It’s 2019. Why haven’t you started meditating, already? Why hasn’t everyone?
“You Should Meditate Every Day,” The New York Times
First, notices started to pop up in my Facebook feed. “The Value of Meditating Daily,” they might say, or, “Why You Should Meditate,” and, “How to Meditate at Home.”
“Hmm,” I’d think. “That’s interesting.” And then I would hide that post and scroll on, looking for pictures of grandkids, grandnieces, and grandnephews, searching for news about friends and about family.
Then I went to a NAMI support group, and Tara, my favorite fitness coach, was there. She talked about exercise ‘snacks,’—about how, instead of having a handful of chips, you could get up and lunge down the hallway. Or do some toe touches. Or walk around the block.
I tapped Connie the Fitbit and smiled when she suggested that—a few more steps toward the daily total! But then Tara added something surprising.
“You could,” she said, “set a little meditation time aside, too.”
She talked about the physical and mental benefits of a meditative practice.
I, of course, agreed wholeheartedly with everything Tara said. I went home and instituted her walk-around-the block snack idea into my daily routine. But the meditation? Not so much. I was looking for ways to get up and get moving, not to stay down and start grooving.
Two friends, apropos of nothing, sent me links to articles on meditation. “Thought you’d find this interesting,” both wrote.
I never DON’T read links that friends send. And they were right: the articles WERE interesting.
But still. Moving, not sitting.
And then yesterday—this is not a lie—my copy of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are fell right off the bookshelf when I was looking for another book entirely. It fell off, and it opened at page 101, which is called, “Part Two: The Art of Practice,” and is all about starting out on a daily meditative path.
And, “All RIGHT!” I thought—I kind of mentally snarled it, actually; I was feeling pushed and prodded. “I get it; I get it. I need to start meditating.”
I decided I’d start this morning.
It’s not like I’ve never meditated.
When I taught sixth grade at a wonderful, parochial, inner-city school, I was always searching for techniques that were calming and centering. Poring through a publisher’s books at a conference, I found one called something like Meditation for Middle-Schoolers.
I bought that book and took it home and read it cover to cover.
The first thing it said was this: you can’t teach kids to do something you don’t do. If you want to teach meditation, you’d better meditate.
So I did. At night, when the bustle wound down after 9:00, I would clear the dining room table, light a candle, and turn off the lights. I’d sit in a comfortable chair, my hands relaxed in my lap. I’d look at the candle flame flickering, and I would focus on my breathing.
I didn’t have visions. I didn’t enter a trance-like state. Often, my thoughts would go careening and I’d have to chase them down, sit on them, and will myself to concentrate, again, on my breathing.
Look at the candle.
The fifteen-minute interlude was like a step outside time. When I stepped back in, I was refreshed.
The boyos, to my surprise, never barged in, and they never snickered. They quietly left me to my flickering flames and gentle breathing.
Maybe I was a little bit nicer when I meditated.
Maybe they just liked being in control of the TV remote every night at 9:00.
When I had developed what I could call a meditation practice, I started teaching it to my rambunctious sixth grade class at prayer time. We sat in the corner of our sprawling classroom; we dimmed the lights and lit a candle.
“Listen,” I’d say. “what do you hear?”
“Nothin’!” they’d say. Or, “Billy is scratching himself.”
I would challenge them to get really, really quiet and really, really listen. We started with three-minute stints. By the time we got done, they could settle in for ten full minutes.
I don’t think they were centering, so much, though. I think they were competing to catalog the noises they could hear. When the ten minutes faded away, I’d call them back and blow out the candle. And one student would say, “The clock, the heater, and the fourth grade going to gym!”
“Fire truck!” another would add, victoriously.
“AND,” an uber-listener would crow, “Mr. Domst reciting poetry!”
Listening contest or meditative time, it was for me, a quiet moment in a careening day.
Nothing’s static, of course. Households change; cheerful kids turn into teenagers with sneakers the size of canoes; babies get born and parents forget what six straight hours of sleep feel like.
I’d try to meditate; I really would: lighting the candle, squeezing out a few minutes after supper. And Mark would wake me up, tap me on the head that was resting, as I drooled, on the table. The time I put the candle out with my forehead was the last time I tried to meditate during James’s restless infancy.
And then life just kept barreling on, and I never quite got the practice back.
This morning, after Mark went off to work, I cracked Jon Kabat-Zinn back open to page 101, and I read about sitting meditation. And then I turned off the dining room light, got myself situated and set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes. I sat up, straight but comfortable; I let my hands relax on my lap.
And I breathed.
I looked straight ahead, at my three stacked Crayola tins that are my current side table centerpiece. I started thinking about burnt sienna and midnight blue and
“Back,” I told myself sternly, and I concentrated on my breathing.
And I realized now I saw not the curtains, but THROUGH the curtains, the birds fluttering by in the chilly air, crisp, frozen leaves skittering.
“Back,” I said, and I breathed.
Suddenly, a lost part of last night’s dream cartwheeled into my consciousness, and I examined that curiously: what was I doing, dreaming about a fat mailer filled with T-shirt samples that I wasn’t sure whether to keep or mail off?
“Back,” I said sternly. (But wasn’t it interesting, I thought, that a little quiet breathing time lets forgotten dream bits return?)
I focused, again, on my breath and let the quiet room surround me, and I was startled when the phone’s timer beeped.
It wasn’t, for sure, a perfect session, but I was refreshed.
I will do it again tomorrow.
So from now on, you’ll often find me lunging down the hallway, marching round the block, getting my 250 steps in every hour and a long, long walk each day, too….feeding my Fitbit. “Moving moving moving,” I hear Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi singing as I stride, “keep them dogies moving!”
It feels GOOD to be up and pushing forward.
But once a day, you’ll find me, too, sitting in a quiet room, quietly breathing, quietly chasing down rampant thoughts and getting them to be still.
The universe has a way of bringing what I need to my attention. It gave me, after all, a Fitbit to insure I’d get off my duff and move each day.
And then it sent me reminder after reminder about meditating. It posted and it texted and it emailed me. It sent a messenger, and then, when all else failed, it threw the book at me.
Never let it be said, after all, that I’m slow on the uptake.
Here’s Farhad Manjoo’s article to check out: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/opinion/meditation-internet.html