I’ve been working on this “first post after the trip” for quite some time now. I can’t say the work has been productive or the writing exceptionally good. In fact, most of the time when I sit to write, I look out the window or just stare at my screen. After a couple of half-hearted attempts and looking back on the drafts I have written, I think I’m afraid. Afraid of all the things I fight when I meditate; afraid to fail, afraid to look stupid, afraid of missing opportunities.
The trip provided a safe place for my writing to hide behind. I gave myself an endless amount of excuses. If I didn’t post enough, I chalked it up to living out of a trailer. If I couldn’t think of anything to write, there was always a new place to talk about. If my writing sucked, well, I was just doing something fun that no one should be taking seriously anyway. The excuses gave me the courage to write.
Today, I don’t have those protections and the words on the screen seem scarier than ever before. I find myself saying, “write anything Dan, even if the words are garbage, you can finish a post and find some gratification.” Then the other side of me responds, “do you really want to put shit out into the world, even in the form of a little blog?” The self talk is constant and more negative. I feel a pressure from that dark side of my psyche.
I meditate every day as a means to quiet the noise in my head as it can be a pretty loud place at times. The story how I found meditation doesn’t include shamans in Peru or Tibetan monks and it really isn’t that interesting, but it’s an important story for me as I believe that without it, my life was headed in a direction that didn’t lead to good things. 2.5 years ago, I was stressed out, edgy and not happy inside. Externally, I was positive, appearing happy and confident, but internally, I was fighting every day. I had a beautiful and supportive wife, amazing daughter, great house in a fun city, good friends and financial stability. While there were challenges at work, I had everything and more and considered myself the luckiest guy on the planet (still do). I was eating healthy food, getting sleep, frequently exercising, and generally doing all the things “experts” say you should do to live a happy and fulfilling life. Checking all the boxes on the “what to do for happiness” list, I still wasn’t. Things came to a head one day when my toddler daughter was crying and refusing to put her clothes on so we could go to some function of some sort. The event clearly wasn’t important as I can’t remember what it was, but I vividly remember what I did next. Anger and frustration boiling inside of me, I lost it and started yelling at her. Yelling is probably an understatement, I was screaming. The look of sheer terror from my tiny and helpless daughter is one I will never forget for as long as I live. That look is what drove me to meditate.
Immediately, I knew I had to make a change. Without changing, I felt as though I was running the risk of losing control of myself. Not to overstate things, but I could see a path where my relationship with my family suffered or worse. Knowing that I was doing nearly everything “right”, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happier, why I was frequently mean to my wife and kid, and why my insides always felt like they were on fire. My search for answers didn’t last long. A co-worker had mentioned meditation a couple of times and I heard about it from a plethora of random sources on the web. Feeling a little desperate, I went online, and downloaded the first meditation app I could find. Change had begun.
Starting my “meditation practice” was painful. I would sit on a chair or a pillow and follow the guidance of the voice in my ear buds. Nearly everything the calming voice said would annoy me and when there was a moment of silence, the voice in my own head was even louder and more annoying. Sitting for 10 minutes without fidgeting was nearly impossible. Listening to the instruction of, “relax and concentrate on your breath” seemed like a mocking joke. I could barely hear my breath over the thoughts of “Dan, you suck at this. Quit. This shit doesn’t work.” However, the guided apps were a start and while the first couple of weeks didn’t bliss me out to where I was walking on air and shooting rainbows out my ass, they did give me a feeling of accomplishment and strength. It felt good to be doing something that made me (whoever me is) feel in control.
Keeping with it for 10 minutes a day, I very slowly began to realize small victories. Namely, I started to notice when my thoughts were coming into my mind and when they left as I sat. Some days the gap between thoughts would be longer and some days the gap would be nearly zero. Whenever I had trouble finding the desire to sit, I thought of my daughter. Over time, I stopped meditating for her and started doing it for me. I enjoy the daily time out from all the craziness both inside and outside of my head. Every once in a while I can feel stress lifting from me after meditating. It’s a focus and mindset change that exercise doesn’t give me. Overall, I just feel a tad more positive than before.
Today, I continue to take my daily meditation practice seriously. After reading numerous books, listening to podcasts, watching youtube, and attending two silent retreats (more on that in another post), my practice is one where I will sit in silence for anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes. I still don’t think I’m very good at it, but the feeling of control (albeit very small amounts), makes me feel empowered. The point is not to be “a good meditator”, it’s simply to show up every day and put the work in. This is easier said than done as I am frequently battling the thoughts of “do better” or “do more.” Meditation hasn’t removed any of these thoughts, but it’s given me some additional power over myself, when the thoughts arise.
I’m still searching for answers, but I’m grateful for the answer I found in the eyes of my daughter. It wasn’t fun realizing the fear my child could have for me and the process of taking more control over my emotions hasn’t been an easy one. I still have incredibly edgy days where I can’t outrun my thoughts. Sometimes my meditation practice feels like it actually makes things worse rather than better – as it provides greater awareness towards feelings and emotions, sometimes the result is greater frustration at my current situation. However, this is always temporary and as my practice has grown, the control and benefits has grown with it. Many days I will settle into my chair thinking that nothing can change my mood. Yet after 30 minutes of doing nothing other than listening to my breath, I leave forgetting what I was upset about to begin with.
A meditation teacher of mine once said, “there are two paths to which we make change in our lives. One is hope and the other is desperation.” Desperation led me to find meditation. I do not believe that anyone has the right to tell another person what to do or how to live their life. We are all on our own journeys and only we know how best to live it. Whether you are desperate or hopeful, I hope you can find what you need to live the life you choose.
Should you wish to explore some of the resources I found useful, I leave the following:
- The Calm Meditation app – this was my favorite app after trying a couple others
- How to Meditate – Sam Harris’ no nonsense approach to meditation
- 9 Minute Guided Meditation – Sam’s quick guided meditation that I enjoyed
- Tara Brach Guided Meditations – Tara is a meditation teacher that has a ton of excellent guided meditations to try. I particularly like her teachings on being present