On Meditating Badly
Every morning, I meditate. Badly.
I know meditation is good for me. Meditation can help with anxiety, stress, insomnia, self-esteem and a whole host of other things. There are a million ways to do it, and lots of opinions on the “correct” way to do it: sit for 20 minutes twice a day, or for an hour at dawn facing east, or while imagining your thoughts as clouds, or while standing on one foot in a pit of fire peacefully contemplating God.
I just sit for ten minutes while the coffee is brewing.
And here’s my guilty secret: I don’t try to quiet my mind. At all.
For me, meditation and yoga is a practice of befriending myself. Of getting to know who I am and how I feel and developing the sort of best friendship that will last until my dying days.
My body, mind, and I have not always been such a great squad. We were enemies back in my anorexic days, after most breakups, and in the tiny cruelties that (still, sometimes) fling inside my head every time I happen to pass a mirror.
Meditation and yoga are like showing up to meet myself for coffee. The slow process of reconciliation begins when we sit down, and I ask, “Hi, how are you today?”
It was a long time before I got brave enough to listen to the answer to that question. For years I made sure I was always too busy to hear the keening of grief or fear or anger in my bones. I always interrupted myself, ensuring I was always too busy or exhausted to feel what was happening in my darkest corners.
Life remains busy. Most of the time I am working, spending time with (real, human) friends, teaching yoga, or writing. The noise of my life drowns out most of my thoughts and feelings. Sitting down for ten minutes while the coffee is brewing is time dedicated to listening. I wouldn’t sit down to catch up with my best friend and spend our time together staring her down and shushing her every time she tried to say something. I would just let her talk.
The difficulty of listening, whether to our real live best friends or to our own selves, is learning not to interject with judgment or advice before the other has finished talking. When I meditate, I do focus on my breath, not in order to shush my thoughts, but to stay present with how I feel in my body as my thoughts run around. If I feel the urge to interrupt myself by planning, judging, or analyzing, I refocus on how it feels to breathe with the thoughts, not against them. I try to receive, rather than direct, my thoughts and feelings.
So there isn’t any quiet in my meditation practice, not right now. My mind has a lot to say, and right now I want to hear it.
Besides, I believe, with writer Robert Augustus Masters, that any spiritual practice should “feel as natural to slip into as our favorite jeans or T-shirt, at ease both with being worn and being worn out.” Spiritual practices should be easy and personal and they should work for us, no matter how different they may look from what everyone else is doing.
Maybe one day my self and I will have such a close friendship that we will be able to sit together in the quiet, just enjoying each others’ company. But for now, meditating badly for ten minutes while the coffee is brewing works just fine for me.