I just finished a two-session meditation course, and it was fantastic. The instructor had, over 20 years of practice, transformed himself from an over-wired, Type-A activity and stress “machine” to a person who speaks and thinks calmly and deliberately, puts life’s annoyances in their proper perspective, and is truly mindful of the joys of the present. He’s more sensitive, productive and happy than he was in his former guise, when his mind would be racing at all hours and he’d be waking up throughout the night jotting sleep-destroying thoughts and ideas down on a bedside notebook. Guess what? he said. All those 3 am brainstorms were not the earth-shattering ideas he had taken them to be at the time. His best thoughts come now, because he allows the machine to shut down and reboot.
My instructor’s personal anecdotes aside, meditation is well-documented to reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels. Stress is associated with all of the big illnesses ranging from cancer and immune malfunction to diabetes and heart disease, not to mention headaches, backaches, skin conditions, allergies, and so on. No one needs convincing that we’re a completely stressed-out society, but did you know that stress triggers inflammation in the body, and that inflammation is now understood as perhaps the central underlying cause of disease? Google it; you won’t be believe what you read.
Anyhow, it seems clear we should all meditate, and it’s all well and good in theory, but here’s the problem. When you’re wired, nonstop and Type-A (like certain bloggers you’re now reading), it is unbelievably hard to stop and sit and clear your mind of all and focus just on your breathing and mantra for 10 or 15 minutes, or even just five.
My instructor gets right out of bed and meditates first thing in the morning, but I don’t want to do that first thing. I want to make green tea and sit in my kitchen, quickly check my email and then write the day’s post. It’s probably my favorite moment of the day. I’ve tried to block out time in the mid-afternoon, when I actually slow down a bit and feel like sitting. But you try that on a daily basis with four little kids running around. Not so easy. Then there’s evening. By the time I get everyone in bed and make it to my own room for the evening, I am either dying to pick up whatever book I’m in the midst of reading or am on the verge of coma.
In moral philosophy, you often run across the concept of akrasia, which roughly translates from the ancient Greek as “weakness of the will.” Akrasia is involved whenever you know that something is right and good, but for whatever reason do not act on that knowledge. It’s in play when you polish off that pint of ice cream that you know you shouldn’t, when you lose it in frustration at your kids, and when you don’t speak up in situations where to do so would be right. It’s in play here. I have meditated at times and have felt the relaxation effect. I have consulted with enough meditators to know that my life would be greatly enhanced by daily practice. (This has been going on for about 10 years, in truth. This latest class was yet another attempt to jumpstart my practice.) So why the hell am I not doing what I know for certain will make me calmer, smarter, happier and a better parent and person?
I really don’t have the answer. But looking back at what I’ve just written, I see that I cannot in good conscience make excuses any longer. So here’s what I propose. I am going to set aside ten minutes daily to meditate for the next week and report back on how it went. I’m going to plan on doing it in the evening because that is the only time my house is quiet enough. If necessary, I will do a few quick energization exercises beforehand that my instructor demonstrated, or, if I foresee a busy or late night with the kids or friends, I will make a point of finding a time and place to meditate during that afternoon. I’m hoping that by setting this commitment out there in writing that I will have more resolve and overcome my akrasia, and I hold out the hope that if I can do this and benefit from it, maybe it’ll help or inspire someone else who is struggling and whose life might also be enhanced greatly by meditation. Talk to you next week.