, I am here to say that any instruction that seems wrong to you, is likely not one you should be following. However there is a meditation practice out there for you if that is what you are in search of.
Now, I am not here to endorse leaving at the first sign of discomfort. And, if that seems to be what you ought to do, even that is the right choice. There is a difference between discomfort and the process of re-traumatization which involves pain and suffering. If your seated meditation brings you physical, emotional or psychological pain or suffering, STOP. Well, first maybe, trying laying down. Upright spine is not always the optimal way to begin a practice. If you are not in a place to be with a past trauma as it surfaces, you are allowed to hit the brakes. To create space around emotional wounds is a process and there is a way to gradually sit with triggers and notice sensations around said memories. A trauma informed meditation practice considers the practitioner where they are.
Most people I have worked with in the past have left their meditation practice within a few days. And, almost always due to lofty grand goals of going long and strong. My invitation to a beginner is to always begin small. For example, I invite practitioners for the first week work on finding a comfortable space at their home that can become their "spot". Second, to plan on sitting or laying down without much thought to posture for the time being. In fact, it is in the arriving to the spot that is the work for any beginner. 1-2 minutes a day for a week, two weeks, a month even to just arrive to the spot. James Clear, from Atomic Habits, would suggest that this is the process where you are simply creating the identity of someone who meditates, regardless of how long or how well you meditate. It's not about that. It's about showing up.
This morning I came across Mary Oliver's poem and she puts it so beautifully. In a way, a very trauma informed way how to meditate and live life like it is a meditation. To take "all that glorious, temporary stuff" and to remember "how wonderful to be who I am, made out of earth and water, my own thoughts, my own fingerprints." Now, that is a highly self-aware form of practice. One which does not deny truth but embraces it. She says, "so I just lie like that, while distance and time reveal their true attitudes: they never heard of me, and never will, or ever need to".
These days, I air on the side of facilitating meditations that take on many forms, but most importantly, to see and notice the truth of the moment is where we all ought to begin. Without judgement and with a lot of loving kindness. And, if the meditation needs to be paused for a long while, then may it be.
On Meditating, Sort Of
by Mary Oliver
Meditation, so I've heard, is best accomplished if you entertain a certain strict posture. Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that even better place-half-asleep--where the world, spring, summer, autumn, winter-flies through my mind in its hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent. So I just lie like that, while distance and time reveal their true attitudes: they never heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally thinking, how wonderful to be who I am, made out of earth and water, my own thoughts, my own fingerprints- all that glorious, temporary stuff.