To be honest, that whole experiment I did before – the one where I tried to reconnect with people – was just entirely too much work. By the time last week rolled around, I was jonesing for something that would involve a little less effort. A little less reaching out. Something a bit more…insular. I picked meditation. I know, I know. My thinking that this would be a piece of cake was nothing short of ridiculous.
I’ve meditated before. At least two or three times and, I confess, it baffles me. But I’m enough of a sucker, enough of a wanna-be, that a part of me would like to be a person who meditates. It just sounds so … sophisticated. So with it. So Zen.
On day one of Meditation Week, one of my best and oldest friends comes into town. Initially, that seems to be a great excuse to really half-ass it. Maybe even quarter-ass it. Except, Cathi’s a massage therapist who’s learning energy healing work, so she is annoyingly excited about this whole meditation business.
Me? I just want to get it out of the way, which I’m pretty sure is precisely the mindset you want going into meditation. I can’t express how self conscious I feel excusing myself to go into my bedroom and meditate. I tell Cathi I’ll be back in five minutes.
“You need to do it for at least 15 minutes to see any benefit,” she says. That seems ludicrous. I tell her I’ll be back in five minutes. I pop my head into my husband Chris’ office – directly across the hall from our bedroom – and ask him to come and get me when five minutes is up. I don’t want to spend the whole time watching the clock. That seems like a very meditative way to think. My head is full of ideas about meditation. I’m certain almost none of it is actually valid.
Then I go and sit cross-legged on my bed. Like an idiot. I have no idea what to do. I’ve been told by friends who meditate that there is no wrong way to go about this, which sounds like when people say there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Sure there is. We’ve all been asked them.
I’m probably a minute into my first meditation and I’m stuck. My mind is racing. I can’t help wonder what Cathi’s doing. Is she calling all our friends from college and telling them I’m weird? This doesn’t feel very relaxing.
I decide to watch the snow falling outside, coming down as it is in floaty white chunks. That seems highly meditative. Except the window I’m looking out faces a main road and the snow is falling on some pretty fast-moving traffic. Loud, fast-moving traffic. Not so relaxing. Strike that.
My next trick is to try to pay attention to my breath. I’ve done enough yoga that this should feel familiar to me. The problem is that I’ve worked myself into quite a lather about meditating properly and it’s unwise for a person in such a state – a person who has a history of panic disorder – to pay too close attention to her breathing. Breathing is starting to feel extremely difficult. I might not be getting any air into my lungs. I’m probably dying. Dying from meditation.
At this point, at least 20 minutes must have passed, so I yell out to Chris that he must have forgotten me. A second later, he appears in the doorway, grinning. “I didn’t forget you,” he says. ‘It’s only been four minutes.”
Just to show him, I meditate for another five minutes. That’s right. I spite-meditated. And I have to say, it kind of worked. The second five minutes went much faster than the first. I was starting to see why people said you had to meditate for at least fifteen. Still, I left dust in my wake when my ten minutes were up.
Day two, I decide to multi-task. Since it’s Saturday, I need to get my chakras unblocked and figure I can meditate while I do that. Wait. What? Chakras unblocked? I’ve never done that before. But Cathi tells me my chakras are blocked and, well, she does know me pretty well, so I figure, what the heck.
I lie down on the guest room bed as she does whatever the hell it is energy healers do to unblock one’s chakras. It involves a lot of hand waving. I try to keep my eyes closed, mostly to keep from giggling. When the person you used to chain-smoke and chain-drink with is hovering over you, moving energy around, it’s a little surreal.
But it does make for a very relaxing atmosphere and, as sheepish as this pragmatist may be to admit it, I was pretty open to the experience. With Cathi’s gentle guiding, I breath in and out and feel myself sinking back into the bed. I don’t know what’s happening outside of me, but I feel the rest of me slowing down. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a difference between meditating and trying to fall asleep.
Fortunately, it’s not a problem for me, as falling asleep always takes great effort. But I’d probably encourage borderline narcoleptics not to meditate lying down. Such is the wisdom I’m gathering this week.
Day three, my chakras are cleared and my life is changed completely. Okay, not really. But I’m told things are flowing more smoothly, so I’ll take it. Cathi goes home and I’m left to my own devices. I consider whether it’s cheating or helping to meditate in the place where you’re already the most relaxed. I come down squarely in the latter camp and thus, I decide to meditate during my evening bath. I fill it with relaxing lavender bubbles and climb in. I try to be still. I try to breath. I try not to judge the fact that thoughts keep flying into my brain. My primary thought is this: When will I be finished? I’d rather be reading People. But, then, when wouldn’t I?
I have no idea how long I meditate for, but there’s no denying it’s giving me a sense of calm. Not so much calm that I’m in danger of drowning, but a certain end-of-the-day calm which may or may not be responsible for the fact that I seem to have less trouble falling asleep at night now. The bathtub approach is so successful that, on days four and five, I lather, rinse, repeat. So to speak.
Day six comes and doubt it creeping in. Maybe I’m not actually meditating in the tub. Maybe I’m just bathing. How do you know the difference? I might need some more concrete instruction in the art of meditation, so I decide to turn to that great source of spiritual wisdom: You Tube. And what a wealth of meditation videos there are! Color therapy! Healing meditation! Chakra cleansing meditation! (Good thing I already took care of that!)
I pick one largely at random, mostly because it says it’s an intro video. The fact that it’s only seven or eight minutes long might have played a role too. The video’s pretty poor quality, just some old dude in a robe sitting on a couch, shot from across the room. His head and shoulders are in the lower half of the frame. The rest is mostly wall. It’s like a hostage video or maybe something a cult leader would leave behind for after the mother ship comes.
Still, I close my eyes and let his sleepy talk wash over me. He seems like a nice guy and all but, damn, it takes almost Herculean effort for me to just be. To sit with my own thoughts and my own self. I try to go with it but, to be honest, the last thing I think before the video ends and he eases me out of my meditation is: Only one more day of this crap left.
On the last day, I have a very, very strong instinct not to meditate. Of course, I think I am waiting for the moment in this whole change experiment when I have a strong instinct to do any of the things I’ve chosen.
I know that if I sit down by myself and try to belch out a few “Om”s, I’ll be done and in front of the TV in four minutes flat. So I pick another video on You Tube.
This one I’m drawn to because the woman recording it is a teacher of Anusara yoga, the type I practice. (And by practice, I mean I haven’t been to class in two months.) This lady is in England and, therefore, has a nice accent. In her video, she comes to sit on a cliff in front of the ocean to meditate. Now, I’ve been to England and I can’t help but wonder if she’s isn’t freezing.
The lady has a lot of things to say about meditating, much of which, I have to admit, I don’t pay too much attention to. She does say it’s good to shower before meditating. Huh. That’s news to me. I haven’t bathed since returning from the gym, so I wonder if I should just throw in the towel. Nonetheless, I stick with it. Turns out I’d rather meditate than shower, which I suppose is good information to have.
There’s a possibility that, on my last day of meditation, once I get started, it doesn’t feel as strange to go with the flow. There’s also a possibility that I spent a fair amount of my meditation time trying to parse the lady’s accent. It says she’s in Cornwall, but doesn’t she sound a little Australian? And I was jolted completely when, about five minutes in, she says, “There is never a moment when God disappears.” What the hell? Where did God come from? Shouldn’t there be a warning label on the meditation?
Still, when it’s over, I’m feeling pretty good about my efforts for the week. I may have been a little calmer, over all. I may have slept better than I did in previous weeks. I may feel, as hard as this is to explain, just a little more open. I’m also quite sure I didn’t work up to enough meditation time to really feel a big impact, but I feel more comfortable with the idea of it, should I choose to pursue it. Later. Another time. In the future.
If that happens, I think I’ll steer clear of the videos and try not to worry so much about what does or does not constitute meditation. Maybe I’ll return to the part that was the most comfortable to me – meditating in the bathtub. Because I’m not sure it matters if it’s meditation or just bathing. I’m clearly in need of both.