I considered different titles for this piece: If I Didn’t Meditate, Would I Be a Monster? Why Even Meditate If I Still Stress Out? I Give Up on Meditation.
But I don’t give up, even as I wonder, why not?
As many of you know, I’ve been on a meditation streak for some time now. And, an exciting moment happened recently. I did NOT notice the day I passed three years straight in my streak. I meditated. Like it was any other day. Then, ten days later, I suddenly thought, “Wait a minute, did I pass my three-year anniversary of this streak??”
The reason I missed it is this: The first time I saw my mother after the start of the pandemic was in late August. I hadn’t seen her for 19 months. The last day of our visit was my 1000th day of meditation. Since then, I am reminded each day of how long it has been since I last saw my mother. I send out a wish that that day count will not get anywhere near the 500+ of our last interval.
Is it okay if I take a moment here of celebration for three years straight of meditating every-every day?
And, I had one of the worst finish-starts to a year in memory. I got news on December 21st that a yearlong training program I’m in was going to continue with an in-person weekend the first week of January. The email explained all the reasons for pushing back against strict pandemic regulations in Quebec, which only got stricter as the next couple of weeks evolved. And the email said that the majority of the email recipients had been consulted. Not me. I was not in that majority. Plus, I was special needs, given that I was crossing an international border to attend, and all the added risks that entails. I was not worthy of consultation. My opinion did not matter. I slipped into the vortex, a downward spiral of increasing stress.
Yes, indeed, I fueled that spiral all by myself as I contemplated all the pandemic risks. I deployed all my tools to self-arrest, including meditation. While I could alleviate some of the stress, there was a core nugget that kept moving into darker and darker corners of my psyche. My always-borderline-fragile sense of belonging had been threatened and nothing grounded me or lifted me or offered me ease.
I sat on my meditation cushion and observed my erratic heartbeat fail to settle. I sat on my meditation cushion and watched my staccato breath struggle for smooth passage. I sat on my meditation cushion and felt enraged and heavy and sad.
I kept sitting. Day after day.
No remission of stress. In fact, I managed to work myself up enough that it spilled out all over my partner and set fire to the closing-opening of the years. Then came the news on Monday morning, January 3, that the in-person weekend would be delayed a month. I should-have-could-have been relieved. Instead, I was angry at myself all over again. How could I have allowed myself to stress out about something that simply resolved itself (more or less and with zero elegance)?
Which brings me back to the other possible titles for this piece. If I hadn’t been meditating during these past weeks, would I have been out-of-control monstrous? Would I have lit my angry fire earlier and kept it burning on a higher setting? Is the goal of meditation to never stress out? Or is it to notice that I am stressing out, instead of spending my energy in denial and/or blaming someone else for my stress? Why don’t I give up?
Because. I value the information I glean from the particular discipline of daily observation. I can’t make all my stress go away. I can’t make myself into an angel of patience, which I’m not. I can notice more. That noticing, in and of itself, offers me relief. The sliver of ease may be barely visible to the naked eye, but my nervous system is grateful for the scintilla of extra space. This is not good marketing language for a meditation-is-the-answer-to-everything sales pitch. Meditation is not the answer to everything. It is one tool in what is ideally an ever evolving and updating kit.
Last year Kim (of this blog) and I challenged each other to write a poem every two weeks (there’s a post coming later today about that). As I was looking through them, I came across this haiku that captures why I continue to meditate:
And if I lived true/ open curiosity / no judgment or fear?
The promise of meditation is that you will notice more. That’s it. That’s enough.