"I Suck At This" An Anxious Person's Guide to Meditation
This is how I used to think: “I don’t know why I still have insomnia. I meditate 10 minutes twice a day!” It is also a sentiment that I’ve heard reflected through my patients time and time again. There are countless articles on meditation on the interwebs and we, as consumers of the digital intelligence age, eat it all up. It almost seems too good to be true:
You Can Do it Anywhere!”
But this is a rather 21st century way of approaching meditation. Meditation is not a means to an end. It is not a prescription for a disease. It will not give you that baby your heart is aching for. It is not going to fix that ruptured disc and it is certainly not going to make that boy love you back.
MEDITATION IS HARD!!
I will be the first to admit that I do not meditate every day, at least not in the classic sense of sitting in stillness. This is because meditation is actually hard! Meditation is often touted as a “relaxation technique”, but what they don’t tell you is that for some of us humans, the relaxation is on the other side of a big ‘ol patch of brambles. I used to believe that I was “bad” at meditation because every time I sat down to meditate, I would get antsy, angsty and jittery. Then frustration would settle in and I would decide that I’m just not wired for this meditation racket.
Meditation is hard because it is about acknowledging your distinctly individualistic somatic and psychic experience of this lifetime. The best we can do is to try our best and practice nonattachment. Not in the way where you throw your hands up and declare: “I don’t care!” But in the sense that meditation is used to reach into those parts of you that you may perceive as being “broken” and to simply BE with that feeling. Just acknowledging it. Not wanting to change it. Or fix it. Or remedy it in any other way. Don’t forget: meditation is not a prescription to your problems. Oftentimes, in the act of mindful acknowledgement, you access layers of your emotions that you didn’t even know existed. Meditation for me, is hard because I am afraid to access the anger I’ve been masking over with sex. Or because I have been silencing the shakiness of fear with whiskey. Or I mask the sadness that has been nagging at me by staying busy. But this is precisely why I need meditation in my life. Because those activities, when abused pull me further and further away from the core of who I am.
LOOK AROUND, MEDITATION IS EVERYWHERE
I thought for years that I didn’t know how to meditate, but it turns out, I’ve been meditating all along through brief windows of time. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Meditation can be accessed anywhere. I find it particularly accessible through hiking in nature, but I’ve also had moments of mindfulness when I am hurtling around on a roller derby track with four girls singularly focused on hip checking me into oblivion. It is sometimes the moments that seem the most chaotic that focus my awareness into a singular experience that is not dependent on the past or future but is still rooted in both realms. I have certainly felt mindfulness in connecting with other souls on this planet: having a sweet conversation with my bestie over lunch, finding connection with a patient, petting my dog, locking eyes with a stranger… And I’ve definitely felt the state of mindful awareness when I am engrossed in a creative project. In my experience, meditation is not simply the act of sitting still. It is the act of feeling. The practice of sitting is a tool to a state of being. But that tool can look different for different people.
So this is where I went wrong with my meditation practice. I was using meditation as a prescriptive “fix” for the stickiness I had been experiencing in my life. And then I was getting frustrated when I wasn’t getting the “results” that I was hoping for. Meditation is simply: just being. This is one of those statements that is more easily said than done. This is because the moments spent in meditation is a microcosmic reflection of how you approach the broader picture of your life. In your yoga practice, how do you respond to the physical discomfort of holding a pose for what your Ego deems to be too damn long? In sitting meditation, how do you react to the emotional pain that arises to the surface? Even boredom is a discomfort that we struggle with in this modern culture of mini computers always within reach in our pockets. This is why meditation is a “practice”. Because moments like this is practice for when the real pain and discomfort bubble up in your life. How do you react when you break your ankle and have to be on bedrest for a month? How do you respond to an impending divorce? Or an unsuccessful IVF cycle?
IF MEDITATION IS SO HARD, WHY SHOULD I DO IT?
What meditation does is it takes the deep ache from your shattered heart and hopefully, helps you see it as an alchemical process from which to grow. Meditation may not take the pain from your ruptured disc or infertility away, but what it might do is allow you to see how this suffering fits into the narrative of your life and how to find flow within the pain. Our lives oftentimes feel like a series of events and circumstances that we do not have control over. Peace lies in how you tell that story and that, my friends is the beauty of meditation. Through the pain of sitting with difficult emotions, you tap into the suffering of those who came before you and those who will come after you and this allows you to access one of the most difficult and elusive emotions: compassion. And through compassion, you will find a doorway to your own Heart space. Even if you are someone who accesses mindfulness through sitting in stillness, meditation should be an active process.
Through this very active process of accessing compassion, we can peel back the layers and find the core of our existence and the place from which we all connect to each other: Love. And this is where that magical sparkle we’ve been looking for lives. This is where bodhichitta, or the state of having a completely open heart exists. While this may be the most tender and vulnerable place to live from, it is also a brave and compassionate way to approach the world. Because all souls have the capacity to love. Even the people you perceive to be cruel, love in their own way. (And yes, I am writing this as an American citizen with Donald Trump as my president). Even the most vicious tigress cares for her offspring. As Buddhist teacher Trungpa Rinpoche once stated, “ Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.”
So Dear Ones, I end with this: