I meditated today for 20 breaths.
It wasn’t awful.
Among my dozens upon dozens (hundreds?) of unpublished posts and unsubbed (bad) poems from the last two and a half, three years, there’s a whole category entitled “On my recalcitrant reluctance to re-establish a meditation practice.”
(I know, the title just rolls off the tongue, don’t it.)
I had a robust, twice daily meditation practice for many years. Hey, atheists have to pray somehow — for me, after many years of mocking yoga (I still find it problematic), an encounter with Kundalini yoga and an (unrelated) romance with a (sort of) Buddhist nun finally got me meditating … not coincidentally, at what I had then thought was the hardest patch of my life.
Then came truly the hardest, worst patch of my life – nothing will ever be worse and I have no fear of tempting the fates to fuck around with me here. I have lived the worst that a mother can live, and meditation utterly and completely failed me at this time.
I used Rex Stout and M.C. Beaton audiobooks to silence the screaming in my head instead.
Query: Can reading murder mysteries be a religion? Asking for a friend.
Later when the screaming subsided, I tried to find my way back to meditation. Repeatedly. I’m not sure, honestly, why. It had, after all, failed me. And as I reflected on my clearly dysfunctional relationship with meditation as I tried to work through my resistance to resuming the practice, I repeatedly came up against this:
Meditation did not help me to endure to help I had no choice but to walk through. (Rex Stout’s shallow plots and Michael Prichard’s sonorous voice did that.)
When things hadn’t been so bad, and when I actually had a choice? Meditation contrived to keep me in a situation I should have been actively working to change.
So what I did today was breathe. 20 breaths. Eyes closed. A moment of silence and stillness.
It wasn’t awful. But then, I’m very happy now. There aren’t a lot of demons howling inside.
Why am I even trying to find my way back to this practice that I view as having failed me, twice, in two different ways?
Because I remember… I remember it feeling good. The stillness, when I achieved it, felt really good. I catch glimpses of it now in my daily life: after I finish my morning pages, when I’m driving Cinder to the train station at 6:30 in the morning in -40 weather, when I water my plants, when Ender and I make art, when I watch the cats wrestle, when I read while Flora works on her bones, when I make coffee, occasionally when I peel potatoes.
Sadly, never when I load or unload the dishwasher – or when I do my work-work. I love my job-job, more than I care to admit to most people (“Sell-out,” you know) but my days are fractured, full of meetings, revisions and shifting deadlines. I want to find pockets of stillness in my workday.
I think meditation may help.
And that, perhaps, is its proper role. A helpmeet with a narrowly defined role and purpose.
Not a panacea. Not salvation.
Salvation, incidentally, is a hard concept to full let go of – and that’s how you know I was raised Catholic. The concept, the metaphor of salvation pervades my creative and reflective language still. Who really wants to give up on salvation? To say – yeah, you know, what? I’m good. I’m embracing suffering and damnation, I don’t want relief, I’m good, really.
I officially let go of religion, faith – and so, I suppose, salvation – when I was 14… but it creeps in. It creeps in.
I suppose it always will.
I am not sure I will meditate, or take 20 silent breaths, tomorrow. Or ever again. Then again, I might, when I have eight minutes between meetings, an awkward amount of time, not even enough to properly pay attention to email… but enough for a couple of spinal stretches, 20 breaths.
But I might not.
Don’t hold your breath.