When Meditation Doesn’t Work
My legs are sandbags when I take the final breath. I slide my hand under my knees, lift, and allow my legs to plop down a few times before the subtle vibration of feeling returns. It has been somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes since I sat back on my heels to meditate, and I’m still irritated. The feeling of unease swells inside of me as I navigate my small house on this Tuesday morning. The loud, voracious way my husband is stirring his coffee near, the incessant clinks and dings, grate as I pour myself a cup of coffee. I’m not eager to start work today, day 14 of quarantine. Today, I just want to lash out at the world.
This is a highly personal journey
Almost 15 years ago, seemingly yesterday, I walked in the break room of Barnes & Noble, the bookstore that sustained me financially throughout my undergraduate career. Silently, I retrieved my lunch from the fridge. A new bookseller, a standoffish but hyper-intelligent woman in her twenties, was sitting cross-legged on the big break room reading chair.
“Can’t you see I’m meditating?” she huffed, and as I evaluated her scrunched face and reddening cheeks, I couldn’t help but laugh. This made her angrier. Perhaps she was new to the practice of meditation, I thought. Perhaps it wasn’t for her.
Because there is so much press around meditation and mindfulness, I have often wondered about the true impact meditation has had on my life. I’ve had a regular practice for over a decade, and I’ve done my research. I’ve read studies about meditation increasing the gray matter in our brains and helping us to feel more emotionally calibrated, especially during times of collective stress. But how much meditation is necessary? And are there limits to its impact? As someone who teaches and promotes meditation, I am always seeking deeper answers to such questions, and I think that my current irritation may offer some insight. From a physiological perspective, the act of meditation or prayer or chanting, no matter how short or irregular, can trigger certain responses in the body, releasing stress and helping to calibrate emotions, if temporarily. But, like all of life, it’s a practice. There’s no finish line or universal prescription.
Practice deepens with time and dedication
For me, writing offers similar effects, and if I’m in the zone while writing, the outcome is near the same, replete with sensationless legs. Both acts enable me to attune my thoughts and handle the often-overwhelming facets of life by allowing space for new perception. So, as I plan to try that next, I go for my first sip of coffee.
I have to take a deep breath, total and new, as my husband drops the long spoon in the sink and loudly stomps over to my side. He knows he’s annoying me, and he thinks it’s funny. As he breathes over my shoulder, I can’t help but think of that bookseller’s irritated face. I try to replicate it as I turn to kiss him. Maybe this is an essay about meditation, but maybe it’s also a love story. Or a story of magic. Because with the kiss, I fill to the brim with gratitude.
Some days of these quarantined days, I finish my practice and snap at my husband. Others, I credit my practice with steadfast calm and clarity. The truth is, whatever brings us peace is positive, but so long as we are human, we must remain open and willing to accept our emotions as well. What I am coming to realize, and what that bookseller may or may not have understood, is that we are multifaceted and, therefore, fully alive. Perhaps what this or any grounding practice does is allows us to see ourselves from different perspectives. The view isn’t always beautiful, but it allows us to dive fathoms deep into a single moment and own it fully.
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