This is the second week of my attempts at meditating on a regular basis. I fail, of course. But I also succeed. At some point I know a regular meditation is supposed to be something to look forward to, like a good meal or the perfect cocktail. However, I’m still struggling to fit it into my day and not to see it as another box that needs to be checked along with other items like taking my medication and returning phone calls (two things I also fail at almost daily). There’s a host of issues that come up in the second week of this experiment, most of which don’t have any answers.
Remember, this is my journey and no one should take my missteps as absolution from trying meditation. I’m still going to recommend that everyone try it.
(If you missed the first week, you can find it here.)
British accent man asks if I’ve noticed anything different. No. No, I have not noticed anything different. British accent man does not tell me that I should apply the things he’s “teaching” me during stressful points in my day. I would think that this would be more effective, no? That instead of having a meltdown about something (which is thankfully not something I do a lot), I should employ some sort of zen technique that he has carefully taught me from his vast experience as a voice actor with a British accent who lingers over his consonants. That there should be a tool belt from which I can draw when I’m coping with the difficulties of adult life.
For real, though, who dis dude? What are his credentials? Why am I listening to him again?
There’s another video. Honestly, I literally can’t remember what it was about, even as I’m writing about it 11 hours later. I’m sorry, app maker people. I know how hard it is to create something and put it into the world, only to have someone turn around and shit on it. Who is Amber to criticize something you’ve so lovingly curated? Maybe this particular app just isn’t for me. Maybe I need a different British accent man, or an Australian accent man, or an Irish accent man, or a Scottish accent man. (Yes, please, let’s have that last one. Get on it, Billy Boyd!)
The video was talking about imagining the blue sky. At this point I have to stop and critique this a little because I believe that sometimes it’s important to feel your emotions. Remember that scene in Fight Club, where Tyler is burning Ed Norton’s hand with lye and Ed Norton is trying to escape the pain by finding his spirit animal in his head? Tyler brings him back to the present with a face slap.
Because sometimes you have to feel things. Even bad things. You have to work through them. Otherwise they will come back and bite you in the worst possible times. You could be driving along and suddenly remember an incident from your childhood that you never properly processed. (Which may or may not be a real example.) One way or another, you are going to have to confront your feelings.
As a parent, I will, at times, let my children feel things. I will not try to distract them. I will allow them to feel the disappointment. I will allow them to feel the guilt. I will allow them to feel the hurt. That’s how they learn to cope with it. I mean, I’m not a monster, sometimes there might be ice cream involved, but most of the time I give them time to understand their feelings and work through them.
So. Why do I want to imagine “blue skies” when it’s not blue skies today? When I perhaps should be grieving or feeling lonely or scared. I don’t want some blue skies that are merely painted over the grey skies. Only by going through the grey times can you come out the other side and find a true blue sky, not an imagined one.
There’s no video today, thankfully. I find the meditative process not restorative at all. British accent man tells me that I have been meditating long enough that it could be changing the pathways in my brain. I know this is probably true and that studies have shown an impact from regular meditation. That’s why I finally decided to start it, because I’m game for trying methods that are evidence-based.
However, I also know that there is a limit to how much meditation can do for your mental health. It’s not going to walk back serious difficulties or change the course of a depressive episode. It’s probably not going to harm, but it’s not a panacea. As I did on previous days, I cry through most of my meditation time today. I’m sure this is not what the people who created the app or even British Accent Man envision. Or maybe they did, I don’t know. I am not crying by the time I finish so that’s a positive. And maybe on some days that’s all I can expect from the process.
Day 11 comes many days after day 10 because of disruption in the daily routine due to a storm that knocked out the power to my house and kept children out of school for several days. Without power, and with no convenient way to recharge my battery-sucking phone, I had resorted to using the phone only once an hour for a few minutes to keep up with texts and emails. Ten minutes of meditation wasn’t a good idea until we knew that power was going to be restored.
I’ve now progressed past the basics and am in a new tier of meditation. I’ve gone beyond the initial skills, apparently. Even though I feel as though I still have no idea what I’m doing.
I have a misadventure with the app today. The original Day 11 was an aborted attempt because the app bombed out. I sat and sat, breathing, in my hotel room in D.C., listening to the traffic outside my window. I had exactly enough time to meditate before I was due downstairs at a meeting. My internal clock told me that I had gone past that time. Finally I opened my eyes and walked over to my phone to see what the issue was. The app had crashed, and I’d been sitting there longer than the prescribed time.
Because of that, today I sit with my phone nearby and I accidentally touch the screen, rewinding the day’s meditation. I don’t have all day to sit here so I fast forward it to approximately where I thought I left off. This effectively erases any zen state that I may or may not have achieved. It makes sense to have things like meditation apps in our phones but sometimes I think going back to using a tape deck would be more reliable and take some of the difficulty out of it.
My scalp is itchy. Like REALLY itchy. Sometimes this happens to me where I get intensely itchy and it’s probably a function of being dehydrated and having dry skin in the winter. I cut down on how much I wash my hair significantly recently and still my scalp is still so itchy. So I’m trying to ignore this as I open the meditation app today.
Earlier the app sent me a notification that made me roll my eyes. I know that cynicism probably isn’t healthy but I can’t help it, I simply don’t seem to have the self-help gene. I wonder who writes these platitudes and how I can get that job. I could write that shit all day.
As I sit quietly in the chair in my bedroom to meditate I hear someone outside starting their car over and over. It’s loud. This is killing me to not get up and look out the window and see what the hell is going on because this is not a typical occurrence. I stay in my chair.
Today I’m also struggling with a physical symptom that I’ve had the past few years, which is tingling in my hands and feet. Sometimes it’s my fingers and toes but today I can feel it all the way up to my elbows and my knees. When British Accent Man tells me to focus on my body all I can think is that it feels like someone is strumming a guitar string inside my limbs. Most of the time now I can tune out the sensation, especially when I’m distracted, but sitting quietly makes this impossible. I do not know what makes this sensation worse or better; currently it doesn’t correlate to anything I can pin down. So while I’m supposed to be meditating (still not sure what that means) I’m worrying about this feeling progressing and what it might mean for the future. Losing your sense of touch is a scary prospect.
Whoops I’m supposed to be focusing on my breathing and letting my mind go where it will. But I’m still in control. I decide where my thoughts go. I feel that this meditation session is not going well so I attempt to activate my own dopamine receptors by thinking of something I am looking forward to doing. I’ve achieved sitting quietly and breathing but still don’t seem to be getting anywhere with the actual point of the exercise.
Day 12 Part 2
I just remembered that British Accent Man told me to think of the people that I will be helping through practicing meditation. Namely, the people around me.
Does he know me? Is this The Truman Show? How can he know that I can be a right pain in the ass? Is meditation supposed to fix that, and does that mean my personality will change?
I reject this idea of doing it for others. Once, some time ago, I was talking with a friend about adopting a healthier lifestyle and ensuring that weight stays under control. I said that we should care about our health because of our children, as they deserve to have us for as long as possible. My friend explained to me that this is actually not a great way to look at it. We shouldn’t be doing these things for others. That could lead to feelings of resentment towards a spouse or a child in a dark moment. Instead, we should be doing it for ourselves because we shouldn’t have to live our lives for other people.
Now, neither of us has a psychology degree but that did make some sense to me. I’m not going to say I never asked a person to quit smoking or drinking or to get a colon cancer screening for the sake of their children, because I have certainly done that. But that is to shame a person and to try to get them to do something out of guilt. Negative emotions, in general, don’t spur us to lasting change. Scaring someone into doing something won’t work forever; eventually the fear wears off because a body can not sustain the fight or flight reflex. If you want to be successful, you have to use the carrot and not the stick.
We should update that phrase. Use the cupcake and not the stick. There, fixed it.
I manage to meditate first thing in the morning, as I should be doing. I have a deadline that’s coming up fast and I find myself rather not giving a shit about it. I should be stressed and worried and skipping other daily tasks in order to finish it. Can’t work up a sweat over it. Is that a bellwether of a newfound calm?
My husband says that I perhaps haven’t embraced this process and that’s why it won’t work. That I’m giving meditation a side eye look and that’s preventing me from achieving progress. I am trying to surrender to it but that’s part of the issue: I’m not able to suddenly dive into the deep end in this process. It’s work to overcome my skepticism, which I’ve cultivated over decades, so it’s not going to go away in a week or even two weeks.
Today my mind is mostly filled with low-level background noise but I must actively work myself away from thoughts of the hurt that someone has, perhaps unintentionally, caused me. The app does not tell you how to deal with these kinds of thoughts at all. I’ve now heard from several other people who also find meditation difficult because it gives a space and a time for all the upset to bubble to the surface. The tough realizations can’t be squashed behind the business of life when one sits and concentrates on breathing, with nothing else serving as a distraction to the existential dread. We probably need an app that’s dedicated to Type-A people who think too much.
Rumination is what we might call it. Meditation shouldn’t be a time to ruminate, it should be the opposite, but that’s what it has been today for me. Dwelling on a circumstance I’m powerless to fix and which I can’t seem to move past even though I think I’ve finally given up trying to understand it and make it better. I always say that one of my major roadblocks in life is that I expect people to be better than they are. I have to take what people are willing to give and not look for anything more, particularly when it just isn’t there.
I’m working on it.
This is my 14th day meditating but it’s not the 14th day of my journey. This is because I’ve skipped a few days. Meditating first thing in the morning before anyone realizes I’m awake is the best way because otherwise I get caught up in the day and the calls of “mom, mom, mommy” and can’t get 10 minutes to myself. My children are outgoing and they love to talk: they’re so unlike me in that way that if I didn’t actively see them come out of me I’d wonder what cabbage leaf they were found under. I’m grateful for my children every day but sometimes I need them to shush for a minute or two.
Today I’m meditating in between calls from one of my physicians. There’s been a misunderstanding and we have to change things around. Well, not me. I told them they needed to fix it and I hung up the phone and stopped thinking about it. Normally I would be in frustrated tears but now I’m trusting the professionals that I have hired to fix things and I’m letting it go.
The app tells me today that it will be offering some tips on how to cope with certain thoughts and situations while meditating in the coming sessions. I’m like — FINALLY. This is information that would have been helpful last week! Get it together, British Accent Man!
One of the things about meditating first thing in the morning is that I sometimes forget what went on. I’m tired, it’s before my coffee, and if I’ve had a bad night of sleep (which is almost every night now), I’m not retaining much, to be honest. But the fact is that I’m just not going to do it later in the day. I’m not. That has already proven to be true. So, it’s morning or nothing and you can’t gauge the meditation you don’t do, so it’s best to get it done.
I notice my language on a read-through of this post before publishing. I’m still seeing meditation as something I need to “accomplish” or “get through.” This is perhaps a character flaw of mine: I’m focused on accomplishing things. Finishing an article, a blog post, a podcast, a project, a book. Each day, for me, is measured by what I have “done” that day. When my children were little, it felt some days that “nothing” got done, until a friend reminded me that I kept two people alive and happy for an entire day and that was my accomplishment.
I tried to think of it that way, but if I didn’t get any actual “work” done, I still felt less than accomplished.
Sometimes I think of this in the context of retiring. Yes, I’m still a few decades away from that but I don’t know that I would ever really want to retire. I’ll never have enough money to travel as much as I want (thanks, IBD!) and I can’t imagine being at home with no purpose except to dress, undress, and knit exciting underwear (if you understand that reference, let me know, because we can be friends). The only way I won’t be able to work is if I lose my eyesight or my marbles, so hopefully I can still be productive in some capacity as long as I have my faculties. I might also volunteer my face off in retirement, but I find the non-profit space to be frustrating unless I’m running the show, so that might not be an option unless I start a foundation. And that’s not retirement.
Again, much like meditation, it’s a process. I’m working on it. More to come.