Much like I contemplated changing my drinking habits for years before ever taking the first step, I long considered making meditation practice a part of my life. Meditation was something I idealized; it was part of the person I wanted to become.
I thought meditation would calm me down (eg, when trapped behind slow walkers, I would not want to throw them into oncoming traffic), deepen my understanding of the world (eg, Sarah Palin’s popularity would immediately become clear), and make me a better person (eg, when my mother announced that I should have married my college boyfriend…again, I’d smile and immediately know her intentions were pure). (I soon came to realize all of these beliefs are false.)
I truly hoped that meditation would help me deal with the things I found most difficult in my life – uncomfortable feelings, self-doubt, restlessness – the things I drank to avoid.
Yet, it was years before I finally sat down! Perhaps meditating seemed too inactive to affect these troubling things and my bias for action (change jobs, consider moving, start dating again) seemed more likely to change my life. Or more simply, maybe sitting still with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings just scared the crap out of me. Whatever the reason for the delay, I finally got around to it one July morning.
I had been reading Susan Piver’s The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, a guide to dealing with heartbreak that involves seeing it as a potentially transformative experience. The book also provides some introductory meditation instruction (Note: I am a beginning student of meditation and the following lines should not be mistaken for instruction of any kind, just a poor description of what I was trying to do the first time I attempted to meditate):
- Body – you sit in a comfortable cross-legged pose with a fairly straight, unsupported back, hands on the thighs, and softly gaze at a spot about 6 feet in front of you (yes, the eyes stay open).
- Breath – you place awareness on the breath, which is in and out through the nose.
- Mind – rather than trying not to think, you maintain awareness on the breath until, inevitably, thoughts draw you away, at which time you gently redirect your awareness back to the breath.
With some trepidation, I slid from my bed to the floor, two pillows strategically arranged beneath me. I set a timer for 10 minutes and stared at the old wooden chest of drawers pulled years earlier from someone’s garbage to decorate my first apartment.
Here is how it went:
I started off with my attention lightly on the breath. In – out – in – out – in – out – I never noticed how some of the whorls on this chest look like a big brown bear peeking out from behind a tree – my boyfriend’s flight leaves shortly, I wonder if I’ll hear from him – I hate my hips; they’re so tight. I can’t even sit right for meditation – maybe I’ll take the long way to work tomorrow so I can pick up an iced coffee – wait, I’m supposed to be focusing on the breath. In – out – in – can you imagine if I tried to do this at my parents’ house on Long Island, with the telephone ringing off the hook and people knocking down my door – I should text my boyfriend and say “have a good trip” or should I say “have a good flight?” – oh, shit – the breath – in – out – in – out – how many minutes do I have left? – I’m not sure I can do this every day – maybe I should set an alarm on my phone to remind me to meditate every day – what am I going to do with the cats so they don’t distract me? – how long do I have to do this before I feel better? – I think I have to pee.
And this was just the first 30 seconds.
To be continued…