Giving Yourself the Kindness of Calm

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This is my meditation chair.

Balcony row CC, seat 19.

If you didn’t know, I work for a theatre. Early in the mornings, theatres are empty. And gently lit. And desert-quiet, thanks to good sound-proofing.

This year I’ve been arriving at work early so that I can take advantage of the generous calm the space provides. I’ve been spending 10, 15, 20 minutes sitting in that chair before my workday begins, focusing on my breath and my body, trying out some lovingkindness mantras, letting myself feel the emotions and sensations that arise, and taking notice as they fade and pass.

In just a few short months, meditation has transformed from the weird woo-woo psychospiritual not-for-me thing I’ve generally believed it to be into a ritual that my body absolutely craves.

This morning really revealed how potent that transformation has been. I missed the past few days—I didn’t take the time to meditate over the weekend, and then yesterday was just one of those “I’ll get to it” days. I kept hitting “snooze” on my calendar reminder as I jumped from task to never-ending task. (Yes, I have calendar alerts to remind me to meditate. Transformation.)

So when I took my place in seat 19, balcony row CC, this morning, it had been four days since my last practice. And my body quite literally jumped at the chance to tell me how much it needed this. Almost immediately after my eyes closed and the voice of my current meditation guide Anushka Fernandopulle sounded from my earbuds, my whole body constricted, convulsed, and simply began to weep.

That was a new one. Heretofore, my body has remained entirely still during meditation, with the exception of a few times I just had to scratch that recurring itch on my shoulder blade. But today, I think my body needed to communicate something very important to my mind:

“Don’t you fucking dare make me wait that long ever again before you spend time with me.”

The same thing happened early last year as I began to practice yoga. I thought I might be experiencing anxiety attacks when my gut would seize up during shavasana (the several minutes at the end of a yoga practice when you just lie there), and I did everything I could to keep from open-mouth bawling in a room full of strangers. In later sessions, the crying would start immediately, in the very first pose. “Place one hand on your heart, and another on your low belly.” Oh my god. My body was so starved for attention from me that these simple physical acts of acknowledgment—here is my heart, here is my gut—elicited what I thought was truly an extreme overreaction.

Except, it wasn’t. It was the last gasp of a body deprived of a lifetime of care. In retrospect, the reaction makes all the sense in the world.

I went 36 years without meditation (evangelical prayer absolutely does not count, at least not the performative supplication and worship in which I was trained), and now, having given my body a taste of what’s possible with a well-formed centering practice, it craves more.

I’m still very much a novice, but each day I come back to it I find myself disappointed when the 20 minutes are up. Four months ago, the prospect of sitting still for 20 minutes without a phone or a Netflix show in front of me was intimidating to say the least. Today, it feels like a very small sip of water in the wasteland.

It’s a gratitude I can feel in my bones. To give myself the kindnesses of calm, reflection, noticing, acknowledgment, listening—I’ve seldom felt a thankfulness that literally shakes me. It’s profound and life-changing—and just a little bit sad that I’m only just now beginning to give myself these kindnesses.

Perhaps you’ve heard rumors of the benefits of meditation, but it’s always seemed inaccessible. Too weird, too time-consuming, not compelling enough, just not for you. Me too, friend. For years.

Here’s what I know: you have a body, of some sort. You probably have all kinds of feelings about it, some that you overindulge in and others that you refuse to let yourself speak or even think. Maybe you’ve treated your body like a car that moves you from place to place and helps you run errands. Maybe you’ve settled into the role of symbiont with your body, a little tit-for-tat setup. Maybe you’re just along for the ride, following any and all fleeting impulses the body presents. (I have dwelled in all of these places and more.)

What meditation practitioners tell us, and what I’ve been learning firsthand, is that there is a deeper level of awareness that we can aspire to when it comes to our embodied, lived experience. An awareness in which we can train ourselves—we can learn—to better process feelings, better care for ourselves, and vastly improve the connection and response between the mind and the body.

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If you need a non-woo-woo way to approach meditation, I’d love to recommend the book that finally compelled me to give it a try. Dan Harris is an ABC news reporter who had an on-air panic attack a few years ago that launched him into a journey. He wrote a book called 10% Happier, which is how he describes the effects of meditation on his own experience. He was a huge skeptic who just couldn’t be bothered. Like me. He’s probably not the right entry point for everyone, but he’s exactly right for some of us. His book—and the meditation app of the same name that he’s created since writing it—have introduced me to practitioners and concepts and tools that are working for me. For what it’s worth.

I’m ready to be in my body, be mindful, be kind, and be consistent enough with my practice that I don’t cry alone in an empty theatre on a Tuesday morning. Tell us all about it if you’re meditating too, or if you maybe kinda sorta wanna give it a try.

-Matthew Blake (as heard on episode 041)

Matthew Blake