One of the mediation apps on my phone (yes, I have several . . . I am the walking stereotype of “I really want to make a habit of this! Maybe if I find The Perfect Program, I’ll succeed!) is running a New Year’s Challenge, with a goal of meditating at least fifteen days in the first twenty-one, i.e. five days a week for three weeks. So far I’m 11 for 11 (it started on the 6th, not the 1st), which is good, and I sort of wish they’d launch another challenge after this one, because seeing that little gold medal does help with motivation and persistence.
But it’s gotten me thinking about a bunch of things. Like New Year’s resolutions, and the ways in which that whole concept tends to set us up for failure. One of the “ohhhhh” moments for me in trying to practice mindfulness meditation was when it finally got through my skull that those moments when I realize my attention has wandered away from my breath? That’s not me failing at meditation; that’s me succeeding. Because the point is not to achieve perfect tranquility from start to finish, but rather to be mindful: both to pay attention to a thing (my breath), and also to notice when my attention has strayed. “Begin again,” as several of the meditation teachers in this app have said — and as one of them pointed out, that applies to the practice of meditation in general as well as any individual session again. Missed a day? Begin again. Missed a week? Begin again. Missed six months? Notice that you’ve stopped. Be mindful of what you’re doing. And what you’re not doing.
I have a poster on my wall with the text of “An Invocation for Beginnings”. It’s one of the few “motivational” things that’s ever spoken to me on an emotional level. And to quote one pertinent bit: “Let me realize that my past failures at follow-through are no indications of my future performance, they’re just healthy little fires that are going to warm up my ass.” New Year’s resolutions, though . . . we treat them as rigid. If you resolve to do a thing, and then drop the ball, you’ve broken your resolution. Game over. Stop trying.
No. Begin again.
The app has been providing a meditation lesson for each day, which I recognize is so they can advertise the various series that require a paid account to use. But I’m still appreciating it as a tour of different things, like deep breathing techniques to reduce stress. Today’s was on “loving-kindness” meditation, which is about developing compassion toward yourself and other people. Chesed, maitrī, agape in its less-religious sense. What really struck me was the brief video beforehand, with Dan Harris (the guy behind the app) and Sharon Salzberg (the teacher for that session) discussing the concept of loving-kindness — and how we as a society tend to disparage the idea, as if compassion and kindness make us weak. The video was only a few minutes long, so I’m not surprised they didn’t attempt to unpack the gender dimension, but it’s there: loving-kindness is a trait associated with femininity, and therefore men are discouraged from developing it. Harris straight-up admitted that he was embarrassed to be seen reading Salzberg’s book — that he literally hid the cover when he was reading it on planes, etc. How messed-up is that? But he’s a white dude in America, which means he’s not supposed to be squishy and touchy-feely and nice.
Hello, toxic masculinity. And yet, so many of our religions praise this quality, not just for girls but for everybody. But it’s hardly news that we’re historically bad at actually practicing what we preach.
I don’t really have a point here that I’m trying to arrive at, except that getting back into meditation (begin again) is prompting a variety of thoughts in me. And that I’m hoping it will help me develop the internal equilibrium I’m going to need to survive 2020. Our whole society could use a mega-dose of loving-kindness, if only we had some way to inject it.