Meditation is hard.

If there is any person on the planet who needs meditation, it’s me. My mind goes a mile a minute all day, every day. Always has. Sometimes I’m OK with that. It’s productive. It creates cool things. It solves problems for me and for others. It dazzles and amazes. Other times, I wish it would just quiet down, already. It gets jumbled and noisy and it makes me anxious. “Just shut up, brain,” I say to it all the time.

Sometimes I want my brain to shut up because it’s just too gosh darn busy. It’s trying to create or solve or puzzle through too many things simultaneously. We’re just spinning our wheels. Nothing is getting done. I don’t feel productive, I feel frazzled.

“Sometimes I want my brain to shut up because the things its working on just aren’t very kind to me.”

Sometimes I want my brain to shut up because it’s time to sleep or relax or just be present…and instead it’s all over the place, either working on real problems or creating imaginary ones. What-iffing. Creating unending to-do lists. Creating should-not-have-done lists. Trying to see the future. Fretting over the past.

And, sometimes I want my brain to shut up because the things it’s working on just aren’t very kind to me. Self-doubt. Self-hatred. Fear. Regret. Embarrassment. Old wounds. Imagined wounds. Past mistakes. Potential future mistakes. Like most people, I have a brain that can be pretty mean to me, when I let it.

Therefore…in addition to yoga, I’m taking up meditation.

Yesterday, I discovered the coolest free iPhone app: Insight Timer. It has lovely background music or sounds and a selection of bells or gongs to start and end, or for any intervals you want to set in your meditation time (some gongs are free, some you must buy as an in-app purchase). Cool. You can also select from a  number of guided meditations.

Insight Timer screenshot

I tried it today. So far, I’m pretty awful.

I set the timer for 10 minutes. Set the background sound to a lovely burbling stream. Selected a deep resonating gong to start and end. Sat in easy pose with my eyes closed in a comfortable room and began to concentrate on my breathing. It went great for a few breaths. Then the thoughts started swooping in like those giant mosquitos in the movie Jumanji. I swatted them away and tried to return to my breath. They buzzed some more. I swatted some more.

mosquito illustration from The Strand Magazine (1910)
Illustration from a 1910 story in The Strand Magazine.1

I opened my eyes and gazed on a favorite painting of Buddha. Then I felt guilty — why?! — for not closing my eyes and so closed them again. Sitting felt uncomfortable, so I switched to Savasana. That was better. Then I was cold. I pulled my yoga blanket over me. Back to breathing. Ahhhh…OK….I’ve got this. Oh no. Back to swatting thoughts away. Totally innocuous thoughts, as it happened, but annoying nonetheless. This continued for what seemed a very long time until the phone rang and broke my concentration. I checked the timer…a total of 2 minutes had passed!


Things I decided: (1) Start out aiming for 5 minutes, not 10. (2) Set phone on “do not disturb” so I can still use app, but not get calls/texts. (3) Get comfortable at the start, and stay there. (4) Maybe try guided meditation for a bit before you go it alone again. (5) Don’t give up.

There’s a reason they call it “practice,” right?!

1  I stumbled upon this wonderful 1910 article in The Strand quite accidentally while searching the web for a picture of the giant movie mosquito I had referenced in this post. I instantly loved this illustration and found it preferable to the Jumanji version. In a wonderfully serendipitous moment, my quest to accurately attribute the source of the illustration brought me to a PDF version of the original article — with even more giant bug illustrations —  which opened with the following lines that I find to be somewhat à propos to the subject of this post:

“We are (save a few contented ones), so apt to be perpetually complaining of the disadvantages and drawbacks of life that we hardly even stop to realize how much more severe and discouraging mundane conditions might be. Suppose the temperature of a really hot day were two hundred degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, instead of a paltry eighty-five or ninety! Or one hundred below zero on a wintry one! Then we might really complain if hailstones were of the size and shape of cannon-balls, and it hailed twice a week.

Or take our insect pests. What a terrible calamity, what a stupefying circumstance, if mosquitoes were the size of camels, and a herd of wild slugs the size of elephants invaded our gardens and had to be shot with rifles, unless Maxim guns were to be employed for the purpose!  Truly, in these respects we are a lucky race, living under almost ideal conditions.”



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