In Which I Try to Meditate

One of the items on my holiday wish list was Beachbody on Demand. There are things I don’t like about Beachbody (for example, the name, and also it’s got nutrition/gear upsells and a weird pyramid-scheme-like coaching program). But there’s also a ton that I do like about it, including a huge variety of workouts of varying lengths from trainers that I like. I also love that it logs my workout so that I can feel virtuous.

I am a sucker for Atta Girls.

Along with the workouts, BOD offers Unstress, a 21-day meditation program with a daily 10-minute guided meditation created in cooperation with the folks from the Unplug app. I have never been able to meditate. Which may be because I don’t think I’ve ever tried to do it for more than two days in a row. But, since we all know how the past year has been going, it seemed like a perfect time to give it a shot.

I had been working out just about every day, anyway, because I like it when my phone congratulates me. So I decided to follow my morning workout with a 10-minute meditation for the full 21 days. Here’s how it went.

Each day, Suze, who is the founder of the app, takes a minute or two to introduce us to a new meditation leader who will lead a themed guided meditation. She is deeply serene and introduces each person as if she’s bestowing a precious gift upon us. Then we see the meditation leader of the day who says hello and gets started, and if you peak instead of keeping your eyes closed, you’ll see something serene like waves crashing or cherry blossoms branches in a breeze. At the end of 10 minutes, the leader wishes us a lovely day, then Suze gives us a few words of encouragement.

Day 1-3: I do not know how to shut off my brain. How do people shut off their brains? Yes, I know, let the thoughts pass through. I would do this, but they’ve created a log jam. Also, sitting up straight without moving isn’t very comfortable for more than 2 or 3 minutes. It’s actually painful. My back hurts. This is not going well. Also, the rest of the house is not meditating, so that is not helpful.

Day 4: I am very excited that today the person leading the meditation has specifically offered permission to lie down. This is a massive improvement! Lying down is so much more comfortable. Of course, now that I’m not distracted by the pain of sitting up straight, I notice that workout sweat pooling on the surface of my body and I’m beginning to get what I call “the post workout chillies.” But I do make some progress on the distraction front by using headphones that are plugged into the TV remote, then turning them up enough so that all I can hear is the low key music and the guy’s mellow voice. This is the first man leading a meditation, and I’m slightly surprised that like him very much. Mostly because he told me that I was allowed to lie down.

Day 5: Okay. . . maybe I am making progress.

Day 6: It turns out that using headphones plugged into the remote doesn’t help when you are interrupted by a daughter who urgently needs to know where that thing is that you asked her to move several days ago but that she never moved. The answer is that I never moved it, either, so if it’s gone somewhere, her dad moved it. Except oh, look at that, it’s still exactly where it’s been for days. Perhaps she could have checked that spot before asking me in the middle of Meditation Day 6. Also, Cute W has the adorable habit of cheerfully singing through the kitchen after he finishes those calls that require more than the usual amount of patience assisting particularly needy municipal officials. Which can often be delightful, but not while you’re trying to meditate.

But also Day 6: Suze congratulate me because since it’s Day 6, I have lasted almost a week. She informs us that most people give up in the first week because they feel that they’re “not doing it right.” But then she informs me that if I’ve managed to complete all of these meditations without falling asleep, then I’m officially doing it right. So: gold star for me!

Day 7 and 8: Yeah, I don’t know about this.

Day 9 and 10: Maybe I am getting a little closer? I have learned to swab the workout sweat and put my sweatshirt back on as well as turn down the lights for Added Serenity before I get started. It’s definitely helped.

Day 10: Suze informs me that I am a “consistent meditator” now. . . she’s wondering, has anyone noticed a difference in me? Perhaps told me that I seem calmer? Umm, no. Not at all.

But maybe that is because folks are trying to orchestrate a coup in the middle of a pandemic and the casual complacency is filling me with massive unproductive rage? When you come to think about it, I am basically practicing Defensive Meditation. Possibly if I weren’t meditating daily, I’d be screaming at people in parking lots and picking fights on Facebook.

Day 11: I am feeling particularly cranky and I woke up with a crick in my neck, so I wimp out on my workout and decide to skip the one with a vaguely menacing title and do yoga instead. I find myself looking forward to meditating. I feel like switching from sitting to lying down for meditation has helped me immensely. But then today’s a “moving meditation,” and it feels like I should start by sitting up to follow along. This is a bummer, I think. But once I start, I. . . kind of like it. Halfway through I do end up lying down, and that’s okay, because it’s a moving meditation. This meditation thing may possibly be starting to work.

Day 11 becomes nighttime: The second impeachment has happened and my dad is in the hospital and I miss M and I can’t sleep and I have forgotten to bring headphones to my nightstand tonight, which means I can’t use my usual coping mechanism of an audiobook to distract my brain. I try meditating and fall asleep.

Day 12: This one’s only a 5-minute meditation and it’s supposed to be “energizing,” so I presume I have to stay upright. But then as soon as she starts, I’m told to lie down. And it is breathwork. And, I know that this is unexpected, but. . . the “Morning Energy” meditation is weirdly energizing. After I finish, as I walk upstairs from the playroom/workout room, I have a massive smile on my face, which is not at all how I was feeling when I’d gone downstairs to work out. I feel like I’ve reached some new level.

Day 13: Meh. This meditation is fine, but I don’t feel like I’m on that new level so much. But I am regularly incorporating a little sleepytime meditation in the evening.

Day 14: Today’s meditation is supposed to put you “in the zone” to prepare for some big event, like an important game or meeting. Trouble is, it is a Sunday in which I have zero plans except to lay about, so the theme doesn’t really fit. I feel a little sulky, wishing I could redo Day 12’s “Morning Energy” meditation. So after the 10-minute meditation, I do that 5-minute meditation, too.

Day 15: Today I’m supposed to be “Cultivating Gratitude,” and I think I’m pretty good at gratitude, in general. But I am chafing at the leader’s directives. Instead of pondering how grateful I am for my excellent daughters or husband or cats or sunshine or flowers, I am being asked to ponder how I am grateful for various bodily organs. It’s not my cuppa tea.

Day 16: Today I’m supposed to “Amplify Calm.” But it turns out that my novice meditation capabilities are insufficient to amplify calm on a day when I know that M is getting a COVID test after exposure to a positive person and a “suspicious headache” yesterday. Also, today I’m instructed to assume a specific bodily posture, and I resent it. The point of the 21-day program is that you get a wide variety of guided meditations from different leaders who employ diverse techniques and themes, and hopefully some will specifically resonate with you. But after feeling like I was really into it on Days 12 & 13, I’m starting to resent anyone who’s not doing it for me in quite the same way. I am clearly not opening my heart or amplifying calm or anything like that. But I will, will, will complete the 21-day program, so I’m going to try to come to the next day with a better attitude.

Day 17: Okay, we might be getting back on track. I like this woman’s voice.

Day 18: The theme today is “Release & Let Go,” which feels unbelievably appropriate because it’s Inauguration Day. I am so ready to “release & let go” of the 45th president of the United States, and I find this meditation really working for me. I can’t stop smiling when I’m done. And yes, of course this is helped along by current events, but it feels deeper than just that.

Day 19: Today’s theme is “Grounding to Be Present,” and I really do feel myself sinking into the ground. Or, really, the playroom carpet. I find myself wishing that it were warm outside and I could do this out on a towel in the sunshine. I expect that sometime in the future I will.

Meanwhile, have you noticed that I’m actually paying attention to the themes now? There was a theme every day, but I think at the beginning I was too busy trying to not think about other things to be able to focus on the topic at hand. So: there’s progress.

Day 20: Suze starts out by warning us that this one that it’s going to be challenging, with more silences that will allow thoughts to come in. And I do find myself thinking about work tasks and household tasks and even random memories. There’s a little bit of visualization to this one, and it works, somewhat, but I’m finding that the easiest way to completely shut my brain off is to think of specific words as I breathe in and out. Also, I know I might be starting to sound goofy, but I’m kind of wishing that these meditations were a bit longer? I feel like I’m just getting deeper into it at about the 7th or 8th minute, and then it’s almost done.

Day 21: Suze congratulates me on completing the entire 21-day meditation challenge, which I appreciate, but then she claims that she knew all along that I’d do it. I am skeptical because way back on Day 6 she informed me that most people don’t make it a week. So, which is it, Suze? Huh?!?

In any case, with this meditation, I’m setting an intention for the day, and I decide to go for a little more random joy. It feels like it’s working. That night, just as Cute W is heading upstairs to bed, he says, “What are you so happy about?” And I say something like, “Do you want to know why I’m happy?” And I am about to explain about setting my intention during morning meditation, but before I do, he responds, joking (and, I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something like), “Is it because you’re cozy and M is feeling okay and the cats are cute and you have wonderful daughters and a spectacular husband?” And I said, “Yes. That is exactly why.”

Day 22: I am definitely hooked. As the end of the challenge was approaching, I had already started planning what my new revised routine might be. BOD has more guided meditations, and Suze suggested that I could replay my favorites from the challenge, and of course I could pay for Unplug. Instead, after a bit of checking, I download a free app, Insight Timer.

Insight Timer is one of those free apps that has tons and tons of free stuff to offer, but of course there’s much more if you want to pay. Which I don’t, particularly, and so I was delighted to discover that the basic Timer function offers exactly what I was envisioning.

You can set a timer for however long you want, and you can choose from a variety of meditation-y sounds, like gongs or chimes, to mark the time. You can also choose ambient sounds like waves on a shore, choir song, a fire crackling, or combinations like water-with-birds-and-wind-chimes. It took me a bit to settle on a favorite, but I’ve become a clear “Nature’s Melody” enthusiast, which is mostly babbling brook with some faint birdsong.

The first time I used the app, I was thrilled to discover that it, too, offered up an Atta Girl:

As you can see, I am now about a month into my My Beautiful Meditation Journey. And this is not at all what I expected, but it has actually been a Beautiful Meditation Journey! Seriously, I began documenting this thinking that it would likely provide comedy, like that time I “live blogged” a car trip. And instead, I’ve got the kind of calm steadiness and low-key joy that I had hoped that CBD would provide (yep, I tried that, too–it’s been quite a year, after all–but it didn’t really do much for me).

I wouldn’t say that I’m actually good at meditation yet. I don’t exactly reach an altered state, and thoughts still do swim into my head, although it’s less “to do” stuff and more of a dreamlike emergence of random items from my subconscious. In fact, part of the reason why I’m writing this blog post now is that until I’ve written it, my most distracting mid-meditation thoughts are persistent observations about my experiences and how I will report them to you. And I would like to shut those down, thank you very much. But before I shared this post, I had to catch you up on M’s having COVID, and I wasn’t going to update you on that until it was resolved, so I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern.

Day 33: These days, I am meditating for a total of 17 minutes after my morning workout. I lie down and swaddle myself in a blanket next to a space heater because the basement is chilly.

It turns out that if you are warm and still enough, you might get a meditation partner.

For 14 minutes I think about absolutely nothing, except imagining that I’m actually near a babbling brook, or that I’m breathing in joy and breathing out stress, or something like that. Then a little interval gong goes off and I spend three minutes doing the “morning energy” breathing that I like so much until another little gong goes off, at which point I sigh contentedly, unwrap myself from the blanket, and happily trot upstairs to make myself a smoothie. I can’t promise that I’m not going to increase from 17 to 20 minutes soon. Oh! And I have become much better at shutting my brain down for sleep at night. Off the top of my head, I cannot recall any other habit change that I’ve made in my life that’s had such a positive impact with zero painful effort.

So! Wanna try?

Tips on starting to meditate from a complete and utter novice

  • Be as comfortable as possible. Why the hell not? If you are SO comfortable that you fall asleep, your problem is that you need more sleep. Change your sleep routine, and then circle back to the meditating.
  • Decide you’re going to stick with it daily for an absolute minimum of one week before giving up.
  • If you’re using a phone app for meditating, don’t forget to switch to Do Not Disturb mode.
  • Check the volume ahead of time, and if you’re using Bluetooth headphones, make sure that they have enough power. A mid-meditation “battery low” message does not serenity bring.
  • If you have an itch, just scratch the damn itch. If you resist, it will just take all your attention to resist. Random distractions like this will recede as you practice more, but you can also build an extra minute into your meditation to “settle in.”
  • If you are doing a guided meditation and you find the guide annoying from the outset, just do something different. There are too many choices for you to spend time on what’s not working. (Or as Cute W would say, “quit quickly.”)
  • If you do a really hard arm workout, it’s better to operate your meditation app before you lie down. Otherwise, when you’re lying on your back and holding the phone above you, you may drop your phone onto your forehead and it will hurt. A lot. Like, surprisingly a lot.
  • If one day you are just too distracted or something happens and things don’t go as well as you’d expected or hoped, just choose to accept it and forgive yourself and remember that whatever the day’s meditation experience is, it is all part of a continuing journey. This is not something my friend Suze said, specifically, but it is the type of thing that she would say that would cause me to roll my eyes, but also, it is reassuring and true.
  • If you find that you do love meditating, try to restrain your evangelizing because I’m guessing that it can get tedious for others to hear about pretty quickly. For example, you might confine yourself to one blog post. Or tell me about it, and we can high five. Not right now, though. We’ll high five after we’ve had our vaccines.

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