hyperbole and a half

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:

I HATE MEDITATING.

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.

Maybe.

I don't know.

I still hate it.

But I'll try again tomorrow.

Will you please, too? Pretty please?

Sobriety, Santa Clause, Depression & Quantum Physics

NORAD Santa Tracker
NORAD Santa Tracker

On Christmas Eve, Alma's dad and I were tracking Santa to see where he was, how many presents he's delivered, how many miles he's covered, etc. (The story behind NORAD is interesting if you're nerdy like that.)

The first time we checked he was in Chile and had delivered some 4 million bazillion presents and you can see the number ticking up faster and faster.

Alma is five so she doesn't question the viability of Santa making it to billions of houses across the world, or how he knows what all the kids want, or how he carries all that stuff, or anything. This is one of the best things about little kids -- they fully believe in magic. They don't even consider it magic -- they just don't see limitations yet. Life is wide open and vast and it's all possible. Anna and Elsa and Olaf live in Arendelle, which is an actual place you can visit, just like Maine. Santa knows all the kids' personal wish lists and can make it from Chile to Swampscott, MA in a matter of hours.

This makes kids really fun to hang out with (sometimes). It also makes them wonderful students of God.

After A went to bed I was looking out the window and thinking about the way magic like that seeps out of our lives as we grow up, and how sad that is.

A friend of mine said that when he was little, maybe 7 or 8, he had this period where he would be riding in the car with his parents and every time they stopped at a traffic light, he'd look at the people in the cars next to him. He'd see that there were other parents, maybe with kids in the back, maybe a dog. Some cars had just one person, some a whole family. But each time they'd stop at a light he'd look into the neighboring cars and think, when the light turns green, that car and those people are going to drive off to their home, in a different neighborhood, and a different street, where they live with their family, or whoever, and that every car had this intricate, complicated web of people in a story he knew nothing about and the largeness of all those possibilities broke his brain. He said it seemed impossible and too complicated and he couldn't wrap his head around all the infinite pieces of these lives he couldn't see but knew existed because there were those people, in the cars, everywhere.

Little Boy Looking Out the Window
Little Boy Looking Out the Window

Eventually, over time and as we get older, we stop questioning the magic of our own existence and our relationships to others. Not entirely, hopefully, but we never really see the world exactly as we did when we were children again. We can't.

But.

One of the biggest gifts of being sober is that I am starting to see the world with brand new eyes again. I am able to take notice of the smallest details - the textures of the sidewalk or someone's voice, light catching different angles, the miraculous shape of my daughter's nose - as if I'm seeing things for the first time. It's not like this all the time. Hardly. But it is in the morning, in the "thin places" as Elizabeth Gilbert calls them, when we first wake up and our ego is down and we're not quite awake but not asleep and our senses haven't been arrested by the noises of life yet. It is like this then and at other times too, and I am continually surprised at how much I was missing  by being dulled out, dimmed down, either anesthetized by booze or smothered by the anxiety and exhaustion of a hangover. Even in the times I'd gone for brief stretches without drinking, the fog didn't lift - it takes a lot longer than a few days to clear up.

The last stretch of the year before Christmas I was struggling hard. Big, heavy depression type stuff that came out of seemingly nowhere and swallowed me whole for a couple of weeks. I've had plenty of experience with these dips, but the depth of this one surprised and scared me. I hated everyone who could move through the holiday season without thinking about avoiding alcohol. I hated my entire office for their bar crawls and yankee swaps with boozie apple cider. I hated my family and the fact that although all of them drink (some, a lot) I was the one with the big red A on my forehead, forever x-ed out of that type of time spent together. I hated AA and all their stupid fucking sayings. I even felt like Alma would be better off if she had a mom who wasn't so sad, so lonely, so loser-ish. I burst into tears at inopportune times, like when someone came into my office to ask me a question, or while sitting on a crowded train. My chest was clenched shut and all my usual methods for pulling in light were failing me: yoga, sun, baths, reading, meetings, food, sleep, meditation. Nothing worked. I was just stuck.

Depression
Depression

One evening I was lying in my bed again, in the dark, emptied of tears and energy and I thought: I can't do this. I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to really live, either. I didn't want to move to get a cup of water, or go pee, or take out the trash, or call my mom back, or whatever the next thing was. I didn't want to do anything except sleep forever.

A tiny whisper of a thought bubbled up to the surface of my conscious and it went something like this: You must believe in things you cannot see, think, feel or even imagine.

I remembered a talk I used to listen to by Wayne Dyer, where he recounts the time when he started to learn about quantum physics and Deepak Chopra said to him about the subject, it's not only strange to think about, it's stranger than you can think.

It's stranger than you can think.

Quantum Physics Blackboard
Quantum Physics Blackboard

Like Alma with Santa Claus or my friend considering the cars next to him. It occurred to me that the reality that existed in my mind might be...limited. Narrow. A faulty perception. I thought about a conversation I had as a kid when I first read about God's creation of the world and I asked someone - I can't even recall who - how it was possible, how one person could create all this? They told me God doesn't operate under the same rules as people do; that He's infinitely more powerful than we can ever imagine. This made my head hurt, but it unlocked an entire realm of possibility that didn't exist just seconds prior.

This darkness carried on for more days still, but that little thread of a thought cracked a tiny hole in it and a hole was all I needed, I suppose. On Christmas day I felt more warmth and wholehearted hope than I had in some time. It was such a change from the drowning feeling I'd had for weeks prior - kind-of like the first day you're feeling well after a bad flu and simply not being sick is an incredible relief.

So, I don't know. So much of this journey has been about suspending disbelief. Magical thinking. Hanging on for a lot longer than I think I can, putting one foot in front of the other and trusting the universe to roll its tough-loving hands over me. Imagining the world as I did when I was a child: limitless, enchanting and full of Santa Claus magic.

************

P.S. If you've never seen Hyperbole and a Half's comics about depression, take a spin. They're brilliant and beautifully true.