Practice Doing Nothing
“Sometimes I can’t face myself.” Elizabeth Newton on learning to meditate.
Sometime in 2014, my style of thinking – which had once felt “nimble and somersaulting,” in Capote’s words – had accelerated to an overactive state. My thinking, then frenetic, was beginning to take a toll on my physical health. I had serious trouble sleeping, and my muscles felt as though sutured to my nerves and bones in a weird, wrong way. After speaking with me about my condition, one pill-pushing therapist-in-training forced me to call a psychiatrist in an effort to prescribe me something to “slow down the thoughts,” a suggestion that I found and still find alarming.
My encounter with that therapist left me feeling so crazy that I found it difficult to leave my apartment for a couple of weeks, given that my worst fears had been confirmed: my thoughts, the only thing I had until then consistently managed to like about myself, were largely incomprehensible to others. I didn’t know many people in New York then, and New Yorkers, though smart, aren’t exactly kind. This therapist seemed to be further proof that me and these 8.4 million people here simply can’t comprehend one another.
And yet, deep down, I knew the quack was right. I needed to find a way to deal with my thoughts, if not to slow them, then to channel them in a more manageable way. Writing felt useful, but too often the pace of my pencil or typing fingers fell behind my racing brain.
After conversation with a friend, I decided to start a practice of regular meditation to find relief from my scattered imagination. On her recommendation, my goal was to meditate twenty minutes every night, using a lightly guided practice I had found whose narrator seemed reasonable and kind.
At first, this felt impossible. Twenty minutes, apparently, is an excruciatingly long time.