Photo by Lauren Krysti
When it comes to being still, I’m not what one would consider an overachiever. I vividly remember the first day of my first post-college “big girl” job—by 10:00 am, I thought to myself, “Wait, so I just sit. All day. That’s it? I sit?” So, I began a rigorous daily cycle of drinking tons of water simply so I could hit up the water cooler and refill my jug. I made it a point to learn all the names of every single one of my co-workers and would stop to ask about their pets and their overwatered vegetable gardens, then I’d make a bathroom run, fill up my water bottle, and make another bathroom run. You get the gist. And, nearly fifteen years into my career, I’m only slightly less antsy (unless there’s a Real Housewives marathon in which case, you have my full, fidgeting-less attention).
I’ve toyed with the idea of meditation before, thanks to the helpful nudge of my therapist, a friend, or my husband, who, all zen-like, happens to practice regularly. I admire and even envy people with any measurable amount of chill and meditation had always seemed, to me, a nice thought, but also very…what’s the word? Indulgent? I’d just…sit? And not be productive (or, at least, by the overachieving American millennial standards I’ve been held to, which is another essay entirely)? On this very topic, my therapist once asked me what I was so afraid of and I couldn’t really give a straight answer. It’s not that I was afraid, it’s just that I didn’t really get the point and, at the time, wasn’t terribly concerned with trying to get the point. I think, too, I was worried of boredom, of sitting with my own thoughts for too long, of what would creep in and if I’d be able to rest with it—to catch it, address it, then set it free again.
I was worried of boredom, of sitting with my own thoughts for too long, of what would creep in and if I’d be able to rest with it—to catch it, address it, then set it free again.
Before this dedicated ten days I speak of, the closest I’d been to a meditative state was a few solid miles into a run. My mind would melt, my thoughts would part like heavy clouds, my body would concern itself with nothing but the cyclical rhythm of my body carrying me through space. Until recently, it’s the only time I’d ever felt a sense of true calm and relief. The only time I could muzzle my brain and its cacophony of worry, to-dos, excitement, or heartache. Just my breath, my feet, and my unwillingness to call it quits after mile six, or seven, or ten to go back to my otherwise boisterous brain.
You’d think, after such a mostly enchanting experience (shin splints aside), that I’d try to recreate it in other ways as often as I could. Then again, you’d think wrong.
I don’t really care to admit this, but it may have taken the point-blank smack of 2020 (you too, 2021), the stillness by brute force, to get me to consider putting some of that sudden stop to use. And I don’t mean “use” in terms of productivity, but maybe the introspection I, personally, needed to literally sit with.
So, out of wine and ideas, I decided to just give meditation a try. For ten days, ten minutes a day. Just to see what would happen.
My first rendezvous was uncomfortable. I selected a class, at random, on an app (which, to me, seemed counterintuitive, but options are limited here, folks), perched myself up all tall and straight, and lamented to myself about how incredibly corny the music was. My attempt was as half-focused as it was half-hearted, but it was technically an attempt.
The second day, I promised to give it a solid try, crystal harp melodies and all. I kept my eyes closed the entire time. I focused on my breath. I tried actively to not think about my next meeting, dinner plans, or if my toddler had pooped his pants. Mostly, I realized that this whole acquittal of my thoughts thing was very hard for me. I wasn’t good at it.
And that, right there—the getting it wrong, not being good at it, not getting it—it turns out, was the part I’d been leery of this whole time. I told myself that maybe, just maybe, that’s why they call meditation a practice. The practice of stillness, of complete presence, is required over and over and over again.
Somewhere in the midst of my ten-day experiment, I chose a meditation with a focus on acceptance. The instructor (Newb question, but do you call them instructors? Am I doing this right?) didn’t say much, but at one point asked the very pointed question, “Is there anything that you’re having a difficult time accepting?” And I cracked. I poured open, spilling salty tears and snot all over myself and it took some time to pick up the mess. Truth is, it was a clemency of chaos that was long overdue.
It took doing absolutely nothing but sitting, quiet, nervous, and somewhat bitter, to learn I couldn’t outsmart a single one of the unacceptable items on my list of bothers.
At that particular time, there was a lot I couldn’t accept. There’s a lot I still can’t accept. Too much to type here on this ever-expansive internet, in fact. There was also a lot that I was fooling myself into thinking I could put up with if only I outworked, outran, outdid. And it took doing absolutely nothing but sitting, quiet, nervous, and somewhat bitter, to learn I couldn’t outsmart a single one of the unacceptable items on my list of bothers.
My ten days are up and what have I learned? Maybe meditation isn’t so bad after all. I don’t expect I’ll be diligent enough to continue daily (I’d still rather run), but I’ll be adding it in as often as I can. I don’t expect, either, that I’ll have an incredibly influential meditative practice every time, with such laser-pointed questions. Though, it’s been proven to help me unclench my jaw, increase my self-awareness, and protect my peace. Some decent perks, if you ask me. So, consider this skeptic pretty much converted; in her amateur and still quite energetic way.
April (Swinson) Smasal spent her formative years in Wyoming, where her career options were limited to rodeo queen or writer. Foregoing the lure of an impressive belt buckle collection, she opted for the word thing. Now, she’s a copywriter and writer-writer living in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, Nick, baby boy, Hank Danger and very cute-slash-spoiled French Bulldog, Arnold E. Biscuits.