Years ago, I used to meditate every day. I enjoyed it. I’d light a candle, curl up on the couch, take a few deep breaths and twenty, thirty, forty minutes later get up feeling nourished and enlivened, ready to take on the day.
Not any more.
Now, my time on the couch feels like an incarceration. I’m in jail and my celly—my mind—is a whirling dervish with a fondness for self-flagellation.
Meditation used to be a sanctuary, a place to go and find relief. Back then I had a routine. Moving through my body in my mind, I’d breathe relaxation into my toes, feet, calves….By the time I reached my chest, the top of my head would be buzzing and soon I’d be floating on beta waves, my cells fat with oxygen, my skin alive with spinning electrons. I was a regular guru. Back then, I could meditate until my clothes went out of style.
Not any more.
Now I sit and squirm. My hips hurt. My shoulders ride up around my ears. I obsess over how to position my hands. Should they be on my knees or in my lap? Should my thumb and forefinger form that O or is it better to tent them?
Who gives a shit. Just focus on breathing.
I conjure up an image of the ocean. Waves ebb and flow. I think of the sea swells but that reminds me of whale watching last summer which gets me thinking about Dramamine then Benadryl then hay fever then the weeds in my garden and how I should go to Home Depot to replace the crappy clippers I have in the garage but isn’t the CEO of Home Depot a friend of Donald Trump’s and how the fuck did that man get to be our President and…and…and…
Calm down. Return to the breath.
I let out an audible gale of exasperation that sounds an awful lot like annoyance but I breathe and persevere. Soon Lilly the Cat slinks into my lap and I fool myself into thinking I’ve attracted her with my highly-evolved vibratory patterns. For a moment, we become a scene from one of those Jacquie Lawson animated cards that come with flitting butterflies and ragtime. Momentarily, my mind quiets and slips into neutral and I’m back on track until Lilly stretches her front paws up my thigh and it occurs to me that ten, needle-sharp talons are now inches away from my crotch.
I hate meditating. Why do we do this?
Thoughts bounce off bumpers setting off bells…ding, ding, ding. The other day in meditation, I wondered whether Putin’s agents were capable of hijacking the camera in my computer, and whether they were—maybe right now—watching me meditate.
I suck at this.
I want to blame my roving mind on something other than myself. Mr. Trump is an easy target, as is the media, social and otherwise. Or maybe it’s that I’m fast approaching 60 and my life isn’t where I thought it’d be. Or maybe it’s the hours I spend playing Spider Solitaire. I love Spider Solitaire. I only wish the zen that comes from arranging cards from King to Ace was the same as meditation. But I know better.
Like playing Rachmaninov on the piano or pitching a perfect ball game, stilling the mind is crazy hard. It’s not a natural state, not in our culture anyway. That’s why they call it a practice.
Sitting in meditation requires discipline. You must be willing to withstand perpetual failure, to continually surrender judgement or spend your time in self-loathing. Generally, I don’t do thing I don’t do well. I prefer excelling.
So, why do I endure the discomfort of a spiritual practice?
Because I remember what’s possible. Because sometimes, I catch sight of the inner peace I crave. Because sometimes, in between the yack-yacking, there’s a clearing, like the silence in a beautiful piece of music—that precious, pregnant pause when I hold my breath, waiting for the next note that I know will fill me with transcendence.
I practice because, on rare occasions, I feel my mind and body melt away and what is left there—in that beautiful empty space—is love. I practice because that love is not mine alone and may well be the one thing strong enough to heal us all. I practice because it gives me hope.