My legs are shaking uncontrollably, but I can’t focus on the discomfort because my mind keeps jumping from topic to topic:
“Shit, I need an accountant to figure out my taxes.”
“Wait, where did I park the car?”
“It’s cold out. I don’t want to go back out there.”
“I need to write more or I’ll lose all my readers.”
“Anna Kendrick is so hot.”
“I should write more.”
“Why do I suck at finishing things.”
“Ahhhhh. I feel amazing.”
“Shit. I really need to contact that accountant.”
“I suck at this.”
“I should write a blog post about how I suck at meditation. I can start it by saying, ‘My legs are shaking uncontrollably, but I can’t focus on the discomfort…'”
“Nah. That’s stupid.”
“Think about your breath, asshole.”
Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize it from my description, but, apparently this is ‘meditation.’
Just the thought of meditation used to make me vomit, a reaction born out of deep genetic coding. Imagine for a second that Oprah’s spirit animal married Larry David’s. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it because those two beings did reproduce, and the result was me.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a brief profile sketch of my parents:
Mom: Doesn’t eat gluten or sugar.
Dad: In recognition of his dedicated patronage, was once gifted a stool from a hot dog joint called “Swanky Franks.”
Mom: Believes in and is devoted to a higher being.
Dad: Calls me immediately after natural disasters and mass shootings to remind me that they “explicitly prove the non-existence of god.” Also frequently quotes Christopher Hitchens.
Mom: Calls everything good that happens “a sign.”
Dad: Doesn’t think anything good ever happens.
Mom: Trusts that when God closes a door, he opens a window.
Dad: Closes the door himself, then checks the lock fifteen times – just to make sure – before he can go to bed.
Mom: Is an artist.
Dad: Thought the movie the Artist could have used a few more words.
Mom: Sent me on a yoga retreat for my birthday last year
Dad: Calls me “yoga boy” in a mocking tone.
What does this have to do with meditation? Well, to this point, not much. But maybe it helps to explain where I’m coming from and why I have so resisted meditation.
To me, meditation doesn’t represent a time to contemplate and cleanse the mind. Rather, it represents a choice between (a) facing the judgment of my father and (b) immediately turning into my mother. Yes, that’s an irrational and self-created decision. But it’s one that paralyzes me and has led me to recruit an army of therapists who will now be able to drive Jaguars for years to come.
But let me back up.
I was first introduced to meditation during yoga classes when teachers would discuss the benefits and invite the class to join a guided practice. Upon hearing the word—that terrifying, icky word—a flood of anxiety rushed through me. “Ew! Meditation. Bleck. No thank you. Ercnhr. I’d rather not.” A moment later, the teacher would instruct us to close our eyes and to start paying attention to the breath. I would comply while patiently waiting for the meditation to start, so I could internally criticize the stupidity of it.
As I waited—eyes closed and mind focused on the breath—I’d start to calm down while I imagined the judgment I would unleash when the meditation started.
You know, meditation, right? Contemplating your existence while subconsciously being forced to join a cult.
There would be gongs and Buddhists, incense and butterflies, spiritual awakenings and a mass Ebay sale of my favorite technological gadgets. It starts with one meditation, then before you know it…Boom. I’m in Tibet eating meals of broth after a quick prayer only to resurface a few years later on the front page New York Times, where there’d be an article about either (a) my peaceful protest to save the birch tree, or (b) a mass cult suicide commemorating the latest last day of the Mayan calendar.
That’s what I would think about while I waited for the teacher to begin the meditation. All the while preparing to pounce with an air of judgmental superiority once we started.
But a funny thing happened. It never started. Not once. The teachers would just ramble on about how we were supposed to focus on our breath. So I would do it. Eventually, for like one-tenth of a second, the craziness would be gone. I’d be thinking about only my breath, and it would actually feel nice.
And just as I was on the verge of connecting with myself, the teacher would snatch me away from my mind and start class. For the next hour, I had no choice but to think about my breath because if I did otherwise, I would fall down, hurt myself, and probably die. At the end of class, when my mind slowly returned to thinking about all the nuisances and annoyances in my life, I’d feel more calm about them because I’d had a brief respite during class.
My mind was blown when I recently stumbled upon an article explaining meditation, which basically boils meditation down to focusing on the breath and trying to clear your mind. In other words, sort of, kind of, exactly what I had been doing.
After an initial panic, I realized that I still regular binge eat gluten and sugar and I only check the lock on the door 10 times before going to sleep. Meditation hadn’t led to all the things I feared, it just made me feel a little bit better.
And that’s one of the unspoken secrets about yoga and meditation. No one can tell you when you’re ready to try it, but eventually you figure it out on your own.
At first, you think that everyone else has it figured out, that you’re the only fuck up who can’t get his mind quiet when he closes his eyes. Perhaps that’s true in Tibet. But at your yoga studio, in your apartment, in your mind, it’s probably not.
We’re all head cases in our own way. I know because one time I opened my eyes (my dad side) and looked around the room and I made accidental eye contact with three other people doing the same thing. We all quickly shut our eyes and pretended it didn’t happen. But it happened.
I know it, you know it, Tibet knows it, and my mom probably heard about it from god.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta