What is meditating? Seems like an elusive thing, though one growing in popularity. Meditation references are everywhere, along with studies about its benefits reported almost daily. Presumably there’s also actual meditating occurring.
Like yoga, which I’m getting the hang of even more slowly than skiing (and that is saying something), meditation has always elicited knee-jerk befuddlement and skepticism (in me, anyway). It brings to mind the Beatles going to the ashram, museum-goers nodding thoughtfully along to overwritten analyses of modern art, and other jumping-on-the-bandwagon behaviors.
Meditation seems trendy yet nebulous, a combo destined to annoy the hell out of me. Lifestyle trends? Spare me the rubbing crystals in my armpits and gargling with coconut oil, or demonizing butter because it’s the devil, oh no wait, it’s not the devil now. Everybody quit screwing around and get back to work!
But news keeps rolling in of more and more people leading lives of productivity and delight who insist meditation is the reason. Last month the Wall Street Journal featured an article about the evolutionary basis for meditation’s benefits! The conversation is no longer whether it’s good, it’s now about why it’s good. It’s starting to become slightly embarrassing not to meditate, like not wearing a seatbelt or smoking or riding a bike without a helmet or yelling at the kids in public or stealing or spying on the neighbors or getting arrested or whatever.
A recent epiphany finally spurred me to jump on the bandwagon: Starting our recent vacation, I mentally girded for two weeks of fun mixed with two weeks of left shoulder agony, because my left shoulder is almost always in some degree of agony, especially when there is any deviation from normal routine, like flying, carrying luggage, sleeping in a different bed, new sports, using my shoulder in any way, whatever. My shoulder is as cantankerous as 45 looking at arial photos of his inauguration…or Kim Jong-un looking at photos of 45.
But after a comically uncomfortable red-eye in economy en route to Croatia, I sat in the Frankfurt airport drinking wine and thinking how bizarre it was that my shoulder hadn’t started hurting. After another flight, a taxi, a hotel bed, luggage-lugging in old-town historic places with no elevator and bumpy cobblestones, etc. it still felt fine. I waited for the honeymoon to end.
Seven nights on a boat, more cobblestones, mountain-biking, paddle boarding, swimming, dancing, day-drinking like a retired pirate, public buses, hills of dangerously polished limestone, another airplane, traffic-choked Ubering in tiny cars, endless miles carrying a heavy bag around London, spiral staircases, another flight and bed, a Phish show and a train ride later, my shoulder registered not a shred of discomfort. It was like someone else’s shoulder had magically been grafted onto my body.
I concluded I must be investing significant time and money on physical therapy, massages, chiropractic care and acupuncture on a problem that is mental rather than physical. I’ve been stressing myself out to the point of acute pain just with my thoughts.
And if that’s the case, well, then, ferfuckssake! The kids are healthy, the dog is house-trained, Pete doesn’t lie, cheat or steal, the bills are paid, the lawn is mowed. My stress is bullshit. I’m manufacturing shoulder pain? Time to meditate and try to fix that sucker FOR FREE, since moving to Croatia is not an option until the kids leave for college (at which time, I bid you all Doviđenja, but please do come visit).
Fortuitously, my friend Jill posted a handy video that explained things in a way that made sense (unless I’m mistaken). I gave it a try.
The first step was to think of nothing. But what’s nothing? Space? Space is something. My head needed something to represent nothingness. I envisioned a forest clearing, a little circular empty spot the size of a large room surrounded by forest, the kind of place where that Zen master Winnie the Pooh would chill out and slurp honey.
To meditate I focused on the forest clearing nothingness, directing myself back to it every 2.4 seconds when my mind drifted toward something else, such as:
- People getting on my nerves
- Things that are wrong with the world/human suffering
- Who hasn’t replied to which text
- Or email
- What to make for dinner the rest of the week
- Books I need to read
- Bands I should listen to
- Aging and attendant matters
- The id, the ego and the superego
- My children’s psyches
- My husband’s psyche
- My psyche
- The dog too – how is he doing with the whole being-rescued thing? Doe he miss the thrill of life on the street?
- How long it’s been since my last gym visit
- Whether Trump will quit, be impeached or something else and whether this will herald a viable third party
- Future vacations including how soon we can get our asses back to Croatia
- And so on.
My mind drifted forcefully, so I told myself to ‘Head for the clearing!’ to refocus. It sounded like ‘Head for the hills!’ but instead heading for either a forest or a cleared head – both lovely. And if you read ‘head’ as a noun, it sounds like “my head is available for clearing” – also appropriate.
I’m not there yet. Much remains to grasp. For example, why must people sit up to meditate? I’m usually lying in bed when the urge strikes, and don’t feel like getting up. Is sitting essential?
If you are a meditator, any input is welcome. If the forest clearing concept is a bad idea, please advise.