Introductory note: There are already hundreds of articles, videos, and books out there that can tell you what meditation is and how to do it. I’m sure you’ve heard the basics: set a time, sit with good posture, focus on your breath, and come back to the present moment, again and again. While the basics of meditation are important, they are just that: the basics. Basic meditation is not an end in of itself; rather, basic meditation provides you with mental tools to be used. Think about it. In basketball, why does someone practice drills? Not to be good at the drills themselves, but to be good at basketball, to be good at the game. In the same way, one meditates not to be a good meditator, but to be good at life. And a large facet of life, at least for me right now, is cultivating wholeness , i.e. actively accepting, loving, and embracing each part of myself. Even the drunken foolish parts.
So when I was asked to write this article on meditation, I decided to spare you yet another instruction manual on the basics. Instead, I will give you a practice that will hopefully illustrate how and why basic meditative skills (the ability to calm, detach from and objectively witness your mind and body) are so useful. If you are completely new to meditation, I assume you are not completely new to Google.
A wise man once told me that getting drunk can be a potent spiritual practice. The practice comes after the drinking. The morning after a night of debauchery, as memories of the night before trickle in, you may be confronted with parts of yourself that are difficult to accept. Parts of you that thought it would be a great idea to do or say something that makes sober- daytime-you cringe at the mere memory. This cringe, this internal, physical sensation of turning away, is a ripe opportunity for growth, in the form of more self-acceptance and self-love, and thus more wholeness. The goal here is to help you fully embrace yourself, to be your own biggest fan, no matter what.
Now, you didn’t necessarily black out, or puke on a date, or steal a tiger from a boxer, but it is the day after St. Pattie’s after all. I’m betting there is something you did or said last night that you regret, if only a little bit. If not, for the purposes of this exercise, you can bring up any memory of drunken foolishness. Really any memory of embarrassment will work.
Bring up a memory like this and hold it in your mind. As best you can, let go of thoughts that want to analyze, explain and tell stories about what happened. If they come up, notice them and let them go. Sink into the feeling of embarrassment. Really feel what your body does in response to this memory. Is your belly clenched? Are your shoulders hunched and tense? Is there a twisting sensation in your gut, and if so, which direction is it moving? Does your head feel heavy? Is your jaw tight? Saying out loud what you are feeling helps you discern exactly what is happening.
Next, clarify what emotions you are feeling. Again, say out loud what you are feeling.
Doing this allows you to clearly witness what you are feeling emotionally and physically. When you witness what you are feeling, you detach from what you are feeling. When you are detached, and thus not identified with what are feeling, you are not controlled by what you are feeling. It is the difference between saying “I am angry” (identifying yourself as the emotion anger) and “I feel anger” (keeping your identity separate from the emotion you feel). The difference is subtle, but powerful.
From this place, it is much easier to let go of your mental judgments about what happened, and ask yourself three questions:
- What was my original good intention for doing what I did?
- What is one good thing that came from what I did?
- What did I learn from what happened?
A memory of mine that comes to mind is yelling at French people in a poorly imitated Irish accent a few St. Patrick’s Days ago. Thinking of that memory, I notice my throat tends to tighten, my heart twists a bit to the right, my belly clenches slightly, and I feel like I want to close my eyes and make a wincing expression with my face. Emotionally, I notice some embarrassment and a light, friendly exasperation. My original good intention was to connect with people by making them laugh and helping them to enjoy themselves. I was also keen to celebrate my own Irish heritage. One good thing that came from that night was a hilarious memory, and some good bro-bonding with my friend who joined me in Irish-accent-yelling that night. Finally, I learned that Parisians are not terribly amused when drunken Americans yell at them, even if it is St. Patrick’s Day, and even if I thought my accent was spot-on at the time.
If you find this practice difficult, that’s ok! It becomes easier and easier the more you meditate. Basic meditation techniques will help you to feel with more sensitivity how your body subtly reacts when you are not loving yourself, to better concentrate on the positive aspects of memories like this, and to live more easily with being embarrassed every once in a while.
Whether you like it or not, the parts of you that perform drunken shenanigans are valid parts of yourself, worth accepting, cherishing, and learning from. Their desires, drunken though they may have been, were true in the moment, otherwise you would not have done what you did. Rather than reject them, feel them, accept them, and embrace them.
I will admit I am still slightly embarrassed by my drunken self in Paris that night. Yet there is no longer a cringe. I can feel embarrassed by my actions but still live rooted in the knowledge that I am okay, a basically good human being. My core sense of being my own best friend is no longer shaken.
And for me, that is what meditation is all about.