I was having a rough two weeks. I was sitting for 10 hours a day. No talking. No eye contact. No yoga. No running. Just sitting and breathing; trying to pay attention to the present moment. My legs felt like they were going to snap off. And my mind, oh lord, my mind went to such dark places.
I was losing it. I named the lizard in my room (Lance) who would start chirping at me to get out of bed once the 4:30am meditation bell rang. At one point I was having imagined conversations with one of my favorite Buddhist writers, Brad Warner
“What if I’m seriously dying right now?”
“Yeah you are!”
“The present moment fucking sucks.”
“Well, it’s not too fond of you either, you know.”
Not comforting, to say the least. (Also, I’m sure if I had actually had a conversation with Brad in that moment, he’d be much more wise than the voice in my head, or at the very least, way more witty.)
By the time day 10 rolled around I thought I looked as horrible as I felt. I lost about 5 lbs judging from the way my jeans hung off my hips. I had dark circles under my eyes, and my hair was matted into a feeble excuse for a braid. My anxiety was so terrible I couldn’t stop shaking.
After the “metta meditation,” which was meant to serve as a healing balm of sorts, I was crushed to find that I was still being haunted by the same negativity. I walked out of the meditation hall disappointed and irritated at myself.
I am ruining the positive energy of this day for everyone. I am a dark cloud of anger and awfulness. Why don’t I feel better? I should just go back to my hut and sleep so I don’t wreck it for everyone with my innate badness.
“Excuse me” said a voice from behind.
I turned and came face to face with an old Thai woman: a huge smile, dressed in white robes.
“You are very beautiful. I like you.”
She patted my arm warmly and walked away.
Our thoughts are not the totality of the world.
When we are in a deep negative space it can feel like the whole world is right there with us. Everything hurts. Everything is bad. Everyone else can tell how bad everything is and they hate you for it.
But that’s a pretty narrow way of looking at things and it’s also inaccurate. The human brain, undoubtedly impressive, still cannot process everything going on inside and around us. This is called “inattentional blindness” and is demonstrated by the very famous Invisible Gorilla experiment.
What meditation does, in part, is help us understand that there is a lot happening that we aren’t actively experiencing and the most interesting part of it all is that it’s always changing. If we sit quiet and still long enough we can start to experience a little bit more of reality as it is, not as it is clouded through our emotions and thoughts. (Clearly, I’m not there yet.)
Our thoughts are not the totality of this world. They aren’t even the totality of our experience.
Even when things seem terrible and we have to face the ugliest parts of ourselves, there is still beauty and love and kindness in there too.
Kind of like the sun being hidden behind clouds– it doesn’t mean the sun is gone forever. And despite whatever kind of dark rainy cloud that seems to be brewing inside, you never know who is secretly looking to you for your sunshine.
So be kind to yourself, dammit! You’re someone somebody likes.