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Why meditation is worth doing badly

Have you ever tried to thread a needle? It can be maddening. It’s not impossible, though. And with time, the task becomes easier. Now imagine threading that same needle while wearing oven mitts dipped in grease. That’s how I feel when I try to meditate.

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Let me back up a bit. I was an angry kid. I fought a lot and gave my mother the blues. I argued with everyone for any reason (or no reason). I was quick to verbalize my frustration. It’s like I was watching a movie I couldn’t pause. No matter how much I wanted to let things go, my efforts usually resulted in an emotional explosion. Even after college, my anger had the propensity to resurface without warning. It wasn’t something I could control. After one particularly trying day, I got home and made dinner. I was down to my last piece of fish, some risotto, and a few stalks of broccoli. I laid aluminum foil on a baking pan for the fish and preheated the oven, then seasoned the fish with some sea salt, cayenne, agave, and a little bit of turmeric. I put it in the oven and turned on the stove for my risotto. I chopped up broccoli and waited for everything to get just about finished before steaming it. Cooking was not something I usually did, I just didn’t want to drive in the snow. Plus, I was ready to open a bottle of wine I had received on my recent work anniversary. The timer went off and my fish was baked to perfection. The risotto was finished and even though I left the broccoli on a bit too long, I was happy and ready to enjoy my little feast.

I put it all on a big red plate and headed to the living room to watch another “Law & Order” marathon. I got comfortable, but before I took a bite I realized I didn’t have any bread. There were a few sweet Hawaiian slices in the cabinet, so I got up to grab some. That’s when the unthinkable happened—I knocked over the plate and all the tranquility I worked on fell in slow motion to the laminate floor. I stared at the mess in disbelief. Normally I would have immediately hit something in fury, but instead, my body froze and my eyes played connect the dots with the bits of food sprawled around my home. I announced to the empty room, “there are plenty of fish in the sea”, and chuckled. There was nothing I could do, so I laid on the couch and talked myself out of a tantrum. If someone walked in during those five or ten minutes, they’d probably think I had finally lost it. That was the first time I meditated, and I started by thinking of the scene from "What's Love Got To Do With It" where Tina Turner learned a chanting meditation. Since then, it always starts the same way. I create a comfortable space, close my eyes, and breathe deeply. That’s when my brain starts the sabotage process. Is the water running in the bathroom? Oh, I need to call my grandfather and check on him. I miss my grandma. Damn, I forgot to cancel my Netflix subscription. It’s 7:45, so if I meditate for ten minutes, that gives me 15 minutes to get ready for work and head out the door. Let me just check traffic… Just like that, my eyes are open and I’m moving. I don’t understand how people do it. I’ve tried listening to guided meditation clips on YouTube. I’ve been to retreats and classes where everything smells like damp regret, but I always feel out of place and irritated. Trying to meditate used to frustrate me more because I never felt like I was doing it right. Why couldn’t I instantly find peace? How come the people in the videos never got leg cramps?

Now, after almost four years, I still have trouble calming my thoughts. My mind wanders. I feel restless, so it’s difficult to sit still. After all this time, I haven’t advanced at all. Yet somehow, it still works. So many people from my past approach me and tell me how afraid they were of me. I wasn’t completely clueless about my insensitivity, but I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude until a few months after I started meditating. I started noticing how tense people were when I spoke to them—like a dog caught eating out of the trash. Apparently, I made more than one person on my work team cry after their quarterly evaluations. Meditation helped me empathize with rather than interrogate my employees. One of the lowest points in my life was when my husband left me alone in the hospital with our newborn. Aside from breastfeeding every few hours, I mostly just stared at the walls. I didn’t intend on meditating, but there was nothing else to do. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The sabotage started and I just welcomed it as part of my meditation process. Is my son still breathing? Oh, I need to call my grandfather and let him know Jr. has arrived earthside. I miss my husband. Damn, I forgot to cancel my Netflix subscription. It’s about 10, so if I go to sleep now, that gives me 30 minutes before I need to breastfeed again. Let me just check and make sure he’s breathing… Meditation has opened doors I thought my anger had permanently locked. I understand meditation is not something I should seek to perfect. It’s not a competition. As clumsy as my method feels, it still helps me make a more meaningful contribution to everyone I encounter. Unlike threading a needle with greasy oven mitts, meditation is worth feeling silly. The most important benefit is that I am passing on the importance of reflection and empathy to my son. And that makes the whole experience worth it.

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