Every morning, right around 6 a.m., I spring awake. I could stay in bed longer if I wanted to, but I’m done with sleep. I step across the hall to my study where there is just enough open space on the floor for my Pilates exercises and a bit of yoga.
That done and my body beginning to unfurl, I settle in to meditate.
Breathe. Breathe again.
I’m not a particularly experienced meditator. I’ve explored mindfulness meditation several other times in my life, but only in the last couple of years have I begun to understand what I’m doing. Just begun. One of the things I’ve learned about it is that there is no way to fail. When you catch your mind chattering and swinging from tree to tree, you just start over. Return to your breath. Return to your breath again. And even if you have to do that a hundred times in a thirty-minute sit, you’ve had a good meditation, because you’ve paid attention.
As Mary Oliver says, “This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attention.”
Life, I’ve come to know, is also built out of starting over.
I didn’t spend time in my younger days wondering what I would be like in my eighth decade. I remember when I was a child looking with astonishment at the year 2000 on a calendar and wondering whether it was possible that I would still be alive in such a remote time. But I never gave much thought—even as the years accumulated—to who I would be when I grew old. I must have assumed, though, that I would have it all together by now, whatever it was. I can tell I assumed that by the surprise I feel, almost daily, to find myself still struggling, still changing, still growing, still trying to figure out how to be this person I wake up inside of each morning.
I only know, as I’ve learned when I find myself caught in the midst of some loud clamor during my morning meditation, that it’s a privilege to start over … again.
Last year at this time I was recovering from breast cancer surgery, waiting for the radiation treatments to begin. All that lies behind me now, but the possibilities it brought remain. Perhaps the most dramatic of those is that I have learned that I don’t have time to rush, that the only moment I have is now, that attention creates meaning.
I forget, of course. I suppose we all do. But then I start over.
Breathe. Now breathe again.
A new year is here.