In part 1, I wrote a bit about a twitter thread that left me shook and made me reconsider the way I move through my world. Part 2 deals with the book from that twitter thread, and how it convinced me to start meditating.
I'm not sure when it began exactly, but for most of my adult life my anxiety has centered around judging, repressing, or attempting to completely detach myself from my own emotions. I took up journaling at the end of high school because I hadn't found a habitual way to really communicate my innermost feelings to people, despite having a tight-knit group of close friends. It wasn't that I never shared feelings, it was that I had many more feelings besides the ones I'd finally share--and even most of that sharing happened over AIM, a text-based confessional that gave me the safety of impersonality. And I journaled all through college, and post-graduation, and well into 2015 with prolificacy. I remember nights of deep sadness, pouring over my past journals, attempting to chart out how I'd gotten to where I felt I was, where the fatal flaw in my emotional life had first shown up, but drowning in my own thoughts only served to draw me deeper into myself.
I hate emotions, hate feeling emotional, hate having emotional responses but hate anyone else being privy to those emotional responses even more. I still have a handful of very close friends; very few of them have seen me cry more than once, and yet I cry a lot on my own. I have always been on the hunt for the thing that will allow me to push down my emotions and conquer them, purge myself of the humanity of feeling so that I can be the logical, rational person I so desperately want to be, and present as, and am on one side of my brain. I associated emotions with delusions--things that were untrue but that a person could deeply invest in--and nothing could be worse to a rational mind that acting under the influence of intense delusions.
Robert Wright's Why Buddhism Is True starts off with a Matrix metaphor, comparing Neo's red-pill-blue-pill dilemma to that of anyone contemplating taking up meditation. Do you want to start to see the truth through meditation, or continue to blindly accept the dream/delusion? I knew what my answer was, and Wright already had me hooked.
But from there, he didn't dive straight into meditation, and if he had, that might been the end of the book for me, too quickly dropped into the pool of new age philosophy and Patchouli-scented lingo (sorry for the Patchouli jab). No, after appealing to my deep-seated fear of delusion, Wright went on to discuss evolutionary psychology and natural selection, and how all of our emotional responses can be traced back to a small handful of basic human needs designed to ensure the continuation of our species, but that the upside of where we've gotten to as a species is that our brains can now understand where those emotions/impulses come from, and choose to supersede the ones that don't serve us anymore.
As a woman who doesn't want kids and currently, at 29, feels no doomed countdown of any biological clock, I've spent a lot of time wrestling with other people's blind belief in biological impulses that I feel are outdated. Humanity is not in danger of dying out; intellectually I firmly believe that, while my genes may be pretty good, if I want a kid then I can choose from one of the millions of them who already exist and are not being provided for; I don't have womb pangs every time I see a baby. The most common response I received upon sharing that I didn't want kids was, "But you'd make a great mother!" which, firstly, how the fuck do you know, and secondly, I'm not sure that gives me the right to bring another person into existence just to prove that. The second most common response was, "Well, if you meet the right man, you'll change your mind." Firstly, fuck you, and secondly, again, I think the narrative of meeting the "right man" with the right genes and succumbing to the totally inaccurate assumption that the world needs more of you would be relinquishing control to forces and impulses that helped Neanderthals survive but perhaps do not have to be true for me. Those people, who I know were mostly acting on good intentions, did nothing but reinforce my very stubborn assumption that I could out-think biology that didn't serve me anymore.
If Robert Wright had a target audience, at this point, it was me: averse to delusions, resistant to biology.
But wait--he wasn't finished with me yet. The topic he picked up next is perhaps what sealed the deal for me, only 5 pages into his book:
"Sometimes understanding the ultimate source of your suffering doesn’t, by itself, help very much."
I didn't need convincing of this fact: I knew it to be true. I had journals upon journals, pages upon pages, thousands upon thousands of words intended to help me understand the source of my suffering...and it hadn't gotten me very far. I felt I was no closer to being able to change anything about my suffering, despite all the apparent resources I had at my fingertips. Most of my anxiety, actually, centered around knowing so much, and yet being able to change very little.
It's wholly illogical to assume we can get away from our emotions--we wouldn't be human without them--but it is supremely logical to believe our evolved brains can observe them, understand where they're coming from and why we might feel that way, and then either let those feelings go or act on them in a more measured and informed way.
And that's, in a nutshell, what meditation helps you do. Wright's arguments aren't going to appeal to everyone, but they spoke to me--they undermined my skepticism by connecting meditation to science and rationality, they corrected the fatal misunderstanding I'd been operating under about emotions and how to deal with them, and they didn't feel condescending or too conceptual, mostly because of Wright's secular examples, his dry sense of humor, and his admission of imperfection. Not just for meditation, but for any self-improvement, I find I really need testimonies from people who were once non-believers, who are still grappling with how to do something, and who admit to failing as often as they succeed: it gives me permission to do the same.
I've meditated every single day of 2018: 101 sessions, 28 hours total, 15-20 minute sessions every morning. It has made a big difference in how I handle my anxiety, in my sleeping patterns, in my ability to handle conflict, emotion, and stress. Why Buddhism Is True was the first stepping stone. I don't want to ruin the rest of the book for anyone who might be interested in reading it, but hopefully, if you're like me, I've given you enough reason to check the book out for yourself.
(Click here for an Amazon link to the book, if you're ready to dive in.)
Next time, I'll write about some highs, lows, and observations from my meditation journey so far.