How to Fail at Meditation
This is how I wish I mediated.
I wish that I stretched peacefully, contentedly into the morning light, feeling serene after a night of peaceful sleep. I wish that as I lit the candle on my little shrine, that candle that helps me focus my thoughts, and smelled the essential oil as it began to heat, I felt a sense of connectedness and wellness suffuse my being. In this imaginary land, as I gazed at the candle and deepened my breathing, I would know that I was a beautiful, essential part of the universal whole. The sense of lovingkindness and joy emanating from me would immediately transfigure any intrusive thought that floated by, any worry or concern. I would send out love to all humanity, knowing instinctively that as I did so I raised the vibration of my perfect inner self. Finished at my practice, I would be astonished that any time elapsed at all, so at one was I with space, love, and the Universe. I would move forward with greater love for myself, and, because of this, greater love for others. Every person and place I touched would be changed for the better because I had been there.
Come with me on a little journey inside what really happens when I sit down to meditate.
The alarm goes off and it SUCKS. How can it already be morning? How is this even possible? Didn’t I just fall asleep? Night Laura has once again screwed over Morning Laura. I whack the snooze button and moan cuss words into my pillow for a while before stumbling out of bed to pour a cup of coffee. Thank God for programmable coffee makers, amiright?
The dog is whining in her crate and on the kitchen table is that stack of stuff I TOTALLY meant to put away last night and didn’t (you know, normal household stuff like a pink wig, magic markers, and sewing materials), plus housework I meant to do and didn't (the kitchen floor is CARPETED with dog hair) and wow, there’s some unopened mail, but early morning is so not the time to cope with mail, and anyway the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. I fully intend to read something peaceful, like some Rumi poetry, or a spiritual development book, while I drink my coffee, but instead I scroll through my phone because I need to know how many people liked my Facebook post from 11:35 pm the previous night, which is what I was doing to avoid the work that I was supposed to be doing instead of sleeping.
I look at my watch and realize I spent way too long over that first cup of coffee (and on my phone) and if I don’t go meditate now I’m gonna be late to work. Again.
I go into the office where my little meditation post is housed and sit on the meditation cushion and CRIMINY I HAVE THE KNEES OF A 90-YEAR-OLD WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. The candle’s burned down to the wick but I don’t want to get up and get another one so it’s just me and this lousy candle which may or may not get the job done where the essential oil in the burner’s concerned.
I start the meditation track on my phone and the guide invites me to breathe in Oneness and breathe out the energy of my dreams and I’m part of the way through this when I realize I FORGOT TO SEND THAT IMPORTANT EMAIL AND NOW I’M GOING TO LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT. Why on earth did we think email was going to make our lives easier and more efficient, by the way? Remember when we didn’t have cell phones or emails? Nobody could get in touch with us when we weren’t at work. Remember how that was awesome?
Crap. Breathing. Oneness. Good land, my right knee is a mess. It shouldn’t hurt for me to sit like this. I really hope this is a muscular problem, not a more structural one. Not that I have time to go to a physical therapist. I don’t even know a physical therapist. I wonder how one gets referred to a physical therapist. I wonder if they even deal with people like me who refuse to stop running when their knees hurt.
“I welcome in the power of the Universe,” my meditation guide says, and I’m trying, at least for like a whole breath, I really am, but I forgot to message my daughter about that thing last night and WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH ME I have like 3 separate planners and a desk calendar and a phone calendar and Outlook and I still can’t keep track of all my things. I used to have all my important phone numbers memorized and now I barely know my own phone number. Am I getting dumber? How would I know if I were getting dumber? What if I get, like, 2% dumber every year, and I don’t notice, and then suddenly I’m really, really dumb but I’m too dumb to notice?
Breathe. Breathe. I am open to all the blessings of the Universe. Blessings is such a weird word. You know what else is a weird word? Homunculus. Also "cleave" is a weird word. It means a thing, but also the opposite of that thing. Isn’t it weird how we use words to describe things? I wonder how we all agreed on those particular assortments of sounds to mean something. People have so much trouble even agreeing on what kind of tacos to make, how did we all agree that “chair” meant “chair”? I sometimes feel like disagreeing with people on general principle, because I’m annoyed. I’m also annoying. My gosh, I was REALLY annoying in that interaction last night. I really do not know the limits of acceptable behavior sometimes (most of the time).
For crying out loud, woman, what’s wrong with you?
I mean, apart from the knee, of course.
“Namaste,” says my meditation guide, and that’s it, meditation is over.
Once more, I have failed to transform the Universe with my overwhelming beneficence and lovingkindness. Once more, I’ll be heading off to work incredibly likely to swear at the driver in the next lane. Once more, I’m stepping into the shower absent an overpowering sense of serenity and wellness.
Except there were a few seconds where I really was focused on my breath.
There were a few seconds where I felt a little trickle of peace. Not a flood, just a trickle, but it was there.
There was a nanosecond during which I really felt a sense of connectedness. Not even a full second, just a passing sensation, but I feel like it was pretty much definitely almost certainly there, probably.
And those few seconds I felt failing at meditation today are more peace and respite than I experienced when I was failing at meditation 6 months ago.
I started meditating when I was going through one of the Worst. Times. Ever. (Full stop.) For the first few months of meditation, I felt pretty good if I just stopped hyperventilating long enough to listen to a full sentence from the recorded meditation guide. If I retained ANY information or insight from any portion of the meditation, it was a win.
Now, some days, I can focus on my breath for, like, 30 seconds, and I hardly ever hyperventilate at all.
And some miraculous days meditation actually does make me feel more peaceful and loving, even if I did a crappy job concentrating.
My husband likes to say, “Trying to pray is praying. Trying to meditate is meditating.” Maybe looking at meditation as something you have to “win” at – something you have to be a guru at every single day – defeats the whole purpose of meditating in the first place, just like declaring a winner after a group yoga practice (something one of my close friends dearly loves to do) really defeats the whole purpose of yoga.
Because meditation isn’t a stick to beat yourself with (“I’m the worst spiritual person ever, I can’t even meditate for 5 minutes”). It’s supposed to be a way to fall in love with yourself, and with the Universe. It’s your date with yourself. You’re taking yourself out to a nice restaurant, and treating yourself to a nice dessert of interconnectedness.
And, as with all dates and all relationships, sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it really, really doesn’t. The important part is to keep showing up, to keep being open to the possibility that you will be able to offer yourself welcoming hands full of love at some point in time, as your breathing slows and your mind clears.
So, tomorrow, if you find yourself in an armchair or meditation cushion or the couch or a bench under a tree, meditating and failing HARD at it, just know I’m out there somewhere, failing super hard, too. And maybe the day after tomorrow, we’ll fail just a little bit differently.