I’ve been trying to meditate for a year now. “Trying” means that once in awhile, I spend ten minutes with my eyes closed, and then annoy friends and family by insisting that I’ve reached Nirvana (you’re not allowed to do it if you don’t brag about it).
There was a time when I was doing it daily, and I felt a difference. But it’s subtle. It’s as imperceptible as a sugar high; you might be buzzing, but you don’t really notice until you come down, and the mild irritation hits.
And that’s a bit like what meditation is like; you notice when you don’t do it, not when you do. And that really sucks, because it’s difficult to convince yourself to do anything regularly, let alone something that you can barely register.
It’s only ten or fifteen minutes a day, and everybody has time for that. That’s a YouTube video. That’s a masturbation session. That’s a scroll through a timeline, a procrastination, a daydream.
But it’s just so much easier to do those things than it is to sit with your eyes closed and concentrate on your breath. Your breath is pretty damn boring, and like everyone else, I’m used to being constantly entertained; I could be spending those precious minutes watching some dick on YouTube desperately trying to change my political views through articulate misinformation, reading about how Trump’s tweets physically tore a hole in the ozone layer, or contributing to the pointless democracy of Reddit and Facebook with my “likes.”
I slowly slipped out of the habit, the way you carelessly slip out of any healthy activity, and now I meditate “once in awhile.” Whenever that is.
Irregular practice of an activity often means failure, even if you enjoy said activity. Without scheduled sessions, my meditation attempts are easily disrupted by mild inconveniences. I attempted to meditate the other day, hoping to clear my notification-obsessed mind during an unsatisfying writing session.
I sat in the living room, setting a timer for an ambitious fifteen minutes. All I could hear was the steady tick-tock of the clock, and I spent the first few minutes with my blood pressure slowly rising, unable to think about anything but dismantling that clock. It took every ounce of self-control I had to stop myself from removing the batteries, but eventually, I got over it. I stopped hearing the clock, and settled into deep breathing.
Then my cat found me. My cat, Dylan, is like a sexual opportunist at a house party; he’s excellent at spotting weakness, and will seize any opportunity to trap an unsuspecting victim into a heavy petting session.
I focused on breathing slowly, in, and out, while Dylan furiously massaged himself against my unmoving hand. I believe that if I dropped down dead on the floor, Dylan would spend several days rubbing his face against my cold, unfeeling fingers.
In desperation, I got up, and put some wet food in his bowl, out of schedule, just to distract him during my remaining eleven minutes. But have you ever heard a cat eat wet food before?
While I sat trying to regain my concentration, the slurpy smacking sound resonated from the bowl as though it were playing through a speaker beside my ear.
It sounded like a sea snail performing cunnilingus on a particularly slimy jellyfish, with great relish. And it takes Dylan at least forty minutes to finish a can, because he licks it off one molecular layer at a time.
Haunted by the sound, and distressing mental imagery, I gave in. But the defeat sparked a flash of insight.
Because every time I feed my cat, I ring a little dinner bell first, so that he knows not to beg for food until he hears the bell. I do it so that he doesn’t wake me up at 3am asking for snacks (which he still very much does). But I figured Pavlov’s Bell applies to humans too.
And I happen to have a pair of tingsha bells in my office, because I am, at heart, a white stoner who fetishizes Eastern belief systems. The bells are some kind of meditation aid, but I found my own use for them by ringing them just before I meditate.
And so far, it’s actually working. The sound triggers a little thing in my brain that takes away the urge to go do something else. Once I’ve rung them, I simply have to sit down and breathe slowly.
Now all I have to do, is convince myself to ring it more often.