I’ve read that regular meditation alleviates everything from depression to high blood pressure. It’s free, doesn’t require any contact with a health insurance company, and has no negative side effects. Pretty impressive stuff.
I’m fairly crunchy for a city girl. A few years in California left its imprint. I’ve followed a regular yoga practice for years, I eat organic as much as possible, and I’m a huge advocate of acupuncture. Meditation, however, does not come easily to me. I can’t sit still with my thoughts for very long. I am a restless spirit.
I went to a guided meditation session, hoping to find the solution to my inner-antsypants. It didn’t work. I listened to five or six breaths, and the ideas began to intrude.
It started with little things. What should I make for dinner? The car probably needs an oil change. Don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning.
The thoughts grew more complicated and stressful. There’s no way I’ll have the client report finished in time. We really need to redo our will. Am I giving my son the right dose of Tylenol? Does he take child or infant?
And then the doom loop started. I’m going to get fired. Could my husband be having an affair? What if my son got hit by a bus? What if the asteroid is coming and Bruce Willis isn’t there to save us? None of these thoughts made any sense, but they barged in anyway.
While the outer world was totally silent, I couldn’t stop the noise inside my head. It buzzed and whirred until my ears were pounding. The room began to feel small and airless. Soon, I would collapse, like a star, and drag everything into the black hole along with me. I started hyperventilating, sucking in great gasps of air. The adrenaline was rushing through my system, and I was pretty sure I was about to pass out. This didn’t feel like inner peace.
The seminar leader took me outside so that a) I could get some fresh air and b) I would stop frightening the other participants. She asked me what I was experiencing, and I told her I thought I was going to fly apart. I was coming unglued, literally–the force that bound my cells together was failing and I was going to explode.
I asked if this is what it was like to experience the universe.
No, she said. It’s what it’s like to experience yourself.
When people repeat things over and over, it’s generally because they feel voiceless. Sure, the squeaky wheel gets greased, but the emotion is not about the wheel, it’s that no one hears the squeak until it gets really loud. My psyche had become a very squeaky wheel. I had ignored it for too long, and without the rest of my life there to drown it out, it saw the opportunity to be heard.
The seminar leader took me to a walking mandala, where I counted steps and breaths, and made peace with my thoughts, promising never to ignore them again. It’s a work in progress.
I still cannot sit still to meditate for more than a few minutes at a time, so I run. My husband, also a runner, lives by the stopwatch, trying to get the fastest 2 mile time he can clock. Pushing limits is congruent with his personality, intense and determined.
I run slowly, but for miles and miles, until I’m exhausted and sweaty and empty. I put on music, lock into a cadence, and let the thoughts go where they will. I don’t ponder them, or hash them through, I acknowledge them—Namaste—and let them go.
I get home, ice my knee, and write. This is my meditation. It is also my saving grace because I love carbs in any form. If one could achieve inner peace by eating Ciabatta with a good Cabernet, I’d be dining with Buddha. Since that’s not going to happen, I’ll pop on my headphones and lace up my shoes.
Mindfulness, a quiet recognition of one’s thoughts, however crazed they may be, is a beneficial practice. It doesn’t, however, have to be in lotus position inhaling patchouli incense, although I know a fair number of people who actually do it that way. Maybe your meditation is gardening, or an evening prayer. Maybe it’s just watching light shine through grass, or clouds drift by. Whatever works. It’s all good.
I don’t know if I will find satori at some mile marker, but I have found peace of mind and endless writing material, including this piece.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph “Walk Walk” by Memphis CVB © 2010 Creative Commons