This past fall I meditated for the first time on my own volition at the New York Insight Meditation Center. I spent a lot of time before then fighting the idea of meditation out of a fear of discomfort. A lot of it was physical. My feet would fall asleep whenever I sat cross-legged, I'd make myself light-headed from taking my breaths too rapidly, and I'd fall asleep at least 75% of the time I tried it, leaving me at risk of drooling or making a fool of myself in public. From what I understand of my brief foray into meditation, nothing about these thoughts are at all uncommon for beginning meditators, but for some reason it always seemed so important to me that I had to meditate right. That I was surrounded by perfect, zen-ed out Buddhists who would all pelt me with rocks if I couldn't unlock bliss by the end of the first hour. More importantly I didn't want to face the disappointment of not having all my problems solved by sitting and discovering that I was simply not equipped to find that type of happiness.
It wasn't until I graduated college that I even seriously started considering getting involved in meditation. Rather than combating my anxiety during my time attending NYU, I just brushed it aside as I carved out a reputation as yet another neurotic Jewish writer in the city. After all, I'd been anxious almost my entire life, so what use was it to waste time or energy sitting and contemplating just to end up in the same place? Even though I'd always known it was impending, graduation still left me rattled and lost. While full course loads and part-time internships kept me too busy to face much of my issues, as an under-employed twenty-two year old with next to no plan, I became more and more lost within the identity I'd created for myself. I was anxious and miserable because that's who I always was and now felt afraid that that was who I would always be.
My mom, the most experienced Buddhist in my life, was the one who pushed me to get involved with meditation practices after it helped her manage her own anxiety. She gave me the name of the Insight Center and kept reminding me about it until I finally relented; convinced it couldn't make my anxiety any worse. So I went and I sat, and after about 20 minutes of breathing, eventually found myself nodding off. When I realized what was happening. I figured I'd open my eyes to see all the Buddhists pointing and laughing until I left the class in shame. But instead everyone else's eyes were closed, still lost in their experience. I figured, what a lucky break, I can just try again and no one will notice. So I continued the class, thinking I'd gotten away with some great deception until a conversation with my mother informed me that falling asleep was entirely normal for beginning meditators and that I was supposed to do exactly what I'd done, just keep trying again to be as present and aware as possible.
Now sitting here months later, writing next to a tiny stone Buddha just sent to me by mother, I never truly understood the point of meditating until I tried that first class. Nobody sits for the first time and finds the answers to all their suffering and unhappiness, but like anything it's a practice that grows through repetition and awareness. Each breath is just about getting a little closer to awareness than the one that preceded it. I'm nowhere near a role model in terms of my actual meditating, only lasting a few minutes before my mind gets distracted by the sound of a pipe or begins wondering what I want for dinner, but meditation embraces those who are willing to try. Little by little I'm getting slightly more disciplined and in control of my very strange world. And though I'm a long way from leaving all my neuroses behind, at least there's a path to something better, whether I'm comfortable or not.