So this is why people meditate

A confession: when I embarked on Meditation March, it was one of those “because I should” kind of endeavors. I didn’t actually think I needed meditation, and I was skeptical that I would get anything out of the month.

I’ve surprised myself by actually needing, and relying on, my new meditation techniques. Not once, but twice. Did the universe align just so? Did some higher power look out and say, March is a great time to throw these things in Jill’s path, because she is armed with meditation and will be equipped to handle them?

I’m being overly dramatic. But just slightly.

So, what were these two incidents?

First, I had a very high-stakes meeting — the rough equivalent of the most important interview of my life. I had spent a few days preparing, and I even rehearsed some of my thoughts on the drive down. Arriving one hour early, I ducked into a Starbucks, which turned out to be a bad idea, because now I was nervous *and* hopped up on caffeine.¹

When I arrived at the building, I had about 7 minutes to spare. I was extremely nervous, so I decided to meditate for a few minutes before going in. This would never have occurred to me in the past. I probably would have just sat there with my nerves, perhaps reviewing my notes, or scrolling through Facebook to take my mind off things. Instead, a few minutes of “focusing on my breath” brought me to a state of composure that I sorely needed. The meeting went fairly well- I won’t know the real impact for another month or two- but in any case, the meditation seemed to help.

Fast forward to last week, one of the most challenging weeks in my work life to date. I was embroiled in a very stressful situation, one that kept me from sleeping at night and absorbed all my focus during the day. I’m not good enough at meditating (yet) to have been able to banish all thoughts of this situation from my mind; instead, I would start to meditate and my mind would immediately go to what was happening at work. So: a meditation failure.

However, when the week culminated in a confrontation, I saw the power of my meditation practice. During the encounter, I focused on my breathing, and I allowed negative comments to pass me by. Later, I even tried a “loving kindness” meditation, in which I sent positive thoughts out to a person who doesn’t like me. The result? I have moved on. I don’t let that person, and that situation, occupy my mind any more. I am able to focus on the present and future, rather than being stuck in what has transpired. And I am sleeping much better as a result.

Going into March, neither the high-stakes meeting, nor the impending confrontation, were on my radar at all. But then: there they were. And I sailed past them. This was my small meditation victory, and I’ll take it. I have to imagine that people who meditate regularly, not just during Meditation March, must have these small victories all the time. And that makes meditation a kind of secret superpower. Who knew?

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¹Not really. It was decaf. But that sounds so lame in the retelling, doesn’t it?

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A bad meditator

I am at once the worst candidate and the perfect candidate for a daily meditation practice.

The worst: take “zero free time in my day,” multiply by “I hate spending any time in idle thought,” and add a dose of “I obsess about getting enough sleep, but rarely do”– and perhaps you see why a regular meditation practice is something that feels like a bad fit.

And yet… it’s probably those same factors that make me the perfect candidate. After all, meditation should help me learn to enjoy idleness. It should help me be okay with the amount of sleep I’m getting (and perhaps enable me to enjoy a higher quality of sleep). And as for not having enough time in my day– well, something will have to be sacrificed.

My first few days of Meditation March saw me eager to get to bed, but “forced” to meditate first. It felt like a chore, something I had to check off my list before I could do the thing I actually wanted to do (sleep!). Since then, I have tried to find other times in my day to sneak in some meditation. My ferry ride has been a good opportunity. I have a half-hour ferry ride, twice a day, in which I normally do work or catch up on my reading. Instead of my normal routine, I have stopped myself after 20 minutes of activity, in order to meditate for the last ten.

My actual practice either entails a guided meditation (I’ve been using the “Buddhify” app, which offers short meditations for different times in your day) or my own meditation: focusing on my breath, while trying to clear my mind of other thoughts. I’m about 20% successful. But I think I’ll get better.

So far, I give myself the following grades¹:

Enthusiasm: B-

Focus: D

Diligence: A

My first small meditation success came a few days ago. I had an important meeting, and I felt very stressed for the 24 hours leading up to it. A few minutes before going in, I paused and gave myself 2 minutes to close my eyes and focus on my breath. This actually calmed me immensely, and it’s something I never would have thought to do before Meditation March. I win!

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¹Of course, grading yourself at meditation is probably one of the least meditative things you can do.

 

Goodbye, Foodie February. Hello, Meditation March.

If I’ve learned nothing else about myself in February, I now know that I wouldn’t enjoy being a restaurant critic. Writing about my experience at restaurants is some of the least exciting writing I’ve ever had to do. Well, perhaps not as painful as that freelance article about elevator safety,¹ but still not something I’d welcome doing again.

Still, to do justice to the month, I’ve got one more review to submit. And in this case, I’m happy to do so. Ad Hoc was pure delight. This Thomas Keller restaurant is the French Laundry’s warm, unpretentious younger sibling. There is a fixed menu each night, and the food is served family-style. The restaurant is meant to feel like home, and the noisy families with their rambunctious children ensured that it did. The food was humble but delicious and the service was spot-on, making for a wonderful dining experience.

Our meal seemed simple enough: wedge salad, sirloin with sides of cabbage and grits, cheese course, and chocolate pudding. But the preparation of each dish elevated it: the surprisingly sweet tomatoes and creamy dressing on the salad; the perfect texture (at once creamy and chewy) of the grits; a delectable sweet-and-sour flavor to the cabbage; the pudding that was so balanced and, with homemade whipped cream and a graham and toffee crumble on top, so much more than regular chocolate pudding.

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It was sweet redemption after Poggio and a lovely note on which to end Foodie February. If you have plans to be in the Napa area, and you are looking for delicious, local food done right, you should give Ad Hoc a shot.

With that done, I can now clear my plate (hah!) from February and move on to… “Meditation March.”

Meditation March: the name makes me laugh. It’s a bit of an oxymoron- the idea of a march (loud, militant even) that is also a meditation. Or that people would be marching in support of meditation- a cause whose champions seem… well… unlikely to march. Meditators seem more likely to tread as lightly as possible.

But insofar as “march” indicates a steady rhythm, the name is apt. My hope is to meditate every day. I’ll try different approaches to see if there’s one that is a particularly good fit. I have tried meditation before, but never with any regularity or diligence, and I think My Year of 40 is the perfect time to give it another shot. The “new” aspect, in this case, is in making it a daily practice.

I’ll check in soon to let you know how it’s going. Happy March!

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¹Back when I was still figuring out who I wanted to be, I flirted with freelance writing. And in that flirtation, I did indeed write that captivating article linked above. Same Jill Witty. Living on, ad infinitum, in the never-ending cache of the Internet.