Even as I’ve become a yoga-loving, smoothie-drinking gal over the past few years, I always secretly kept judging meditation. Picturing a bald, smiling male in loose cotton clothing sitting a mat for hours on end, I always thought to myself “Please, who has time for that? Sitting around for hours? How uncomfortable, unproductive…un….realistic.” It felt like far from what could ever be a reality for me. Moreover, it seemed far from what could ever be beneficial. I’m all about mindfulness (focus your full attention on texting or Facebook – but not both at once!), body scans, a 5-minute catnap, etc. but never imagined that there could actually be any benefit to “sitting around” for that long.
Enter yoga teacher training and our assignment for 20 minutes daily of silent (vipassana) meditation. No mantra, no lovingkindness, no counting your breaths, just a silent mind.
Silence that really goes something like this in my mind:
“Godddddammmmmit my feet are asleep again. Ow. Am I sitting up straight enough? Do I look really calm? I’m getting centered, I’m getting centered. F–k I’m not supposed to be thinking of anything. Good-bye thoughts… I wonder if it’s been 20 minutes yet? Why does my elbow itch? I suck at this. NO! NO JUDGING! How is that one hair tickling my nose? God I want to move it. I can’t. Just do it! No one will see! NO NO NO! Ignore! Calm…. Silence…. Balance… It has to have been like 17 minutes, right? Did the leader forget their timer? This has to be done… I’m hungry. I wonder if George is making dinner…I’m thirsty. THAT DANG HAIR!”
And so on.
It goes like that. And doesn’t end when the timer beeps. Then I have moments of waking up my feet, feeling like 1,000,000 needles are stabbing me from within and sending streams of acid burning up my leg muscles as they slowly wake up. And in these moments we are practicing metta, or the meditation of sending love and kindness out through the world. IT HURTS, PEOPLE, IT HURTS! Lovingkindness to you all.
But because I am a type-A person who wants to be a “good student,” I meditate. I drag out my blanket and block when I first wake up in the morning and faithfully set my timer for 20 minutes. I spend my 20 minutes vacillating from thinking about grocery lists or work emails and my breath, noticing the sensations. I tolerate the pain of my feet falling asleep and then waking up again. I do it, I journal about it, and I do it again. I don’t feel high on life or magically changed after those 20 minutes are up, I don’t wake up with an excitement to do my 20 minutes, but I do it.
…and something is happening.
If I go one morning without meditating, I’m crankier, more agitated, and less calm by 4 pm – almost like a caffeine crash.
If I go one full day without meditating, I don’t sleep as well and wake up the next morning more stressed.
If I go two days without meditating, look out self – you’re in for some self-criticism.
If I go three days, look out George – you’re in for some b*tchy moments (YOU BOUGHT WHITE BREAD? – A story for another day…).
So I do it. I return to my blanket and sit and try to be okay with not being “good” at something. It’s a journey. It’s hard. REALLY HARD. But it’s changing my brain for the better (seriously, click that link – the benefits to meditation are astounding).
Give it a try.
You won’t turn into a bald, middle-aged, cotton-wearing, smiling man, I promise. But you may just find yourself calmer, or happier, or getting much better at practicing kindness and non-judgment towards yourself.
And you will definitely find yourself some amount amused and appalled at what comes into your mind while you’re trying to have nothing come into your mind. Don’t judge.
Meditation is actually extremely beneficial, and I would love to share the small bit I’ve learned with you all. Coming soon: How to Begin Meditating – from a novice, to a novice.