Friday, July 10, 2015

The Days are Long. Sometimes the Books are Lousy.

Several days ago I read a recommendation for a book about meditation. It sounded so promising; the author is a woman around my age, and she's even a knitter, and she even has a meditation blog! Interesting, right? Wow, this is someone I'd like to know, right? The book has nothing but five star reviews - not that many reviews, and I'm sure all were written by friends, but hey, still sounded promising! So I downloaded the book to my Kindle and plunged in.

It is a memoir, not a guide to meditation. I knew that going in, so my reaction to the book was not because I felt misled about its focus. The first part actually does contain some very practical, simple advice on how to develop a meditation practice, which basically comes down to "just sit down and do it, and stick with it," which actually is pretty much all there is to it. First, you have to get past some scatological descriptive passages that are, shall we say, vivid.

Y'all know me by now: I work in construction world, I'm a decorated F-bombardier myself, and therefore hardly a dainty flower when it comes to colorful stories and "strong language." The red zone on my Offensive Meter is very high on the dial and the needle very, very rarely enters it. I hit a passage in this book that made ME mutter about the line between colorful analogy and just not knowing when you're distracting from your point and making your readers gag. But I slogged on, because as I said, the parts about meditation really weren't bad at all, and I agreed completely with the author's ideas.

The book then devolved into an unstructured, personal "journey" that...I don't know... I think it was supposed to illustrate how the author's meditation practice helped her come to a deeper understanding of herself, or something. I kept reading, hoping to see some point to it all, but I started reading faster and faster, slogging through it from sheer morbid curiosity, waiting for her moment of enlightenment. Any moment of Ah!

Anything? Please? There was lots and LOTS of narcissistic introspection, and many examinations of tiny, petty slights and personal encounters of the sort we all experience day to day, examined in minute detail. Lots of vague references to childhood trauma. Alienation from her siblings, who apparently didn't remember their childhood as the endless, unrelieved horror she apparently experienced...hmm, that's interesting. I was longing for rebuttal witnesses by that point. Her Depression is always Capitalized. Nobody knows the troubles she's seen.

Parts truly were unintentionally laugh out loud funny, like when sensible counsel about how meditation "stuff" - expensive cushions and timers and statues and candles and crap - are completely unnecessary to a meditation practice is immediately followed by a description of all the meditation and Buddhist related doo-dads that adorn her car and her house. And then oh God, the endless mooning and moaning over men who were quite obviously Not That Into Her.

Two words popped into my head: Menopausal Tween. As the "story" progresses, there is less and less bringing the story back to meditation and more and more mooning over the significance of a text message from a BOY. (Did I mention that the author is over 50?) It didn't end with any resolution of the Drama. I finished the book wondering WTF I just read.

I do remain idly curious about how someone who appears to lack any sort of full-time employment income can travel so much - she somehow manages to fly to distant cities to hang out with people and attend retreats and such, and generally travels far more in the roughly two year span of this book than I have done in the last decade - and somehow feel like there's a lot more to this story than was shared.

My takeaways from this book:

1. I'm glad I borrowed it for free. Oh, boy howdy. Ten Bucks for this?

2. God, I suck at self-promotion. Apparently this author has a following that funded a Kickstarter for her, and she credits a cast of thousands. This is exactly why I have a real job. I've never mastered the art of surfing through life. But then...

3. As the "survivor" of a dysfunctional childhood myself, and a bona fide survivor of the death of my spouse and both parents and my own goddamn brain aneurysm, I didn't have time or money to wallow in it, and that, perhaps, was my salvation.

4. I'm fairly happy with my life. Seriously. I'm a corporate wonk toiling in yet another charmingly dysfunctional small company, but today a bunch of us we went to lunch to belatedly celebrate a couple of birthdays, including mine. We have a new employee and I love her to death already. She is what our grandparents would have fondly called "spunky," and "a real pistol." She's been shaking things up already.

It took me months to find my voice on this job, and start asking Why the Fuck things were the way they are. She was doing it on day one, and hasn't shut up since, and like me, she knows how it's supposed to be done. She worried that she was being too outspoken. We all reassured her that no, management knows things aren't functioning right and wants to fix it, so keep right on being that sharp, funny, squeaking wheel. We lingered long at lunch, hooting, laughing, sharing stories of Shit We Need to FIX because, DAMN, REALLY???! and I pointed out that it had turned into an offsite meeting. If we were men, we'd say that was what we had in mind all along and put it on our expense reports.

My job is insanely diverse, nothing is getting enough attention, shit is blowing up on a daily basis, we're running in all directions like chickens with our heads cut off, and I am coping and not internalizing it all. I leave tired, but I leave it behind when I leave the building. I do what I can do. I am learning to step outside the crazy and see it objectively, and do what I can, and not carry the weight of the world. I credit meditation, I really do. It's helping. I'm learning a certain amount of objectivity, and my mind is quieter. It really is. I'm not linking to that book,

I think I saw another free month of Headspace voucher in my email a ways back; I don't think I accidentally deleted it. If you want to try it, email me at bossylittledogATyahoo. I'm not sure how much longer I'll use Headspace; it's great, don't get me wrong! It's a great intro to meditation as a practical tool for calming the mind, and it's used by a lot of corporations. And no, I don't get kickbacks or get paid to promote it. As I said, I totally suck at the "make a living as a blogger" thing.

I've become conditioned to meditate for 15 minutes every morning. Yes, just 15 minutes. The dogs have learned and adjusted to the routine. The alarm goes off at 5 (it always has, this wasn't meditation related) but now, I get up and get a cup of coffee (Mr. Coffee has it waiting) and take a few large, life-giving sips* as I return to the bedroom, where I sit cross-legged on my bed, put my iPod on, take a few more sips of coffee, and then spend just 15 minutes being QUIET. Following my breath. Deliberately relaxing my brain. At the end of the 15, I get up, drink the rest of that cup and pour another (my coffee cups are LARGE, btw) and drag the dogs' asses out of bed, and the day is ON. But my stress level is at least 75% lower. My brain isn't racing. I'm not tense. I am actually feeling it.

It's funny how the dogs have adjusted to this routine. When I first started, Sophie in particular was not having it. Now, she looks forward to it, and sighs, and snores. Now, both dogs take it as part of the morning - when I sit down cross-legged and put my headphones on, they both get quiet, too. We all spend just 15 minutes being all mellow. I fully credit Headspace for the training to make this my routine, and I'm not giving it up anytime soon, but eventually, I think I'll not need these training wheels.

*I know, I know! I drink COFFEE before meditating! I am DOIN IT TOTALLY RONG! People who meditate all drink hot water with lemon in the morning, so they don't disturb their energy with caffeine! Then you light incense and put on special music and focus on a single perfect flower in a vase, as you sit on your cruelty-free, hand-crafted in a mountaintop village meditation pillow! Ooh, am I breaking the Meditation Rules taught by the Meditation Mavens of Pinterest? I haven't gone on a single meditation retreat, or started following a guru? And yet it is still actually working?



Janis Bland said...

I almost want to read this book just for the train wreck ... but then, I don't want to damage my Kindle if I decide to throw it across the room.

I find this guided meditation quite useful:

Gagh! Obviously I had no idea you had suffered an aneurysm! I'm so happy you've recovered. How frightening.

Brenda said...

Is this author's first name Susan?

When I had my old job, I could start work at 8:30, so I had time to take a walk before I went in. I know that isn't the same thing as meditation, but when I walk, my mind wanders all over the place and I get a break from stressing out over what I had to do that day or some stupid crisis or political thing going on at work, and it was very relaxing. A great way to start the day---plus, even if everything else went totally wrong for the rest of the day, I had at least gotten that walk in. I also think I slept about 100 times better than I do now.

Also, I started a new job at the end of May---I work for a local Chiropractic College. So far, I really like it.

Anonymous said...

When I lived on the farm, I (also doing all the things wrong!) would head out to sit in the barn door that led into the hay part - yeah, we weren't farmers - but the cat and dog would follow me out, and just sit with me. It was nice to open my eyes and see them, and know I had creatures watching out for me. You know, a chipmunk could have gone round the bend or something.

But I will follow your lead, and start meditating again. You lead me down many good paths. Thank you.


Catherine said...

The author's first name may very well be Susan, but she uses a nickname more commonly seen as a dog's name.

Anonymous said...

My practice is similar to yours. But, since I have the advantage of being officially old, there is lots more time, so I do this four or five times a day. Your writing, by the way, is fantastic. You should write for money.