“(Insert your deity of choice), grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Serenity, like all commodities in short supply, is much sought-after. Many people turn to meditation. Many people (guilty!) fail at this. Everyone who finds it difficult to turn their brain off, raise your hand. And then examine your fingers for dark spots that might be melanoma and then turn your hand over and look at the other side and then inspect your fingernails and think about whether you turned off the iron and think about if you turned off the coffee pot and then sniff to see if you smell something burning and then wonder if you paid the house insurance and if you called the stove repair guy and if you should have eaten that burrito that sat out on the countertop all night and wonders if you paid your medical insurance and if you did, will it cover self-induced ptomaine poisoning. This is how I’ve experienced meditation: it starts with attempting to calm your soul, moves past focusing on your hand and leads, inexorably, to a slow painful death in several uneasy steps. This is how it goes for failed meditators.
Wise individuals who have gone before us try to lead those (guilty!) with the un-still minds. Some of their guiding words: “When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.” — Francois de La Rochefoucauld. “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” — Leo Tolstoy. “Give me chastity and continence, just not yet.” — St. Augustine. “Instant gratification takes too long.” — Carrie Fisher. “Today me will live in the moment unless it’s unpleasant in which case me will eat a cookie.” — Cookie Monster.
The road to hell, as well as the gravel bed base and all other underpinnings, is indeed paved with good intentions. The sheer weight of good intentions may sink them even deeper, all the way to the other side of the earth. I’d like to play the piano like Vladimir Horowitz but I don’t want to take lessons, much less practice. Of course, I probably can play as well as Vladimir, seeing as he’s been dead since 1989, but you get my meaning. Once I’m finished thinking about the coffee pot, I think about my surroundings. Often, in the typical class, one is surrounded by young, lithe, gazelle-like people whose yoga pants are not taxed to the point of structural failure (guilty!). As I lie there, trying to be a lily on the pond I am thinking very un-lily-like thoughts. Will that burrito and my gastrointestinal tract finally conspire to betray me mid-meditation? Since I’m lying on my back, is all the loose skin on my face and neck pooling around my ears making it look as though my family tree involves a Shar Pei in the distant uncertain past? How am I going to get up off the floor? Are those young, lithe, gazelle-like creatures who are here studying the ancient arts evolved enough not to judge me? To help me up? To pump my stomach, should the need arise? Even an FM (failed meditator) like myself knows it defeats the purpose of a meditation session to look at the clock to see how much time is left (guilty!). I admire people who can empty their minds or settle them enough to achieve a restorative state. But maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe we’re not supposed to empty our minds. Many folks have apparently successfully created this void and have been unable to fill it again … they can’t seem to re-prime the pump, so to speak. I’d like to be better at meditation but I just hate doing things I’m not good at which is the very definition of a Catch-22. Maybe we’re just supposed to redirect our thoughts toward something wholesome and healing. Which is the very definition of a cookie.