As I say, I’ve recently taken to meditating; every morning, sometimes in the afternoon, evening.
It’s been a month, more or less. Who knows if I’ll keep it up? I don’t even know why, initially, I started. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting it to do anything other than give me half an hour relaxation a day, half an hour ‘me time’. Half an hour sat like those slim white women (always slim, always white, always women) on the covers of books and magazines and in all the stock photography, with closed eyes and that irritatingly beautific expression beaming from the shelves and the screens and the pages of Yoga Today.
OK. I don’t sit like them. I am in some ways preternaturally flexible (hello boys), but I can’t quite comfortably manage a full lotus position – feet on thighs, pelvis square on the floor, stable, strong. I can drag my legs most of the way, and hold the pose out of sheer bloody mindedness while my feet slide down and my ankles end up twisted at an angle that can’t be healthy (and certainly doesn’t feel it), and maybe even stay like that for a full 10 minutes while my legs go numb and my upper back starts to howl, but eventually I have to admit that I will never be a slim white woman.
Besides, I meditate zen-style. Eyes open.
Meditating isn’t about meditating.
I mean, in a core Zen way, mediating isn’t supposed to be about anything. But more practically, mediating isn’t about meditating any more than lifting weights is about lifting weights. And if you lift weights five times a week, then don’t be surprised when you get stronger. That’s… that’s kind of the point.
Even so. I ended up surprised when, after meditating for an hour every day, I started noticing changes.
All you’re doing, in mindfulness of breath meditation, is focusing on your breath.
That’s it. That’s literally it. I sit down for 20 mins at a time and focus on my breath. Yes, it’s an absurd thing to do, but in the big scheme of things it’s probably no more or less absurd than anything else I do. We are born, we die, and we spend most of the intervening time staring at glowing rectangles.
Your mind wanders, you bring it back. Your mind wanders again, you bring it back.
You can see why I wasn’t expecting to get anything from this.
The first surprise was that I got better at it.
As far as I can see, this is some kind of heretical action in the world of Mindfulness(TM). Meditation isn’t meant to be the kind of thing you are good or bad at, it’s just the kind of thing you do. Even in Zen, the idea of being ‘good’ at meditation is nonsensical. It’s a bit like claiming proficiency at staring into glowing rectangles.
Still. It depends what you mean by getting better. My thoughts didn’t stop wandering, but I got better at noticing they had wandered, and bringing them back. I got – on average – better at shepherding.
But meditating isn’t about meditating. I might be pleased when I can stack another plate onto the barbell, but that isn’t the point (the point, obviously, is to not be crippled by self loathing when I’m half naked in a gay club). Similarly, getting better at bringing your attention to your breathing isn’t the point.
The point is to get better at bringing your attention to now, to here. To your body, your environment, your thoughts.
I live so much of my life in my head, wound up whirring on past regrets and embarrassments, future anxieties, fears; nostalgia, analysis, recrimination. Thoughts capture my attention and drag me along with them. I move much of the time thoughtlessly, standing awkwardly, walking unevenly, a careless operator. And all the time, all this time, oblivious to the world around me.
But increasingly now, thoughts bob up form wherever, then sink. I feel the uneven stresses in my muscles, my joints; and realign them. Bring my mind and body back to here, now; back to reality.
So who knows if I’ll keep it up? These days any shift in behaviour, thought, or emotion automatically carries with it the suspicion I’m getting a trickle of hypomania. Carries with it the fear it’s somehow not real.
I remind myself that what I do in the future is meaningless; all that matters is what I do now. Only now is real.