Five months and four days ago I stayed in a Motel 6 in Flagstaff, AZ on my way from California to Colorado. And now I am here again, in the same motel; headed back to California. I find road trips lend themselves to time for reflection. And staying in the same spot really allows me to look back on where I was October 31st, 2015 and where I am now.
I know that as meditators we’re not encouraged to spend too much time on the past. And the story goes that when the Dali Lama was asked how often we should check in on our meditation progress, he said every ten years or so. We need to be careful not to get caught in the past, or caught up in constantly evaluating our progress.
And, reflection practice can be useful from time to time. It can help us to see where we have grown, what we need to work on, and where we may be stuck. For those of us with a recovery background, we may be familiar with a tenth step daily inventory practice, which serves as a follow up to the 4th step inventory process. That can look different for different people. For several years, at the end of every day, I emailed my sponsor two things that I struggled with that day, and two things that went well. It was a structured way for me to reflect on my day, and catch myself if I was falling into old patterns.
Now, the reflection practice is less structured for me. But this moment, when I’m on the road, in a place I’ve been before, lends itself to some reflection. What I notice is where I’m placing my attention; what I’m reflecting on, and what that says about my life right now, and where my energy is going.
My first reflection, as I settle into my neutral colored room with orange accents, is about my meditation practice. Five months ago, as I was moving, and going through a breakup, my practice still happened daily, but the length, posture, and focus were not consistent. But now, as I’ve been packing and saying goodbye to my home and friends and been staying in different places, I have still made the space for a consistent daily practice. 45 minutes of seated insight practice has allowed me a stable base during this really unstable time.
This change in my practice is something to celebrate. Not in an “Oh I’m so awesome” way, but in a “This has grown and I can see the benefits of it so I will keep doing it” way. I have a tendency to be incredibly hard on myself. It is important for me to place attention on the good, and on growth, because my mind so often defaults to the negative, so I need to work to balance it.
My second reflection, is around my romantic relationships. This in itself is noteworthy; five months ago romantic relationships were at the top of my list, maybe even took over the top three slots of where I was focusing my attention; so for me to reflect on my practice first, is exciting. It shows that I am learning to put my practice ahead of anything else; and as I care for myself in that way, then I can be more present in my relationships.
Last time I was here I was recently dumped and still reeling from that loss. Now I have processed a lot of that grief. Five months ago it felt like I would be mired in that grief forever, but in the meantime I’ve focused on my practice, worked with my teacher and a therapist, and slowly begun to date again. The recurring thoughts in my head last October that I am unlovable and unworthy and undateable have lessened in their frequency and intensity. Reflecting on that is incredibly useful. It helps me remember that when I am going through a period of crisis or stress my mind will try and make me think this experience is permanent, when in reality it is impermanent and will change.
My final reflection is about my relationship to faith. When I moved back to Colorado for the winter I had a place to live, work all lined up, and lots of structure and plans. That is not the case this time. I am heading to LA with a place to stay for 6 nights, an idea of some work I may piece together, and a very loose idea of how I’ll be spending my time.
For me, making plans has always been a kind of safety net; a way for me structure an unstructured world. But as my insight practice has developed, and I’ve truly seen the nature of things as impermanent, I have also seen that over-planning doesn’t really give me any more security, and often gets in the way of me adapting to life as it flows. Of course I have some plans; I know how I’m going to search for an apartment, and that I need to get a PO box ASAP, but I have faith that if I do the legwork what needs to happen will fall into place, and I don’t have to over-plan the process or the outcome.
The reason I think my reflection practice has been so useful at this time, is because I am so rooted in my insight practice. I see the truth of impermanence, and I know the importance of staying present, so I can look back without staying stuck there. It’s important not to do this too frequently, but at different milestones it can be a helpful practice. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to see my growth and it inspires me to keep moving in that direction.
Kate Spina, LCSW, is passionate about applying the early teachings of the Buddha to 21st century life. Kate is a meditation facilitator at Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, and an Adaptive Ski Instructor. Her home base is Los Angeles, CA. Kate can be reached at [email protected]. Check out all of Kate’s posts!