Waxing nostalgically or having flights of fancy are easier for me than being in the here and now. This is not a new phenomenon; I discovered this about myself when I first started meditating. As soon as I closed my eyes and began to breathe deeply, my mind would find a memory, devise something to plan, or flash in my mind someone or something about which to worry. Holding my mind in a steady state of the present without thinking for even a minute or so took tremendous effort, which decreased my level of relaxation, and thereby defeated the very purpose of my meditation.
I decided to do some Internet searching on meditation and came across an Everyday Health article about how more Americans are meditating. Results of a CDC survey about the overall health of Americans taken in 2012 and 2017 showed that there was an increase in alternative therapies like yoga, chiropractic care, and meditation by both children and adults. This caused me to reflect on why I adopted meditation as a practice. It was about a year after my 30th birthday. While some people have a hard time accepting their age around 40 or 50 years of age, I had my crisis when I turned 30 years old. I became hypersensitive about how I looked as if I were just getting acquainted with my face and body. I wanted to change everything.
I was working as a counselor at a predominantly White community college where, in addition to a workload similar to my colleagues, I was, by default, the resident problem-solver for all issues involving Black students. Personally, I was figuring out how to begin work on a doctorate degree while working fulltime and doing what a fulltime wife and mother who stayed home did for her family. At the same time, my husband and I had made a decision to go out on a thin and dangerously wobbly financial limb to buy a house.
In my mind, I could handle this and more, but my body evidently was not as strong-willed, My stomach ulcers got so severe that the doctors said no medicines would help –I was the only person who could cure them. At this point, I was willing to try anything. Alternative therapy was a last resort; I chose meditation.
I participated in the required rituals and sessions and was given a mantra to use in my daily meditations. From that time on, I’ve been faithful in my efforts. My family has always been supportive, giving me quiet time and space to practice. I have no excuse, then, for my inability to be in the here and now with my mind void of all thoughts for an extended period of time.
It is not being “mindful” that I have a problem with, as I go about doing things thoughtfully, paying attention to all the qualities and aspects of any given task. I relish the time to sit quietly and focus on my feelings, my surroundings, and what’s happening with my body sensations. But for 45 years, I’ve struggled to clear my mind of all thoughts for just a few minutes in order to meditate to my standards. While I’m meditating, I’m often thinking about how poorly I’m doing it because I’m not totally in the here and now.
I once told my grandfather I didn’t know how to spell something he wanted me to write for him. He responded, “Don’t worry about spelling it, just write it down.” Similarly, even as I’m writing this critique of my efforts to meditate, my thoughts are on a different frequency, urging me to stop judging and evaluating how well I’m meditating and just meditate.
Too often, we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, immobilizing us from simply doing what needs to be done. It is only in the doing – whether that be taking a first step or continuing in something – that we grow and hone our practices.