The Value of Embracing Imperfect Meditation Practices
Trying to thread a needle can be incredibly frustrating, but it is not an impossible task. With practice, it becomes easier over time. However, attempting to meditate feels just as challenging to me as trying to thread a needle while wearing greasy oven mitts.
Let me provide some background. During my childhood, I frequently displayed anger and engaged in fights, causing distress to my mother. I would argue with anyone, often without valid reasons. Expressing my frustration came naturally to me, as if I was an observer of an unstoppable movie. Despite my efforts to let go of my anger, it would often result in emotional outbursts. Even after completing college, my anger had a tendency to resurface unexpectedly. On a particularly challenging day, I returned home and decided to prepare dinner. With just one piece of fish left, along with some risotto and a few stalks of broccoli, I lined a baking pan with aluminum foil and preheated the oven. I seasoned the fish with sea salt, cayenne pepper, agave, and a dash of turmeric before placing it in the oven. Meanwhile, I started cooking the risotto and chopped up the broccoli, waiting for everything to be almost done before steaming it. Cooking was not a regular activity for me, but I wanted to avoid driving in the snow. Moreover, I looked forward to opening a bottle of wine that I had received as a gift for my recent work anniversary. When the timer went off, I found the fish perfectly baked, the risotto cooked, and although I had left the broccoli on the stove for a bit too long, I was satisfied and ready to relish my small feast.
I put it all on a big red plate and headed to the living room to watch another “Law & Order” marathon. I got comfortable, but before I took a bite I realized I didn’t have any bread. There were a few sweet Hawaiian slices in the cabinet, so I got up to grab some. That’s when the unthinkable happened—I knocked over the plate and all the tranquility I worked on fell in slow motion to the laminate floor. I stared at the mess in disbelief. Normally I would have immediately hit something in fury, but instead, my body froze and my eyes played connect the dots with the bits of food sprawled around my home. I announced to the empty room, “there are plenty of fish in the sea”, and chuckled. There was nothing I could do, so I laid on the couch and talked myself out of a tantrum. If someone walked in during those five or ten minutes, they’d probably think I had finally lost it. That was the first time I meditated, and I started by thinking of the scene from "What's Love Got To Do With It" where Tina Turner learned a chanting meditation. Since then, it always starts the same way. I create a comfortable space, close my eyes, and breathe deeply. That’s when my brain starts the sabotage process. Is the water running in the bathroom? Oh, I need to call my grandfather and check on him. I miss my grandma. Damn, I forgot to cancel my Netflix subscription. It’s 7:45, so if I meditate for ten minutes, that gives me 15 minutes to get ready for work and head out the door. Let me just check traffic… Just like that, my eyes are open and I’m moving. I don’t understand how people do it. I’ve tried listening to guided meditation clips on YouTube. I’ve been to retreats and classes where everything smells like damp regret, but I always feel out of place and irritated. Trying to meditate used to frustrate me more because I never felt like I was doing it right. Why couldn’t I instantly find peace? How come the people in the videos never got leg cramps?
Now, after almost four years, I still have trouble calming my thoughts. My mind wanders. I feel restless, so it’s difficult to sit still. After all this time, I haven’t advanced at all. Yet somehow, it still works. So many people from my past approach me and tell me how afraid they were of me. I wasn’t completely clueless about my insensitivity, but I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude until a few months after I started meditating. I started noticing how tense people were when I spoke to them—like a dog caught eating out of the trash. Apparently, I made more than one person on my work team cry after their quarterly evaluations. Meditation helped me empathize with rather than interrogate my employees. One of the lowest points in my life was when my husband left me alone in the hospital with our newborn. Aside from breastfeeding every few hours, I mostly just stared at the walls. I didn’t intend on meditating, but there was nothing else to do. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. The sabotage started and I just welcomed it as part of my meditation process. Is my son still breathing? Oh, I need to call my grandfather and let him know Jr. has arrived earthside. I miss my husband. Damn, I forgot to cancel my Netflix subscription. It’s about 10, so if I go to sleep now, that gives me 30 minutes before I need to breastfeed again. Let me just check and make sure he’s breathing… Meditation has opened doors I thought my anger had permanently locked. I understand meditation is not something I should seek to perfect. It’s not a competition. As clumsy as my method feels, it still helps me make a more meaningful contribution to everyone I encounter. Unlike threading a needle with greasy oven mitts, meditation is worth feeling silly. The most important benefit is that I am passing on the importance of reflection and empathy to my son. And that makes the whole experience worth it.
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