Zen Meditation For Beginners: This Is Harder Than It Looks

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I’m frazzled, y’all; I’m a mess. I’m a basketcase of anxiety and stress and I need to chill. I’m on Prozac, I drink too much, and my mind is constantly aflutter with all the different things I need to do or already did or may have to do one day. The conversations I had that day, or four years ago, and what I should’ve said, or what the other person didn’t say and what that might’ve meant. And did I leave the oven on?  

It’s a mess, my head. Like a hamster on a wheel doing speedballs.

Last year, my anxiety had gotten to a point where it was having a moderately serious impact on my ability to function like a healthy adult person with children who need to be cared for. Something had to change. And I didn’t want to take anti-anxiety medication.

So, I figured I’d just meditate. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Meditate for greater mental clarity and peace. Piece of cake. So, I did what I always do when I want to learn how to do a new thing. I buy a shit ton of books and don’t read any of them. I skim. I’m a skimmer. I browse and flip and poke around. Check the index. Find highlighted passages in Kindle. Not the most useful or productive way to read, but whatever.

I bought books about meditation. I asked Google about meditation. I did a whole lot of things I thought I should do before I actually meditated. ("Research") Because surely some prep work is necessary, right? I mean, when you embark on a potentially life-changing journey, you need to be ready. You don’t just jump in head first. You read as much as you can, so you can get confused by all the available options.

Zen is hard. Zen is how masochists meditate. Instead of visualizing or chanting or anything remotely helpful, you just sit. You sit. And you think about nothing. Or, rather, you try NOT to think about nothing, because thinking about nothing is still thinking.

And by options, I mean, OPTIONS.

Who knew there were so many types of meditation?

Hint: not me.

I had no idea! Zen. Mantra. Guided visualization. Kundalini. Metta, Qigong, transcendental... So many things to learn. How do you even begin to choose?! There are libraries of information devoted to each, and here I am, neophyte, trying to figure it out. Eventually, you just say forget it, and pick one. Eeny-meeny-miney-mo.

I picked Zen.

Then you sit.

Sit. Breathe. Find enlightenment.

It’s just sitting. I can totally do that.

Easy peasy.

I’ve rarely been more wrong.

Zen is hard. Zen is how masochists meditate. Instead of visualizing or chanting or anything remotely helpful, you just sit. You sit. And you think about nothing. Or, rather, you try NOT to think about nothing, because thinking about nothing is still thinking. But it’s tricky because you can’t just not think. It’s impossible, because how do you turn off the constant stream of sensory input and memory and ego? How do you turn off your brain?

And because nature loves a good joke, as soon as you sit down, you start thinking about everything. Your brain gets LOUD. Your thoughts get crowded and start throwing elbows and hip-checking each other into the boards. Your peace gets into a full-on brawl with your ego and your anxiety checks in every few seconds, just to make sure you know you are absolutely failing at Zen and that you were an idiot for even trying this because you are absolutely not doing it right.

There are helpful tips, like not necessarily trying to stop your thoughts from happening, but to stop your brain from clinging to them. Acknowledge that you had a thought and dismiss it. That sounds easy, right? “Oh, hi thought, I see you there. Peace out!”

It’s not like that at all. It’s like that buzzing mosquito by your ear that you try to swat away, but he comes back and actually dives into your ear canal and buzzes right into your eardrum.

Until one day…

It happens. It’s like magic. You’re sitting, you’re breathing, you’re battling your thoughts, then you get to a place. It’s only happened for me once and I tried not to realize it too hard when it was happening because I didn’t want to lose it.

But it’s like your thoughts are a river and you’re chilling on the river bank, separate from the current, but aware of its passing. Which sounds very meta, but I can’t think of another way to describe it. You watch your thoughts float by your awareness in a stream.

Now, all that said, I have no idea if that’s what was supposed to happen, but that’s what happened.

Or maybe I was just hyperventilating.

Regardless, since that night, I’ve tried to get it back, that unattached feeling, and been almost wholly unsuccessful. I catch glimpses, sure.  I’ll feel like I’m almost there, but as soon as I acknowledge it, it slips away, replaced by a big blinking neon sign that says “FAIL."

I know, I know, you can’t fail at meditation. I just need someone to explain that to my brain and we’d be all set.

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