Finding and Accepting "MY Way" in a Meditation Practice
Coffee Time with Pat and Faye Schwelitz
Faye, who had come to Cincinnati on Saturday to lead her Journaling Retreat Sunday through Friday, stayed Saturday night at our place and joined us for coffee time Sunday morning. She was a rich addition to our conversation. I was particularly helped in looking at my evolving meditation process. Faye is a teacher of the Enneagram and helped me understand my meditation practice from the perspective of my Enneagram THREEness – the THREE being the “Performer.”
Evolution of my meditation practice
How has my meditation practice evolved down through the years and decades of my life? Before 2000 when Pathwork entered my life and introduced the idea of a meditation practice, I had my own practice. I would not have called it meditation or even a practice. It just happened to be the way I began each day.
For the 7 years leading up to Pathwork my “practice” centered around being with short readings from Daybook, a meditational devotional published by Marv and Nancy Hiles, founders of the Iona Center in northern California. I had been introduced to their work by a Catholic sister in 1993 or so and took to it very well. I then found a pastor friend who used it as well. The readings, each two to four paragraphs long, one for each day, were drawn from a wide range of spiritual writings, mostly contemporary. I would, as I do today, journal on these readings, and would often purchase books by the authors of these short readings. This led to my developing a large library of spiritual and psychological books – over 3,000 volumes in all before I gave most of them away in 2007. I did not call what I was doing “meditation” but rather simply a daily reflective time, much the same as I had done with daily bible reading each morning for at least the two decades before that – back all the way to my thirties.
In 2000 when I came to Pathwork I was told about meditation. We were assigned a book by Henepola Gunaratana Mindfulness in Plain English and would have Consciousness Classes as a regular part of our Pathwork weekends at Sevenoaks. This formal meditation was new to me, and a bit foreign to my Christian upbringing. The method was called Insight Meditation, or Vipassana in Buddhist terms. I could do it, but never really got the hang of it. Being dutiful, I would try to build a daily practice on it, and likely it helped in some way.
I would say I was a lukewarm meditator with Vipassana, always feeling like I should be getting more out of this and not helped in my feelings of inferiority by Ken Wilber’s insistence that this style of meditation, while slow, was the fastest way he knew for growth in consciousness – for him, growth in consciousness meant growth through the stages of consciousness expressed by Don Beck in Spiral Dynamics. At some point in this evolutionary process I tried and eventually became disillusioned by and finally oppositional to a “ramped-up” meditation practice developed and promoted by Bill Harris and called Holosync. Holosync involves listening to special CDs that allegedly work at the subconscious level to promote deep states of higher consciousness by inducing certain brain wave patterns. Again I was a faithful student for a while, but in the end could not really see what I was supposed to be getting out of this.
About six years ago I got involved in a Tibetan Buddhist meditation that involved a lot of visualization, which again did not seem to work for me but which, fortunately, worked well for Pat. It became her practice. She begins each day with these 45-minute practices, and for five years I would sit along side her doing some form of Vipassena. I also got involved for a year in another Tibetan Buddhist-type program developed by Reginald Ray, but again I could not “get with the program.” I would leave the practice each morning feeling somewhat frustrated.
Finally I realized that what really fed and enlivened me was not conventional meditation of any standard variety. Instead of sitting on a mediation bench with Pat for 45 minutes I gave myself permission to find my own space, to sit on a chair, and to do “my practice” while she did hers. And what is “my” practice? I get my journal out (actually just 8.5” x 11” sheets of three-hole notebook paper that I then put in a notebook) and turn my iPhone timer on, set for 30 minutes. The meditation is not always consistent but often includes the following:
1) Daily Review – what are the areas of disharmony in my life? What feelings characterize these areas of disharmony? I write these down in in my journal.
2) Silence and Reflection – going deeper. (30-minute timer usually goes off here)
3) (sometimes more than others) pick a paragraph or two out of a Pathwork lecture and read it.
4) Allow myself to reflect on all of this material and write down in my journal what arises in me. (These notes are often scribbled, arrows drawn — gets pretty messy at times). Usually an insight arises, or simply an awareness of a feeling in me that I did not realize was there. Just feeling these feelings and beginning to describe them often lifts my spirits and enlivens me. This may go on for 45 minutes to an hour until…
5) Pat joins me for our Coffee Time together. This coffee time can last from 30 minutes to sometimes over two hours. During this time more feelings and insights come up and I feel further enlivened and usually more connected to Pat.
6) Finally I sometimes find time later in the day to write out these experiences in my blog entries. This blogging helps me to integrate the material into my psyche. And of course the blogs can take hours to compose as further insights arise in the process. I recently passed the 300 mark for blog entries – a practice begun on this website in 2009.
This is my main practice and it varies day to day. In a way this feels like a luxurious life – not a way that a husband and father with young children and a job could live!
Another integral part of my practice is listening to the Pathwork lectures while exercising, walking, or driving my car, or reading the Pathwork material while preparing to teach or to make one of my audio recordings. Often during these times with the Pathwork lectures certain paragraphs of a Lecture really pop out for me. I then take the time to copy this into the Pathwork Quote section of my website, sometimes with words of explanation related to how the material struck me. I now have around 120 of these Pathwork quotes on my website.
Finally, other parts of my practice involve conversation with others on their spiritual paths (either in the role of helper or often merely as a spiritual companion on the journey), reading books that hold meaning for me (often in audio format), and then writing from time to time for my writing group and in other places or making a PowerPoint presentation for a Pathwork Lecture – again helping to integrate the material into my psyche or used to teach a lecture.
So these are my practices. They nurture and feed me. But are they really spiritual practices or meditation? I can see the veteran Buddhist practitioner mocking me for even thinking of what I am doing as being a spiritual practice much less “meditation.” Here is where Faye was so helpful Sunday morning. We all agree that I am an Enneagram THREE – the “Performer.” Faye noted that for THREEs the most challenging thing is NOT to follow someone else’s practices or ways of being in the world. The THREE wants to Perform, to be productive and to be seen as competent – but does this in the framework of the “Other.” For me these frameworks have led me to being a good student in the school framework, a good church member in the Lutheran Church, a good employee in the business world, a leader in the various organizations I leaned on for my identity, and a dedicated meditator of several other meditation practices. To be stripped of these external frameworks for defining one’s self feels terrifying for an Enneagram THREE.
So what is MY way to access the Divine, Spirit, or my inner being? Well I just described it in some detail above. So with Faye’s encouragement I now feel a little freer to simply do what works for me in my daily practice. And MY way is simply MY way. I do not have to make it the RIGHT way or, worse yet, the ONE RIGHT way or BEST way. My fear in just being myself doing my practice my way has been that if my way turns out to not be the right way then I shall be nothing. Everything seems to hang on being in truth – but a THREE can get caught looking for Truth “out there” instead of within. On the other hand TRUTH-seeking is the Passion of the THREE. So this also explains some of my behavior related to the Pathwork Lectures.
Faye went on to note that THREEs, being heart people, long for connection (compared to the other two centers: mind and body). So this longing for connection is why I have turned my life upside down to find meaningful connections. Again a piece of the puzzle that my life is comes into place.
The next day I had my biweekly conversation with my Pathwork buddy Jenny. The 90-minute conversation was lively as always. I shared my newfound peace in having MY Practice and not having to answer to others. We then talked about our images about needing to appear spiritually mature. Such fun. Accepting that I am not spiritually mature – “accepting” meaning not judging and moralizing my immaturity as making me less-than but rather accepting my “merely and utterly human” humanness and that includes, almost by definition, my areas of immaturity. And may I acknowledge this in an “of course” and “no big deal” way rather than dramatizing it. Another lesson on living in truth, quiet truth.
Shared in love, Gary