On Trickery, Meditation, and Cosmic Orgasms
I was shamelessly tricked into my first meditation. Frankly, up to the point when I started attending my MBSR-course (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), I had regarded anything tied to the idea of sitting in lotus and humming strange sounds as suspicious at best and weirdly esoteric bullshit at worst. And to be completely honest: with meditation I largely connected soul animals, universal orgasms, judgmentally demonstrative exhibits of body hair and organic knitted wool socks in combination with sandals as well as healing crystals or the incessant burning of incense sticks — the intensity of the latter, being a Highly Sensitive Person, having been a problem for me for as long as I can think. On top of it, it was simply unthinkable for me to spend twenty minutes of my precious life just doing that. Twenty. Minutes. Wasn’t this excruciatingly long and painful? I could watch an entire episode of The Mindy Project during that time. And yes, that’s how I measure time units in my life.
To be fair, I was raised in a strictly Christian context in which all of these things — even the practice of yoga — were repeatedly criticized for either their supposed ridiculousness or their mysterious danger. It has taken me a good while to untie myself from the thought paradigms I was brought up with, but today I practice yoga (sometimes), I eat organic whenever I can afford it, and if people feel that crystals help them, then they probably do. Who am I to judge if I haven’t tried it myself? Over the years, I took the time to examine the wisdom of other religions, of other people. I figured that “love thy neighbor” first and foremost means to be genuinely interested, to care, to invite people of other beliefs and traditions into your life, to overcome your fear of strange otherness. The enemy of love is fear, and most of the judgements I had grown up with were in fact, I was bound to realize, grounded in hidden anxieties.
But! Meditation. Despite my broadened horizon, that one I still didn’t get. Thankfully, life tricked me into doing one without knowing it: when our eager group of course participants sat down to do their first mindful “body scan” of forty (!) minutes, followed by a practical introduction to “breathing observations” of twenty (!) minutes, I was having tremendous fun. This was great! How fascinating! And exhausting. Our verbal exchange of thoughts and sensations after these first “exercises” was equally enriching: most of us had somehow assumed the goal of these fun experiments was to end up floating in a sort of state of complete relaxation. But no, that was not the intention, our teacher explained. “The goal of mindful meditation is not to be relaxed; it is simply to sit in mindful meditation.”
HOLD IT right there! Did you say “meditation?!”
Yes he did say meditation. But! I hadn’t even pictured dolphins hovering around in the cosmos! And I hadn’t mumbled “ommmm,” either! That is how I learnt that there are various kinds of meditations. Simply put, the way I understood it, there is the type of meditation where you try to not focus on anything in particular so as to achieve complete freedom from your thoughts; that would be the kind of exercise in which you choose a certain phrase or word, for instance “Om” (which in itself is in fact a word that means so much more than just “Om”), to keep you from thinking other things. And then there is the type of meditation we did, in which you focus intensely on one thing, for instance your breath, or a flower — with the same idea in mind: to be so focused and centered that you are relieved from the everlasting noise of your own thoughts. Theoretically.
In an instant, I was fond of it. If this was meditation, then let me have twenty of them right now. Except that sometimes, I did not end up being relaxed AT ALL. Sometimes, it was infinitely hard to focus on just my breath. My mind simply kept shooting thoughts at me, relating to anything and nothing; the past day, future errands to run, randomly flashing memories that had absolutely nothing to do with this particular situation. Other times, it was plain boring and every second I just wished a little more desperately that the bell would please ring. More often than I wanted, I actually dozed off — me, the insomniac who can lie awake at night for hours on end without knowing why. (And by the by, ever since I have started meditating, I tend to fall asleep like a sloth on its favorite branch). And then of course there was the not wanting to feel deep into my body at all, about which I talked in my last post, “Confessions of an HSP: The Importance of Knowing Yourself.” Indeed, the amount of obstacles to reach the admittedly addictive state of being all breath or all ears or whatever was surprisingly unlimited, but over time we learnt that in mindfulness, all of this is irrelevant.
In mindfulness, you observe what is. Why? Because what is is in fact the only thing that is. Everything else isn’t, so why deal with it? Really, the only goal, if you could at all call it that, is to observe what IS in the present — with friendliness and nonjudgmental curiosity. (More about what mindfulness really entails here). In any case, this means that there is no ultimate state to reach in mindful meditation, either. You meditate to meditate. Everything that happens during your exercise is simply observed without a moral comment. It is certainly advised to try and focus, but it is seen as a natural given that your mind will wander, because that’s what minds do. It is almost certain that even Gandhi’s mind wandered. Every time you are distracted and NOTICE that you are, you are already being mindful again. The trick then is to return to your breath without scolding yourself. So you were on a little excursion! Now you’re back to breathing. Congratulations!
Everything that happens is in itself an important piece of information about yourself and how you work. For example, mindful meditation has, through mere observation of my own thoughts and reactions and judgments, taught me what it really feels like to be stressed. It has unraveled to me the mechanisms of why I am severely influenced by the mood’s of others. These are realizations that have in turn changed my life to the better, because I am no longer oblivious of what truly happens when I feel a certain way. In seeing the true dynamics, I get a chance to decide whether or not I actually want to react the way I used to react. Now THIS is freedom.
Lastly, meditation has also taught me that, the times in which I actually am as lucky as to reach an unbelievably reassuring, calm, peaceful state of complete focus, there is nothing more amazing than being right there. For the first time in approximately twenty-six years I can again feel like an unborn baby that is entirely surrounded by and embedded in the regular, mysteriously soothing sound of life-giving breath. And let me tell you, never before in my life as a human residing outside of a womb have I experienced this sort of calm. These “breathing observations,” these “body scans,” and yes, let’s face it, these “meditations” have become my personal ticket to reconnect with my body on busy days where my head tends to swirl around in its own infinite world of thoughts. And these moments of reconnection are what keeps me grounded in times when I need it most.
So, thank you for tricking me. Tricking me into breathing, and looking at flowers, and feeling my toes. Thank you for tricking me into being overwhelmed by endless boredom, and then by endless goodness. It has been an unexpected pleasure, and I am relieved to know that it is possible to meditate entirely without cosmic orgasms. Although. Now that I am thinking about it, that sure does sound intriguing.
PS: With regular — and by that I mean daily — training the mind actually learns to tune out thoughts quicker, meaning that accessing the place of calm in fact does become easier with time. But sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s when it gets real interesting!
PPS: My surroundings have over the years become more open to the idea of such things as yoga, meditation, and even other religions. (Clapping!) It seems that, with the increasingly normalized presence of yoga classes and the growing medical knowledge gained in connection with the advantages of meditation, it has become quite impossible to remain rooted in fear.