I recently passed a hundred hours of meditation on an app called Insight Timer. A big, round number, and an unfathomable number. A number that sounds like an accomplishment and a punishment. One hundred hours of community service for myself and the people around me, spread out in 20-minute increments over the course of a year.
I want to say that meditation has been there all along, in the form of running. It’s odd to think that I might have been meditating when I was fifteen, that potent age (a “diving board, a box half-opened” as the writer Amy Silverberg describes fifteen in her short story “Suburbia”). That running might have made adolescence easier for me than it otherwise would have been, for reasons besides camaraderie, leadership, succeeding at something, and being in the outdoors every afternoon. But running also seems like a too-easy shortcut to meditation: the pain and the force of motion distracts the mind from thinking. When you’re sitting on a pillow, there are infinite distractions from within, because there are none without.
To avoid the inner distractions, I use a mantra of made up words. This isn’t exactly transcendental meditation, because I didn’t pay thousands of dollars to have someone give me the mantra, but it’s inspired by that school of thought. The mantra is not a prayer or a projection, but a kind of reassurance about what this 20-minute moment is. Wishing and projecting comes later. I also try to visualize something: a third eye, or a glowing orb, the latter method borrowed from the ultrarunner Timothy Olson (he talks about it here, in a very inspiring episode of Munchies). I let my mind see what it wants to see, as long as the images don't give way to thoughts.
It’s hard to quantify the impact these 100 hours have had. It feels something like being a goldfish who (allegedly) forgets a thought within ten seconds of having it. My mind has been rewired to let most things go before they grow too big and take over my thoughts (and actions). This means that I don’t speak just to say something much anymore. I think before I speak, and sometimes I choose not to speak at all. It means I don’t vent as much, because the negativity is quashed before it feels like a physical urge that must come out in order to be disarmed.
It also means that I feel less myself, and more part of some mysterious and beautiful process, as cheesy as that sounds. A process I feel much more grateful to be experiencing than I did a year ago. I think a lot about what I have, and hardly at all about what I don’t. I buy less, I waste less, I compare myself to others less. What unites us feels more palpable to me now than what separates us. I’ve always been pretty sensitive (and a Pisces), but with meditation my mind seems to receive even clearer signals about how the people around me are feeling. It’s this sensitivity that seems to fuel the desire to say less, observe more, feel more.
Does this result in a passivity that might, in certain cases, be unproductive? I thought about that a bit (this idea was the basis of a really irritating op-ed in the Times a few months back), and decided that I don’t care if it does, because I suspect that a lot of one's urge to be heard comes from the ego. Meditation has also made it easier for me to discern the difference between which part of me is talking: ego or—well, soul.
Now for some real talk that may only be interesting to women readers: there are still a couple of things that, for me, prevent meditation from being the ultimate panacea: PMS and caffeine. I’m working on eliminating caffeine from my diet completely, for a number of reasons. One of those is that I typically meditate after a cup of coffee, but find late afternoon or evening meditation for me is even deeper, more concentrated, and more effective. I suspect this has something to do with my caffeine levels being pretty much at zero by late afternoon. And PMS, well, that’s a nearly lifelong battle, but I have found that ashwagandha, a vegan diet, and not experimenting with new things like supplements in the middle of a cycle, seems to make that weeklong situation a lot less hellish.
—Brooklyn, NY, February 22, 2019
Photo by Chris Waits