Mindfulness was not the first form of meditation I tried. Starting before the age of 10, I experimented with visualizations, self-hypnosis, breathing practices, and more.
I pictured myself walking through forests. I imagined orbs of light permeating my being. I repeated “I am still,” over and over again, all in the hopes of being able to heal, to change myself into something I liked better. Most of the practices left me feeling incompetent and more tired than I had been before I’d started. I thought of myself as a spiritual person, but I was not getting this meditation thing—at all.
I had just about written it off entirely, when a few of my friends recommended Jack Kornfield’s teaching on mindfulness. I put on the CD, aware of equal parts hope and fatalism thrumming in my chest—maybe it could help? But it probably won’t.
The beginning was what I’d expected—about adopting the appropriate posture and taking some deep breaths. Grudgingly, I complied.
I don’t remember exactly what words came next, but at some point, he told me to just let things be as they are, without judging them and without trying to change them.
A wash of relief flooded my body. You mean I don’t have to make myself somehow feel better than I do? You mean I can just sit here and let my body and heart hurt, and not try to do a damn thing about it? I don’t know if I cried, but I was achingly grateful. I hadn’t realized that the reason I wasn’t “getting” meditation was that I had always been attempting to make something happen. I had been all effort and no flow.
I can just imagine whatever angels that may have been looking out for me wrinkling their foreheads in compassion. “Honey, could you just loosen your grip . . . like just the teeniest, little bit? No? Well, that’s okay, too.”
It may sound counterintuitive, but allowing my body, my mind, my heart to all be okay—even though they decidedly didn’t feel okay was lifechanging for me.
Even so, after more than a decade of practicing mindfulness and two years of studying (in a program co-led by Jack Kornfield, as it happens) to become a meditation teacher, it’s easy to forget that I am not meditating to make myself better, more successful, or more acceptable to the world.
I am meditating to remember—that though I may not be healthy, I am whole. Though I’m not super-productive, I am enough. And though I might not fit in with my culture, I am absolutely loveable.
All I need to do, is let myself be.