APRIL 6, 2015—I meditate. Nearly every day since 2008, I’ve pulled out a blue meditation cushion given to me by a friend, crossed my legs and closed my eyes to focus on my breath.
My practice started in 2008 when I attended my first two meditation retreats. The second one was a 10-day retreat in Occidental, California. The recorded voice of S.N. Goenka taught us how to pay attention to our breath as it came and went through our nostrils. At the end of the retreat, which involved sitting for at least 11 hours a day, I felt a fire take hold in my chest. I know that sounds strange, but that’s how it felt. I had found a practice that made sense for me.
For two years after that, just as S.N. Goenka encouraged us to do, I meditated for two hours a day. I also attended more retreats. The last was a three-month silent retreat in Barre, Massachusetts at the Insight Meditation Society. After that, I lost some of my enthusiasm. For me, coming back from the retreat was harder than being there. I had to confront an intensely over-stimulated, quick-moving and insensitive society. After being quiet for three months, that was hard.
My work life became more demanding. My two-hour practice dwindled, first to an hour and then to only 30 minutes a day. But I never stopped. I would do small experiments every now and again. Feeling lazy some mornings, I would skip my morning meditation practice, saying to myself, “Haven’t I already done enough? Shouldn’t the results be in my body by now?” Inevitably, I would get in a fight, or become more upset than usual over something small. The conclusion: my days just go better when I sit.
Despite all this meditating, I am not the perfect person. I still get triggered by circumstances out of my control. I feel more at ease with the world, but my sister can tell you I have yelled at her. I don’t always know the right answer though I’m better at pinpointing the source of my confusion. Loud arguments still hold court in my head with people who do not see things my way. But I can at least temporarily, make them stop in my mind. None of these reasons are why I meditate. It helps me locate a peace inside. On my blue cushion, my mind settles. I hear the birds sing. I sense a space inside that doesn’t know or care how many deadlines I must meet today. I like that feeling.
Lately, I’ve been writing about how meditation may improve your health. Does it? I don’t know. We’ll have to let the scientists figure that one out. Meditators apparently do better at sleeping through the night. Not me. Lately, insomnia knocks. On a good night, I wake up once and fall back asleep. Other nights, I wake up, look at the clock and when it hits me hours later that I’m still not asleep, I sometimes sit up, pull out my blue cushion and meditate. Usually, that does the trick.
Meditation is also supposed to lower stress. From my experience, I think that’s probably true, but let me tell you, it has not eliminated it. I still get stressed out. Sometimes I imagine I can feel those molecules of cortisol, the stress hormone, running around in my blood. At that point I get worried and wonder if I’ve meditated enough. I think to myself, “Maybe I’m not doing it right.”
So in my opinion, meditation isn’t that silver bullet, the magic pill that medical science is always searching for. I don’t expect it to solve my problems, health or otherwise. But if the science holds up, there’s a good possibility that it helps.
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