Sunday, July 17, 2016

F@#!ing Meditation

It’s coming at me from everywhere, like a Zen door-to-door salesman that knocks at the back door when the front door isn’t open. I keep hearing about the research that supports it; how it helps people cope with stress; the way it actually rewires your brain. I see people who look completely “Zenned Out” and I know, I just know, that they have a meditation practice. What I can’t figure out is why I’m having such an issue creating one, too.

It’s not that I’m opposed to self-care – not in the least. I journal every morning; do yoga two to three days a week; take walks purely for the access to nature (while also appreciating the positive health benefits of the exercise); and have regular appointments with people who help me calm the fuck down when I’m feeling riled up. But this meditation thing keeps coming up, and I keep looking at it like a vegetable I’m supposed to eat but can’t quite bring myself to choke down.
The problem is two-fold. One: most meditations encourage focusing on the breath, but – and I realize this is an extreme reaction – I absolutely HATE focusing on my breath. For example, I had a counselor who always had to remind me to breathe when I was in the midst of processing something highly emotional. More than that, however, I find that when I focus on my breath, I get this monstrous wave of anger that comes at me like a tsunami, and it’s outward focused at whatever calm, soothing voice is telling me to breathe. “Don’t you know,” I want to scream at this voice, “That breathing is DANGEROUS?”

Wait, what? That’s the crux of it, invisible audience. There’s something about breathing – about taking the time to focus on my breath – that feels dangerous, like the world will come crashing down; time will stop; or maybe suddenly I’ll just evaporate. Clearly this comes from the reptile part of my brain – the part that cannot bring itself to realize that actually there is nothing dangerous about a relaxed state and that breathing is actually synonymous with not being dead. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think it’s somehow linked to the idea that if you’re hiding in the woods, for example, and someone is looking for you to kill you, they’ll hear you if you’re breathing, find you and dismember you. When I watch movies and these kinds of scenes appear, that’s exactly what I’m thinking when the man or woman is hiding behind a tree trying not be butchered by a crazy person. “WHY ARE YOU BREATHING? DON’T YOU REALIZE THEY CAN HEAR YOU? HOLD YOUR BREATH OR DIE, YOU DUMBASS!”

So, clearly, I have a hang up about the very essential, life-giving nature of breath.
Second, if I manage to get past the breathing – say, focusing on something else that’s less life threatening – I come face to face with a chasm of grief so deep and so wide that it feels like the sun will fade before I will ever get through it. This is, perhaps, what the fixation on the danger of breath is actually protecting me from: standing at the edge of this ocean of tears and feeling the hopelessness of never being able to cross it.

Logically, I can know it is likely not as deep or as wide as I imagine. I can see that crossing it one stroke of the paddle at a time is the way to get through it, instead of wringing my hands from the shore. But you know what, invisible audience? There are people who never fucking cross this ocean. There are people that cannot bring themselves to even stand on its shores and look across it, despite the fact that it may be their life’s work. And as much as I fear crossing this ocean, my deeper fear is that I will forever be stuck wringing my hands on the shore, unaware of what exists for me beyond the horizon, and whether it’s as far away as I think it is.

“Well, at least you know what you’re up against,” one of my meditating friends told me when I described my struggles with meditation. I wanted to slap her, even as I recognized the truth in her words.

So despite my fear, my anger, and my grief, I will continue to try, one step at a time, to wade into these waters. And funnily enough, one of my favorite lines for coping with grief comes from the timeless rom-com classic, Sleepless in Seattle, and has to do with breath.

When the radio talk show host/therapist that his son has called asks Tom Hanks how he will deal continue to deal with the grief of losing his wife, he says, “Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning... breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out.”

Love and deep breathing kisses,