If you'd asked me 10 years ago, 5 years ago--hell, even 1 year ago--if I could ever picture myself meditating, I'd have laughed in your face. Meditation, like yoga, was something that was so anti-me: I didn't have the patience, didn't have the flexibility, it didn't appeal to me, I didn't need more alone time with my thoughts--I would have given you all these reasons and then some.
See, I pride myself on my mind. It's the thing I hold most dear in this world, the thing I attribute all my success to, the thing that makes me me. Or, I felt that way for a long time; my mind had become a kind of superhero, infallible to the extreme and above reproach in my eyes. I constantly analyzed my own thoughts, and that's what I assumed meditation was, so I didn't need any practice doing that. Because I valued my mind so highly, I didn't really care about what my body could do, or attributed it to my brain, so I had no interest in practicing yoga--it made me frustrated, sad, and anxious, things my mind did not want to feel. I was a brain, and my brain helped me do wonderful things: write, act, devise, collaborate, make jokes, give friends advice, read fast, comprehend faster, on and on and on.
Of course, superheroes are never infallible--a good superhero needs a weakness, right?
I have always been anxious, ever since I was a kid, most obviously in the way that my sleep suffers if there's anything to think about. I left sleepovers a lot when I was young, worried that something would happen to my parents and I wouldn't be there. I'd wake them up in the middle of the night crying loudly over a bad grade I hadn't told them about. Kids shouldn't have anxiety, they're kids--and it's not like reasons to be anxious decrease as you get older. So my anxiety dug its heels in and made itself a part of me, and I spent these first three decades of my life embracing it, protecting it, and supporting it.
If I ever broke my top secret security clearance and told you I was anxious, our conversations about the subject probably went something like this:
This meme is especially perfect to me and represents the conundrum I found myself in to a fucking T--because if I was going to personify my anxiety, it would come out like Cate Blanchett as Galadriel in LotR: calm, serene, all-knowing, all-powerful, and only terrifying if she considers taking on power that is too great to imagine. The biggest way my anxiety convinced me to let it live was by appearing as anything but anxiety.
It told me I only worked fast because I spent hours thinking of every possible outcome to a situation. It told me I only made personal progress because I analyzed everything I had ever done, then beat myself up about it, then tried to plan out how the future would unfold knowing what I knew now. It convinced me that the reason I was empathetic towards people was because I worried about what they were thinking and feeling and put that above and beyond whatever I was thinking or feeling, and it told me that if I stopped considering everyone before myself then I'd turn into a terrible person.
And it told me all this in a calm, normal voice that sounded a lot like mine, with the conviction of a supremely logical being who is only looking out for you. I had made my anxiety Supreme Ruler of everything I was, everything I did, and every thought I had. Yield, and you shall be rewarded; resist, and you will suffer the consequences. In reality, I'd put my own personal kryptonite on the throne, and it had slowly broken down almost everything good I had to offer. It had reduced talents to hidden embarrassments, authentic emotional responses to internalized insecurities, impulses to immovable observations--it had built up around me and subdued my spark.
And, to top it all off, I'm high-functioning as fuck, so I still had plenty of evidence to make those admissions sound overdramatic, which kept me locked in a cycle of fighting against my anxiety only to have it make it feel worse in the end for even trying.
Over the last couple years, I've had a lot to be grateful for, proud of--I excelled in grad school, moved in with a loving, supportive partner and then married him, helped get an arts center off the ground, starting teaching right out of grad school, bought a house, got a dog, organized a reading series--the list of good things goes on and on in a way that makes me embarrassed to write out. And, simultaneously, as good things piled onto my plate, my anxiety, my self-esteem, and my communicative abilities got worse and worse and worse.
When things are all bad, it's easy to feel like an inner world full of fixation, low self-worth, and anxiety is warranted; I'd spent a lot of time in the past rationalizing why I had a right to feel bad, why it was logical to worry, why the only rational solution was to agonize over this and that and the other. But suddenly, things were good--they were really good--and nothing about my inner life reflected that.
Given the circumstances, and with the help of my partner, I realized I needed some help. But that isn't what got me started on meditation--nope. My brain still was like, "Nah, we don't need that." No, what got me started on meditation was stumbling upon this Twitter thread:
That's right--what led me ultimately to meditation was an appeal to my other great love (and other big crutch): my introversion.
Wait, I thought, are you saying it's possible my own brain has been relegating us to horrible social interactions just by assuming we're horrible at them? Does my personality just falsely believe it has a big scar that people are staring at?!
It sounds silly in retrospect, but in that moment, I was shook. I had never once considered that the horrible feeling I get in the pit of my stomach when I think about going out and interacting with people could have been purely and totally self-created, self-fulfilled, and self-sustained. What if my brain had essentially created its own prison, and then tricked me into thinking it was where I wanted to be, was home?
So I bought the book, fully expecting to read the introduction, encounter some New Age-y mumbo jumbo, and laugh myself right back into my comfort zone.
But that's not what happened--not at all.
Next, I'll write about the book and what ultimately convinced me to start meditating.