Meditation: I Think I’m Doing it Wrong. ~ Rob Pollak

Via Rob Pollak
on Feb 6, 2013
get elephant's newsletter

A drawing by Rob Pollak

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.”
“Breathe in.”
“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.’

A drawing by Rob Pollak

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.

A drawing by Rob Pollak

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.


Like elephant meditation on Facebook.

Ed: Kate Bartolotta


About Rob Pollak

Rob Pollak plans to get famous via the internet. You can follow his journey, writing and drawings at Rob Complains About Things, Twitter or Facebook.


24 Responses to “Meditation: I Think I’m Doing it Wrong. ~ Rob Pollak”

  1. CBHananda says:

    This is great! Thanks Rob. Yoga tricked me too into meditation, and also into the best shape of my non-athletic, exercise avoiding life. I most enjoy how you explain your parentage and your reaction to it/them.

  2. Donna says:

    Laughing out loud big time – can totally relate. I was on a yoga/chanting retreat once (yeah i know – what's with the chanting right?) with everyone meditating beautifully, silently and sharing their deep mindful thoughts and insights and all I got to share is how I plan to redecorate my spare room – which I have to say is in my opinion a pretty productive way to spend 30 minutes of meditation. But yeah I confess that those nano seconds of peace are worth the combined hours of monkey mind sitting on the meditation cushion. Keep at it Rob, surely we'll become enlightened some day???

  3. jacqui says:

    that was so great! i think it's important to not be so hard on yourself when your monkey mind is just not going to stop today. some days are like that, and you just made me appreciate my mind more today, monkey or meditative. keep it up, sir! 🙂

  4. Brian E. Boldt says:

    Very sad. All the things that you describe are quite normal for a new mediator and easily overcome. Before writing and publishing such an article, you might want to actually learn how to meditate (even if just from a research point of view.

    From my experience TM is the most useful method, especially in light of the things that you described in your article:

    The way that I read this article is similar to hearing that someone can't drive a race-car on a high-speed track, because their DMV driving instructor didn't give them good directions — and their parents confused the concept of racing, from a variety of angles while they were growing up. Then, they read "Racing Magazine" once, and the instructions there didn't help — they still crash on the course — but this person never once thought to contact a race-car driver for proper instruction!

    I wish you the best, and I think that in the very least, learning to meditate properly and then trying it out for a few months would lead to an interesting follow-up article!

    Good day, sir!

  5. Emily says:

    Not sad! Funny! 🙂 Adorable, loveable, relatable. And it seems to me you are doing it just right! Keep writing, I always get a smile and a little inner leap when I see your stick figures and I know it's another Rob article…

  6. Katya says:

    😀 Loved reading this! Made my day brighter.

  7. Rob Pollak says:

    Thank you! You're taking me way too literally. I am working on it, but decided to write about the beginning part of the process. I am trying to learn and work on it. That's what yoga has been like for me and the benefits are incredible. I'm sure I'll get there.

  8. Rob Pollak says:

    Thank you for giving me a little smile and inner leap. I post about other stuff on my fb page if you're interested.

  9. Rob Pollak says:

    Thanks! I'll keep that in mind. It's not as funny to write about the days when my mind is in check.

  10. Rob Pollak says:

    The first time I meditated, it was part of that yoga retreat. We had to chant something, and the last part was repeated twice but one person kept repeating it three times. It was literally the only thing I could think about and focus on. Probably not the most mindful meditation moment, but it was funny in my head.

  11. Rob Pollak says:

    Thank you! The scary thing is that the part about my parents is all true….

  12. Brian E. Boldt says:

    Totally. This article was forwarded to me, and the source of the forward was very different than the general theme of this website. So, I read everything VERY different to its intention.


    Nevertheless, when i said is true, and I recommend that you contact TM. They have a VERY, VERY good way of teaching this stuff.

    Good luck!


  13. Rose says:

    TM?…….sure, if you've got a couple of thousand to drop on the organization. My friend learned from the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi (?) in the around 1968 or so, overlooking the Pacific ocean. He didn't charge a thing. But, that was then and this is now.
    Even with the reduced cost plan for those on an extremely limited income, it has been impossible for me to afford TM. They offered a payment plan…….I'm so glad it's not all about money.
    Anyway, I'm muddling through shedding my ego and looking at the very scary inside of this vehicle.
    It's funny they have a "very good way of teaching this STUFF", however, in every "talk" they don't even touch on their technique…..just the results….the unpromised results…..and for a price you can come back if the first STUFF doesn't work.

    Good Luck!

  14. Brian E. Boldt says:

    I totally hear everything you are saying, and I do agree. However, it works, and it is worth the money.


  15. Andrew says:

    This was great and funny! It was given to me by a friend who swears my her meditation while I continually tell her I'm sure it would be awesome but I don't know how to hell to do it right and consistently refused to go to group settings because of the experiences you also mentioned. It's nice to feel not alone in the freak out realm of a very loud mind.

  16. Drlaurel says:

    I think we might have the same parents! Loved your post. I have become mother and resisted all temptation to follow father. After all, we both know who is happier.

  17. Rob Pollak says:

    Well, you are a doctor, so I have to agree.

  18. […] can be done in schools, hospitals, boardrooms, town halls or your own living room. Meditation is now written into TV dramas, cross-legged yogis and monks can be seen in computer and credit card […]

  19. […] Try meditation. I thought it was stupid for the longest time. It can do amazing things if you give it a chance. If […]

  20. […] at the weekend intensive, bright and early Saturday morning, we began with a guided seated meditation. Normally, I like guided meditation. But this day, The Rockstar’s voice, nasally and as […]

  21. kimberlylowriter says:

    I love this!

  22. yogaspiceblog says:

    Um, I think you just plagiarized my meditation. Nice. Now not only can you not meditate properly, you are also committing crimes against asteya. I'm pretty sure you need to meditate on this. Find yourself, forgive yourself and then breathe. Then give me back my meditation, dammit!

  23. coventrywest says:

    I love this one. I was encourage from some points of view. There is always been an advantage in doing things.