Gratitude meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 26, 2014

“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.

“Furthermore, feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.” Psychology Today

Rubbing your eyes as the light enters your bedroom, pushing down on that soft eyelid skin with your index finger, it occurs to you how lucky you are just to have eyelids in the first place. Imagine life without them. [No, don’t!] Is there a poem about eyelids, because they deserve it, they do. Be grateful for them. Breathe in. Breathe in through your eyelids, then through your eyes.

An eyelash has irksomely lodged itself in your left eye, and as you pull the lid down to try to get it out, lying there staring at the ceiling with your one good eye, you notice something — and that is that this bedroom ceiling of yours doesn’t have that cottage cheese texture, the ugly blow-on stuff you hate. [Don’t like, rather.] [Bonus gratitude points for not being a hater.] It’s a smooth ceiling. Hallelujah!

Breathe out, feeling the joy of not having something in your life you don’t like. For that, my friend, is gratitude, as well. You are not in a war-torn country. You are not in a straightjacket. You are not wrongfully imprisoned and in a jail cell for the rest of your brain-frying days. In fact, you are not in a place that is not one of the most beautiful places on earth! Thank you. And thank you, double negatives, for yet another miracle of language. Two minuses equal a plus. Thank you, some form of mathematics or philosophy or whatever that is.

Speaking of cottage cheese, what a deliciously old-fashioned treat. And, yes, in this life, you’ve been gifted a substantial amount of cheese, not just cottage, but some very, very high quality and tasty and esteemed cheese, indeed, some of it shared on picnics in lovely places such as rugged mountain bluffs with golden leaves cascading down like coins.

It’s easy to be grateful for cheese, if you’re a cheese lover. Breathe in and smell the cheese, breathe out and unsmell it as you focus on the falling leaves, right outside your window, leaves with yellows so yellow they cling to your ribcage and warm your heart. Goodness, let’s have some gratitude for the mind’s eye, fashioning all these metaphors into a heartwarming vest. [Is there a mind’s eyelid?]

Breathe in what you remember autumn smells like, that leafy, deciduous, crisp, dank, rotting, earthen, and heady smell that makes you sigh in delicious tenderness. Should there be more gratitude for a) the nose or b) the smell itself? Thank you, notions that are hard to parse, because they make your brain feel stretchy, a stretchiness that indicates new neural pathways. [And thank you, power of the imagination, not just for the mind’s eye but the mind’s nose when we actually smell what we are thinking we smell.]

Breathe in hard, with your eyes wide open, breathe out making a little “Oh” mouth, because Oh! (with eyes wide open) is a syllable of delight and gratitude. And it makes you smile — eventually. Thank you, 26 muscles that make you smile and the mystery of why extending your mouth into an upward arc makes you feel good even when you don’t feel much like doing it. Thank you bad moments that contrast and then morph into good — eventually. Would there be light without dark? Rainbows without rain? Sometimes it’s darkest just before a smile.

Thanks, aphorisms, now known as affirmations. Thank you, clever people who formulate pithy one-liners that spark us out of victimhood and sadness and helplessness and frustration and misery and being stagnant.

Here we are, at the core of this meditation.  Breathe in and out about two hundred times, simply acknowledging the breath, which, in a nutshell, is human life itself.

Eventually, you hear the teakettle, and seriously, at this point, you feel that the steam itself should be thanked. Why not? Water making a variety of sounds — from whistling, to gushing over rocks, to crashing onto sand, to landing hard on the earth in sheets of rain, to the gurgling of a tiny desk fountain — is brilliant. So, gracias, copper kettle, for your urgent call, and for the coffee that is about to be made by someone else.

And are you ready to say thank you, when the coffee arrives? You bet your sweet dopamine receptors you are.

Man cave meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 20, 2014

For this one, sire, stay in bed.No one ever need know you are traveling within if you simply do not move before getting up. In fact, pretend you are still asleep.

Breathe in, through the nose. You can feel the slow intake of air through your nose hairs. Nice and easy. Breathe out slowly, emptying your lungs. Your lungs? They are carwash sponges: wring them out until they are light as a feather, so Nerf-y, they practically float.

This is what is known as a guided meditation, and all you really have to do is follow along. If you get tripped up, just go back to carwash-sponge breathing, wringing out and filling up. Wringing out, filling up.

If it helps, imagine that you are washing a black Jaguar F Type Project 7 you just paid cash for and haven’t even driven yet. Wring out the sponge, then fill up your lungs. Remember the Mona Lisa’s smile? Put that on your face. It’s a unisex expression, in case you knew not, and you are a mystery man, relaxed, healthy, and effortlessly achieving without being driven. Your secret? You know how to relax. How to smile enigmatically at life. It’s all so easy, isn’t it? That’s your mantra, which is a phrase you repeat until you believe it to be true. It’s. All. So. Flippin’. Easy.

Deep breath in as you feel your lungs and chest stretch and expand. So good, right? Hold the breath in for four and exhale through the mouth without making a sound. All they see is a blob still in bed, but you know better. You know you are meditating, taking care of the delicate filament of life that lives within your strapping terrestrial existence.

Now, see yourself getting ready to walk down a flight of stairs, going deeper and deeper into calm, a kind of post-long-hot-shower calm. There is no judgment or competition here. Mysterious smile followed by two carwash-sponge breaths. Even calmer.

You are wearing your favorite sweats, by the way. Feeling the soft terry of your thousand-year-old hoodie against your head, breathe in. Yes, the hood is up. Feel the soft, worn-in leather of your imaginary flip-flops as you descend the staircase of your inner man cave. With each step down, you are deeper into your personal man mystery, the image of the Jag finding purchase in your third eye, located right between your eyebrows. Like a hood ornament!

Breathe out, and take a few more steps down to the bottom, where a dark but cozy mahogany-paneled room awaits you. There is an armchair in the room, one made of oiled and worn leather, a chair so inviting it begs the question of whether man was really meant to stand at all. You are one with the cavescape. You are one. But who, in fact, are you? It doesn’t matter. Really? Yes, really.

Do the Army breath — deep breath in through the nose, then hoooaaaahhhh, out. And repeat, deep breath in, then hoooaaahhh car-wash-sponge out, focusing on the third-eye jaguar, the leaping jaguar stilled for a perpetual moment in the middle of your face. Are you that jaguar?

No, you are the guy in the Maxell commercial, the guy sitting in the chair with the windy music blowing at you while nothing else exists except you and the music of life. Only there is no music and no wind. Sitting in the chair now, in your soft sweats, you are riveted by a screen in front of you, a $9,000 LG 55-inch curved HD screen, the one everyone wants. There is a remote in your hand and you finger it idly. You could probably use it blindfolded. But, for now, it is just residing in your hand as you stare at the blank screen. It is on, but silent, and the most beautiful night-sky black.

As you sit, quietly and peacefully staring, all you think of is your breath. Not your morning breath, of course, but the capital-B breath of energy. You continue doing the carwash-sponge respiration cycle for several minutes until you feel utterly refreshed. Then, at that place of utter mancalm, you take one last breath in, a long, slow breath with all the gratitude you can muster for your life. You note a faint smell in the air now, a faint smell of … bacon. Heavenly.

And returning to Earth — 5 bacon, 4 bacon, 3 bacon, 2 bacon, 1 —  you feel the weight of your body in the trough of your bed. Peace be with you, brogi. You’ve earned your coffee.