By Dana Gornall
I want to meditate.
Actually, it goes beyond wanting and has reached a level of needing to meditate. I’m stressed, I’m cranky, and I feel like I have gone past overwhelmed.
Driving to work the other morning, the radio was off; I drove in silence with my fingers curled around the steering wheel. I prefer keeping the radio off on my commute. The music played is just the same old replays and filled with commercials and talk shows. I used to try listening to podcasts on the drive, but lately I like the silence.
Snow began falling, covering the road with a slick layer, and I watched it go from black to gray to white. Traffic slowed, I looked at the clock and felt the inner panic begin as I realized that this was going to put me behind—I couldn’t afford to be put behind. Where did this storm come from? It seemed to come from nowhere.
I want to be Buddhist, I thought. I want to be calm and able to handle stress. I want to embody equanimity.
It seems lately I do anything but embody equanimity; losing my patience with everything such as my sock-eating dog, to my attitude-spewing teenagers to even inanimate objects like a box of pasta perched on a shelf in my pantry that continually falls onto the floor allowing a few lentil noodles to slip out. I mutter to myself as I get dressed for work, I scorn the darkening clouds as snow threatens to be unleashed, yet again, and I find myself sinking onto the couch after the day is done, night after night, to get lost in television shows that make me forget the day.
Mindfulness has been in and out of my life for a long time. The sweet promise of a settled and stable mind, a place to come back to when I need a break from the comings and goings, always seems to draw me back. We seem to strike up a connection for some time, circle round and round for a bit and then she gets stale, I get distracted by other things, and let her go for awhile.
A couple of months ago, I downloaded a meditation app. It had a small guided portion with a soothing voice that would whisper calming statements in my ears, promising to bring a sense of peace into my life. There were meditations to help us sleep, to help us get through a stressful day or to help us calm down after having an argument with someone. Some of these were free, but some there was a fee, and so after doing a few of them I stopped, because I didn’t want to pay for meditations.
I contacted a friend who put me in touch with a friend who is studying to be a Buddhist priest. While she didn’t consider herself to be a teacher, she could be a type of mentor. She suggested I listen to some podcasts and I felt like maybe I was starting to make a go of a true committed practice. I was ready to do some work, put in some time into this on again off again relationship I have had with meditation, except life had a different turn (as it does). A series of unexpected things happened in this mentor’s life that she needed to give priority toward and soon I found myself without a mentor anymore.
Night after night, I don’t even try to sit. I slide into my bed and check my phone. I turn over onto my side and fall deeply into sleep. Once in awhile perch myself on a pillow, cross my legs and attempt to focus on a thought or the breath. However, these moments are short and I don’t do them often enough—I don’t really have a practice. Instead, I allow my mind to spiral into a cascade of unruly thoughts until I am able to shove them somewhere into a deep, dark corner where they sit, packed into medium sized boxes waiting to spill out onto the floor like the lentil pasta.
I know the importance of regular practice. I understand the need for discipline. One does not get a toned and strong body without hours of time in a gym and one does not get a strong mind without hours of training those thoughts that pop up and spin; I know all of this.
It’s not like I am new to meditation.
I understand the process and I know the game plan. I have been flirting with sitting for easily 20 years, dancing back and forth. I give it a go for a little while, I sweet talk Mindfulness back into my life when I feel it is necessary, and for a short time it’s there and things are a little right again. Nonetheless, as soon as the days start to get a little better, the interest dies. No longer this mysterious draw, no longer the seductive lull that promises to ease my spinning thoughts and mind. I lose patience. I don’t want to commit.
Recently, another friend contacted me and suggested a different technique. After a brief conversation explaining my current level of overwhelm, he explained how I could incorporate short mindfulness moments into my day-to-day. While driving, I could note the color of the sky, the feel of my hands on the steering wheel. While washing dishes, I could pay attention to the sound of the water splashing against the bowl.
I was wary to give it a go at first. There is a certain attraction to the raw unruliness Stress and Anxiety provides. They flash their come hither looks at me letting me know how easy it can be just to succumb to the whirlwind of an overthinking mind. No need for practice or sitting, no need for commitment. I can just allow myself to be angry or sad or collapse into the couch with mind-numbing television. It’s just so much easier.
But is that who I really want to be?
Driving along that highway as the snow seemed to force its way under my tires and the sky grew darker and more gray by the second, my stress and anxiety grew and grew until I felt like I could just scream. I want to be Buddhist, I say under my breath and glance over at Mindfulness who has appeared quietly in the passenger seat. She glances back and raises her eyebrows.
And so I stare ahead at the road again. White, I say. The snow is white. My fingers are cold. That sign is green. And I drive. I didn’t think about sitting or committing to a practice. I just thought about being mindful and driving.
Mindfulness lowers her eyebrows and smiles.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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