I’ve spent enough time chasing peace to know a good percentage of us meditator types are habitually frazzled. We’re working every angle to eke out moments of reprieve. Before following stay-at-home orders, if I was late for yoga class heaven had to help other drivers when I was barreling along Ventura Boulevard to get my serenity on.
Let’s just say meditation and I have history. Initially, I was among those who didn’t want any part of it. I spent my 20s and 30s embracing a turbocharged lifestyle and wasn’t keen on smoothing out my edges. Yet bizarrely, I kept signing up for meditation, usually along with yoga at my favorite San Fernando Valley studios. I must have known something good would come from it.
I accidentally started practicing yoga 25 years ago at a friend’s suggestion. She lured me into it, reminding me she met her husband in class. At first, I went grudgingly, though I liked learning that yogis refer to themselves as “practitioners.” It means we’ll never be perfect at it; we’ll just keep practicing. As a recovering perfectionist, it was a relief to learn I’d never be proficient at calming down.
My passion for nonstop activity meant that while I embraced the movement segments of yoga, I could barely tolerate the meditative sequences, especially the final resting pose, when we lie on our backs and relax. For years, my mind responded with “When will this end? Should I get sushi for dinner?” My thoughts could even turn on me with lines like, “Can’t you hit the off switch, even for a minute?” Sometimes I bolted from the resting pose before class was over, disrupting my classmates.
As it turns out, the years I’ve spent in hot pursuit of a calmer state have had a positive effect. My mom says I’m not short with her anymore. My husband isn’t chided quite as strongly when he accidentally deletes the entire series of my favorite TV show. Since I no longer clunk my way out of class early, my fellow students don’t side-eye me through their meditation.
My practice has certainly come in handy during the pandemic. My body remains more flexible, helping soften my shoulders when they crunch up over the latest California COVID-19 statistics. My busy mind has a fade-out knob that helps me ignore political bickering. Although I can still push back on the whole “quieting my mind” business, in 2020 I started attending my little meditation group more often.
Even so, my interior world frequently reverts to its native, anxious posture; so I keep taking another turn on my yoga mat, another crack at my entirely imperfect meditation practice.
I don’t pressure myself to be a world-class meditator. Most mornings, if all I do is set the timer for five minutes, good enough — even if my mind races the whole time. The benefits sometimes show up later in the day, like when I’m on hold for 30 minutes with the cable company. I might remember to take a breath and even enjoy the wait (if not the interminable hold music).
For a professional overcomplicator like me, I wondered how to choose meditation teachers to follow. Some had a vocal quality or used musical accompaniment I found irritating, as if they were trying too hard to be soothing. I’m sure those teachers inspire many people, but not every instructor is going to be everyone’s cup of green tea. I’ve got to have chemistry with my mentors.
Probably my favorite teacher is Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, who freely shares her own foibles and challenges. “I have this hopelessly unworkable, nonmeditative mind, and I’ve devoted my whole life to it,” Chödrön said at one of her talks. To explore meditation styles in short spurts (for those of us who have yet to master our impatience), I suggest Insight Timer, which offers a staggering array of instructors (those who love British voices will be in heaven), andthe Monterey Bay Aquarium’s MeditOcean series.
Last year I put my dogged nature to use and signed on for a yearlong intensive yoga training. Even after all my grumbling, the training I chose included generous doses of meditation. Now I can teach, perhaps to students as resistant to meditation as I was. They’ll find out many of their teachers don’t have the whole serenity thing all lined up. Hopefully, they too will discover it’s fine for them to seek peace, even if they never actually get a handle on it.
I’m especially looking forward to the students who are averse to meditation, the ones who come late and leave early — until perhaps they begin to stay.