Gabrielle Bernstein

What Meditation Really Looks Like (I Hate Oprah and Deepak)

I need to get something off my chest. I have to call myself out. I have to tell everyone that I've been kind of lying to, or even sort of lying by to withholding. I have to rat myself out because today it just has to be said.

Here it is:


Like,  I loathe it. I hate even the thought of it. When I'm doing it, I hate it 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time my ass falls asleep and I think the blood to my brain gets cut off, so I forget how much I hate it for that second.

I don't like it at all.

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but today kicked off one of Oprah and Deepak Chopra's 21 Day Meditation Challenges.

Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation experience
Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation experience

I saw it everywhere - in my inbox, on Facebook, in text messages, Instagram, everywhere. People I  respect and admire and who are my teachers like Gabrielle Bernstein and Pema Chodron and Mastin Kipp were blasting out reminders yesterday and today to Join! Be a part! Love! Hug! (Groan.)

I even sent texts to people yesterday with the same info, like I was giving the FYI to join, that I'd be doing it (obviously, DUH!).

But then today looked something like this:

  • 5:15 am - Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
  • Repeat above unconsciously every 8 minutes until 6:45. Fuck off all intentions to wake up early and meditate and write.
  • 6:45 - Roll out of bed, annoyed, and already a little behind.
  • 6:46 - Drop to my knees to say, Hi, God. Can I get some help today? Please? Cool. Thanks.
  • 6:47 - 7:54 - Do the morning routine with my daughter, which is incredibly organized for me,  but far from "organized." Success is: we both leave the house clothed, she eats something that's not the leftover cupcake in the fridge, teeth get brushed, she has a lunch she won't throw away, and I remember the keys and will not be locked out later. We both suffer a little every day.
  • 8:03 - We pull up to her drop off lane at school and she cries because her ski pants were still wet from the night before, because she peed in them mid-ski. Cars are honking and I'm trying to tell her it's ok, that she'll be able to play in the snow tomorrow, and please get out of the goddam car.
  • 8:04 - I drive away successful. She is not tardy today! She's been tardy 16 times since November, I found out Friday. 15 of those are on my watch.
  • 8:05 - 9:12 - Commute to work. Try to find zen on the train, but fall asleep instead.
  • Start Monday. Negotiate with the parts of my brain that are at work, and the parts that are elsewhere, which is about 94%. Ask some of that 94% to please join me here, now. But the tug of war has already started and I'm agitated and battling myself at about a level four. Level five has tears. I breathe deeply. I exhale. I close my eyes. I plot my to-do's, I write them down, this helps.
  • 10:47 - The school nurse emails and Alma isn't feeling well. I toss out my plans to go to a noon meeting or the gym to fix myself.
  • 12:18 - I go to pick her up.
  • 1:20 - We are home. She watches a show, I retreat to the bedroom to work.
  • All afternoon - I pivot between work and me baby, resenting both.
  • 3:50 - She comes to hug me and presses her hands against my face and I'm suffocated by the smell of POOP. I jerk back and scream, What the hell?! And she says, well, we ran out of toilet paper. (She's right. We did.) I say, NO EXCUSE, and I start to run the shower, but she won't get in, she's screaming at the top of her lungs, so I strip down and drag her in with me. Because this is what we do. We do what works.
  • 5:14 - I get a meditation reminder from fucking Deepak and Oprah and decide maybe this is a good time, before I try to do anything else, before I make dinner, because maybe I should hit the pause now. Like my snooze button.
  • I tell Alma I'm going to meditate for 20 minutes, and what is she going to do? She says, watch a show. Perfect. I put on a show.

Now, the fun really starts.

I put a pillow down and shut the door to my room. I go to find today's meditation in the app and see an Instagram notification and dive into an Instagram rabbit hole for about seven minutes before I regain consciousness and remember the task at hand. Then a call comes in for work that I answer. Then I get a text from a friend who just came out of surgery. Then I remember Alma has homework. Then I remember: MEDITATION. 

I open the app, find Day 1, sit down and close my eyes, assuming the position.

Oprah's voice comes on, welcoming me to the journey. Cool.

The recording suddenly stops. I open my eyes and grab my phone. Another work call. Inhale, answer, talk, work it out, go back.

I start over. I listen as Oprah does the intro, then Deepak takes me through today's mantra.

Alma turns the iPad up to full blast in her room, then screams for me.

I ignore her.

She comes in, grabs my hand, drags me into her room and asks me to buy a game.

I say unkind words and walk out.

I hit play, again. Restart.

A minute or so in the thing happens that usually happens when I sit down to meditate and my mind fucking EXPLODES.

My brain releases every to-do and distraction. Every thought I've had for my entire life and a few more.

My body starts twitching.

My brain says, GOD, you suck at this. Seriously? You're a YOGA TEACHER. WHAT THE FUUUUUCK. Stop this right now. Sit up! STOP. Stooooooooooooop.

And I remember everything I've ever learned from every teacher I've known and I say to my brain, I see what you're doing and I call BULLSHIT. Now please, please darling, get out of the way.

More twitching.

I get lost in a spiral of thought, pew! Like a pinball! Pew!

One thousand monkey squirrels on adderral dance around.

One hits my eyelids and forces them to snap open, STOP IT, YOU'RE MESSING IT ALL UP!

My legs twitch and bounce.

My butt loses circulation.

I shift and stretch my neck.

It has been about three minutes.

You get the point.

What Meditation Really Looks Like

Meditation for me does not look like this:

Or this:

Gabrielle Bernstein. Love her. Hate her so much right here.
Gabrielle Bernstein. Love her. Hate her so much right here.

But more like this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then probably this:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

And then, finally, total despair:

Photo credit:  Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Photo credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

But, I will do it again tomorrow.

I wanted to post this to say:

  1. If I've ever told you I love meditating, I was lying, and I'm sorry if I made you feel dumb because you don't love it.
  2. If you feel like you're doing it wrong, you're not.
  3. If you feel like you don't have the time, or the right spot, or the right life, or too much chaos? Me too.
  4. I'm going to do it again tomorrow, and I need you to do it with me.

Why? Why would I do it again tomorrow? And why do I want you to join?

Because I've learned in the past year that when I'm pushing against something really hard, when I meet up with resistance this strong, I need to face it. Because it's the one thing - literally the one thing - that every spiritual teacher from the beginning of time swears by and agrees on and I'm going to assume maybe they're on to something.

Because that same part of my mind that tells me I can't meditate told me I couldn't live without drinking, and it was so totally wrong.

But I wouldn't have known that if I believed my brain.

Because maybe, if I can cultivate the ability to sit with myself for one minute, I can do it for another, and another, and all that might lead to a lifetime of hanging out with myself as a compassionate friend, versus being with myself as an enemy.


I don't know.

I still hate it.

But I'll try again tomorrow.

Will you please, too? Pretty please?

Day 3: Gratitude is The Attitude (Groan), Pumpernickel Swirl & Interrupters

I'm doing the Gabby Bernstein's "May Cause Miracles" 40 Day fear cleanse based on A Course in Miracles. If you want to join along, email me at or find me or on Instagram where I'm posting about it daily. 

My attitude clearly sucks these past few days. I literally groaned when I listened to Gabby's voice saying, "Day 4: Gratitude is the Attitude."

But I took notice, and just started writing. Pen to paper. I started to make a list of things I am grateful for. No editing, just the first (17) things that came to mind:

1. Alma 2. Coffee in the morning 3. The 'interrupters'* 4. My job - that I have one, that I can support myself 5. Candles 6. My new home 7. Living by the sea 8. That I stayed sober one more day 9. Breathing - the yoga kind 10. That I have ways to heal myself 11. My sponsor 12. My grandmas - both of them - who are both sick 13. AA - that I have a place to go 14. Today - that I was able to wake up early 15. Our capacity to change and choose 16. Quiet 17. Fucking music - duh!

By the time I reached 17, I felt an energy shift - a bit of lightness.  It's not that I'm against gratitude, of course, but sometimes - and especially lately, maybe because of Thanksgiving and too many 'internet wisdoms' - it feels saccharine and fake to proclaim "GRATITUDE IS THE ATTITUDE!" Maybe my ego is just resistant as all hell right now as I'm working through these daily practices.

Point is, sometimes we're feeling it, sometimes we're not. But there's great purpose in practicing it with intention regularly, because just like prayer, yoga, or showering, it needs to be a regular practice. "You can't stay clean on yesterday's shower." Thank you AA, for yet another overly simplistic but profoundly true aphorism. <3

While I was writing this morning about today's lesson, I thought of two things.

First, when I was in my early 20's and working for a .com start-up, I had two co-workers and friends: Jeff and Mark. Jeff and I dated for a while on and off - my first lesson in the 'don't poo where you eat' mantra of dating in the workplace. Mark was an ultra-smart Princeton grad, sensitive, funny, tall and warm. Jeff was a goofy but very cute mid-western boy, a bit out of his element in Boston, but wide-eyed about it, too. The three of us palled around a lot, and when Jeff and I stopped dating and I was bumming about it, Mark said to me one day,

"Jeff is striving to just be ok. Not great. Not better than average. Just ok. I don't see you with someone who is striving to just be ok. He's like white bread and you're pumpernickel swirl."

It's probably important to say Mark wasn't trying to be with me. He had a girlfriend he was crazy about and there wasn't any magic between the two of us. He was just pointing out what he saw as an obvious observation. You're this; he's that; you can do better than that. He wasn't even being mean about Jeff - they were good buddies. Dudes can talk like that. But I never forgot it. Just striving to be ok. Huh.

The second thing that passed through my mind this morning were these lyrics by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco in the song "Please be Patient with Me."

"I'm this apple, this happening stone when I'm alone my blessings get so blurred at the sound of your words"

We need to intentionally think about gratitude because our blessings get so blurred.

The interrupters: Anne Lamott talked about how at some point in her recover process, she had developed relationships with so many people who were invested in her sobriety, that she couldn't just disappear anymore. If she went off the radar for more than a day or so, she'd get calls or people would show up at her house. She called them the interrupters.

I've experienced this twice in the past two nights - both nights that I wanted to drink and was *this* close to actually doing it. The first night, I was out with my daughter for dinner and contemplating whether or not to order wine - reasoning back and forth, back and forth. I knew the waitress was going to come to the table soon and I wasn't sure what would come out of my mouth. Then, the first text rolled in from a girl I recently met in AA. "Hey, how're you feeling today?" Then, my phone rings - a newcomer who'd recently relapsed and when she asked me for tips in early sobriety I said to pick up the phone a lot, call people, even if it's a practice call and you have nothing to say. Then, another text, from Holly. Then, another text from a guy, also in the program. All at once. Then! And this is the best part. As I'm ping-ponging in my head and responding to these texts I hear Alma's voice come into focus,

"Mama. Maaaama. MAMA!"


"Look at this." She puts the pat of butter in my face. "It says AA."

I laughed. Seriously? Seriously?! Fiiiiiiiiiiine. FINE. Not today.


Then, last night, we had some time to kill because I had left my keys with someone at the office and needed to wait for my landlord to get home. I was agitated all day and my mind starts ping-ponging again. I take Alma to Super Cuts to get her hair trimmed because she's looking orphan-like and when I walk in, there's newcomer girl.

A wants to go to dinner so we go to a pizza place and my mind is still all haywire and getting louder by the moment. We sit, I contemplate, take a deep breath and look around. Right across from me, in a busy restaurant with a zillion faces I don't know, is a guy I know from the program. He smiles, I smile, and I just shake my head.

Today I woke up sober.

Day 2: Become Willing

I'm doing Gabby Bernstein's "May Cause Miracles" 40 Day fear cleanse based on A Course in Miracles. If you want to join along, email me at or find me or on Instagram where I'm posting about it daily. 

Day 2 of 40: Become Willing

This one makes me defensive and angry almost immediately. I understand the point. Instead of holding onto your story lines which your ego often creates, so you can be right, justified, angry, whatever, you can choose to elevate out of the particular story line and choose to see love. Or try to see it, anyway. Try to take a different perspective. Be willing, at least.

But this can be a bit dangerous, too, particularly for someone like me. This can easily be taken as "pretend like you don't feel anger/rage/sadness/pain/frustration/jealousy/hatred and skip right to the 'it's all love' and 'I forgive you' part." I spent a lot of my life pretending like things didn't bother me, denying entire swaths of myself and then getting praised for being so 'resilient.' Dangerous. Super dangerous. It wasn't until I was 33 and in the middle of a crashing marriage and the grips of addiction that a therapist said to me, "You know that's not resilience, that's repression." Ohhhhh

Denying entire parts of yourself so that others can feel okay - so that then you are okay - that's not 'choosing to see love' in this case. I know that's not what the intention of this practice is; that there's a place to work out the content of things and a place to practice elevating out of the story lines to connect with the general goodness of your own heart - God, the universe, our buddha nature, love - so that we can remember who we are. To remember we are not our thoughts, our shame, our fear - that we experience those things, but they're not who we are.

Earlier this fall I did a yoga workshop with Seane Corn and talked a lot about this concept. Probably the most important thing I took away from that weekend was,

"You can't bypass the 'fuck you' to get to the 'I forgive you'."

The 'fuck you' part is important. It would've done me a lot of good to be able to say 'fuck you' to a lot of situations and people in my life - even if only internally - without feeling like the negative feelings would completely vaporize me. It would've been really beneficial to have some balls.

So, I will practice this as choosing to see love, with balls. <3