I distinctly remember the first time I sat in meditation practice. Surrounded by fellow yoga students in a small Philadelphia studio nearly 15 years ago, I carefully followed the instructor’s cues. First off: “Find your way into a comfortable cross-legged position.” Yoga had prepared me for this. I sat still comfortably.
But as the teacher continued to guide us—“Notice any thoughts that may occur”—I noticed a stirring discomfort. My mind was anything but quiet. In fact, it had loads to say—about last week’s difficult conversations, how my socks felt, my recent choice to quit law school, the electricity bill, long held insecurities... you name it. I hobbled through that first experience with equal parts curiosity and agony. Meditation was hard. My mind’s overzealous ability to fill empty space with feedback, memory, worry, and contemplation was well practiced. Thoughts conquered stillness.
I reminded myself why I was there in the first place: to unplug from the rest of life (even for a few minutes at a time) and re-emerge cleaner, lighter, happier. And though I didn’t know them beyond their smiles and silhouettes, I trusted that the woman to my left and the man to my right felt that same need. That we were all in this together.
So I stuck with it. What began as scary shifted to awkward, and then slowly began to approach welcoming. I noticed it was far easier to sit in the company of others than to be alone. Perhaps a room full of people triggered my sense of personal accountability. Whatever the reason, it helped.
Over time, I tried sitting on my own. On plenty of days, I would think of medi-tation, feel drawn to it, but ultimately avoid it because I knew it was difficult for me. I regarded the discipline of a solo practice a serene place other people visited, and I judged my own squirmy distractions as evidence that I didn’t have the passport required to enter.
Fast forward a decade, through many more attempts, the arrival of three children, yoga teacher training, divorce, and a professional dedication to institutions devoted to mindfulness and personal growth—including my role as managing editor at 1440 Multiversity—and you might think that I’d finally arrived.
But the truth is that I haven’t. I still struggle. The biggest, most important shift in my relationship to meditation has been one of perspective. I have learned that it’s OK to cross the border into silence along with my thoughts and worries rather than fight them. Now, instead of feeling anxious that they accompany me, I can hold them where they belong—in my lap—with care. Some days the preoccupations are tiny (Did I remember to take out the trash?) and some days, they are enormous (Do I give in to fear too easily?). The simple act of allowing for them has had a magical way of softening their noise.
Due to the strength I first drew from meditating in the company of others, I often rely on the companionship of authors as my solo practice evolves. The following three books in particular have provided invaluable guidance.
The Next Chapter
No matter what looms largest for you—preoccupations with challenge, love, loss, family, career, habit, or fear—you inevitably bring it with you when you sit on your meditation cushion. Learning to be there with yourself, regardless, is the first step to embracing meditation. And because life is never static and new concerns are always emerging, it is a first step you’ll need to keep taking—again and again and again.
Fortunately, you don’t have to take it alone. There are magnificent companions out there. These three books are just the beginning.