The following entry is the second in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.
So I've been thinking about the things I've learned on this sojourn toward happiness lately. To say that being on this quest to reclaim my happiness hasn't changed me would be dishonest. I've learned a lot of things about myself and the things that impact my contentment or dissatisfaction. So don't roll your eyes when I tell you the Number One thing I've learned is that you're gonna have to meditate. But hold up, I do not think that word means what you think it means. Everyone goes into it with this preconceived notion of what meditation is supposed to be, like you have to sit cross-legged with your fingers touching in circles in the middle of a deep and verdant forest next to babbling brook, and you will open your mind and the universe will expand…like you are Buddha his own damn self. But that's not what meditation is! Listen here, Buddhafaces: Meditation is whatever the hell works for you.
I know, I know…you've read the barrage of articles that have been popping up in your feed with growing frequency about how meditation helps your mental and physical health, so you tried it and you "suck at meditation" or your "mind wanders all over the place." No. Just stop. Stop fucking saying that because it is patently and blatantly untrue. Nobody has a more scattered and jumpy mind than I do (thanks ADHD!), and even *I've* figured out a meditation style that works for me. If I did it, you can too. Trust.
So what's the point? Why is meditation increasingly being shown to extend our lives and bring down our blood pressure? The central goal of meditation, as I see it, is that it teaches you self-soothing techniques. You are training yourself bring your mind back to focusing on something physical (your breath) when your brain starts wandering (which it will). Of course your mind will wander! That's just human nature. The key is, when you're meditating and you realize you've spent the last five minutes wondering whether you should throw a Star Wars-themed or a cowboy-themed birthday party for your kid, don't then berate yourself for it. Notice it, let that shit go, bring yourself back to breathing, and start counting your breaths until your mind wanders off again (which it will).
This will be you. And that's okay.
The point of intentionally sitting and teaching yourself this when you're in a calm, quiet environment at home is that once you practice doing this in a peaceful environment, you'll be able to bring yourself out of your racing, angry mind during in real-life moments, calm yourself down, and buy yourself a little perspective on whatever's happening. Whether your child has just dumped red paint on the carpet, or you're stuck in traffic behind a little old lady driving 15 miles an hour with her seatbelt hanging out of her door, you'll recognize the signs that you're losing your cool and will be able to take steps to soothe yourself before you let something as idiotic as shitty traffic ruin the rest of your night with your family once your commute is over.
There are, literally, thousands of tiny little techniques you can use, some of them only take a couple of minutes. To use "I just don't have the time to meditate" is a weak-ass excuse. You unconsciously meditate when you zone out in your car on the way to work and suddenly find yourself pulling into the parking lot wondering how the hell you got there. THAT'S meditation, motherfuckers! For reals! If you can do that, you can consciously meditate too!
I meditate in my own kooky way. I long ago gave up meditating how someone else expected me to, and I just started trying all kinds of crazy shit---I chant, I rock, I hum, I karaoke, I curse… Sometimes when I'm sitting there, I chant my mantra: Be Patient, Be Polite, Be Positive, Be Powerful, Be Present. And if I know I have a challenging day ahead of me, I think about how I will apply each of those concepts to my day ahead: "Be Patient….today you're meeting with Bob, who is an idiot fucktard…don't let him get under your skin…when he suggests one of his useless ideas, instead of rolling your eyes, really listen to what he has to say! Okay, so…Be Powerful…today you're meeting with your boss about a raise…you should provide the examples of where you had happy clients who gave good feedback, and if she tries to minimize your accomplishments, firmly remind her of the time you took on that ugly project that no one wanted…" I tailor my meditation toward whatever I feel unsure of or I think will give me trouble during the upcoming day.
Often, I will step outside for 10 minutes and sit in the sun. I then take an inventory of the physical things I'm experiencing. I close my eyes and do slow, controlled, deep breaths and take an inventory of the things I can hear (birds chirping), feel (the sun on my face), and see (floaters in front of my closed eyes), and smell (someone is grilling). I focus on these physical aspects around me while breathing deeply, and 10 minutes later, I'm a new human. I can go back and read the next 20 pages of a poorly written, boring report. I can face the thought of getting on I-80 during rush hour. I can face dealing with The Wife and talk about that argument we had before she left for work this morning.
Or sometimes I crank the chanting, New Agey, bling-bling music and just focus on my breathing while lying in a hammock. Or sometimes I close my eyes and concentrate on the sounds around me in a coffeeshop. Or sometimes I let myself completely lose myself in a song I love. Or sometimes I smoke a bowl and chop vegetables for dinner, the rhythmic ><CRUNCH!>< providing satisfying background music to my zen state of mind. Point being, your meditation can be any way you want, for however many minutes you can grab.
And what is the end result? Does it really DO anything? Is it like "Six-Minute Abs?" Will I "see results in just 6 weeks?!?!"
The world's greatest smart ass and healthiest skeptic on the planet is here to tell you: FUCK. YES. I am a transformed person because of meditation. If my hard-drinking, chain-smoking, burger-eating ass lives to be a day over 60, it will be because of meditation.
Sweetbabykrishna, let me count the ways in which it has helped. The main one being that it has taught me how better to be in the present moment in my everyday life, not just when I'm meditating. "And what does that mean? Being in the present?" You might ask. It means everything.
It means that when I wake up in a bad mood, sometimes I can turn that mood around by stopping and taking stock of my situation instead of blanketly being a pessimistic asshat and assuming the entire day will suck. It means before I get out of bed, I can lie there for 10 minutes and count things for which I'm grateful: "Yesterday I spent an hour wondering whether or not my cat was happy enough. I'd say that means my life is pretty much gravy right now. Last night The Wife grilled that pork loin perfectly. Holy crap, that was good eats. And tonight we’re grilling pizzas? That'll be awesome! I'm lucky that I have access to such good food." It's the difference between starting my day in a shit mood or a sunny mood.
This is you, isn't it?
It means I no longer get that purple, popping vein in my forehead when I'm driving behind slow AF morons. Or standing behind someone counting out pennies to pay for their purchase. It means I better ignore the ugly behavior I see everyday. Whether it's careless, rude, or selfish behavior from another person, it means I don't spend the next hour festering about whatever stranger pissed me off that morning with their stupid behavior.
For example, these are the sort of things my brain says to itself now,
rather than saying them out loud. And then I let that shit slide right out of my head.
It means I no longer get hopeless and relentlessly angry when I read or hear news stories that I know I can't do anything about. It means knowing I can avoid those stories altogether with my own behavior, by refusing to click on things I know will disturb this sense of calm I have.
It means when I'm fighting with my wife, I am more likely to stop and take stock of the situation before yelling something at her that just makes me feel good in the moment but that will have ugly repercussions. It means I can think about the words I'm choosing so that they no longer wound like they used to. (I'm a mean fighter.) It means when I can feel my blood pressure rising, I remember to stop and count to ten instead of letting my whiskey-heated tongue spout out something I'll regret.
It means that when even the most innocuously pleasant thing happens to me, I've learned to stop and enjoy that moment, no matter how small. Whether it's noting that I'm driving with all the windows down on a warm, sunny day or whether it's a really good piece of cheese I'm eating, it means I've slowed down and stopped to appreciate it.
I'm not saying my old, ugly habits don't die hard. I'm still a hopelessly judgmental and angry twat at times. I've spent 25+ years living in major urban environments. Living amongst too many people, too much filth, and too much crime makes for an angry persona. Look, I spent 15 years riding San Francisco's MUNI buses. My PTSD from those years still makes me scream at MUNI buses as they lumber by me whenever I visit the city. Plus, I also spent the same 15 years stepping over homeless people passed out in my doorway, human feces, and used needles, as well as getting mugged…twice. It doesn't take long to go from the earnest, young, fresh-faced Texas girl to a callous city dweller who erects an invisible shield around herself every time she steps out of the house. You have to be hard to protect yourself. Or so you think.
But it turns out, you can live with a healthy amount of skepticism and still be an emotionally charitable person. Which dovetails very nicely into the next thing I've learned these past few years: You're gonna have to work like a bastard to develop empathy.
But I'll save that for my next entry…