Meditation against meditation, II
A "how-to" for part two and meditation as "nonsense"
Before we get started: I apologize! I said this post would be out yesterday, but life has been a series of mini-crises lately. So here we are. A day late but here nonetheless!
The absolute first thing I want to say about meditating is: fuck sitting down, fuck grounding down, fuck any mention of a “tall spine” or “both feet on the floor.”
We’re used to conversations about cultural appropriation cropping up with any mention of mindfulness or meditation practices that have been co-opted from Buddhist and Hindu traditions in service of the United States’ particular brand of late capitalism. We’re less good at conversations about ableism as a barrier to whatever good can come of active contemplation, in part because, as Johanna Hedva has remarked to me, confronting our deeply held, and deeply misguided, beliefs in the normalcy and supremacy of the able-bodied means coming face to face with the reality of our own fragility, our own death. I, however, have promised you a newsletter on how to meditate if you kind of hate meditating. So that’s all I’ll talk of death today.
In any respect, I’ve always found the notion that you have to achieve some state of relaxation, some posture near-enough to perfect and attentive repose, as the starting point of meditation to be, at the very least, unhelpful, and at worst, viciously ableist. If you are anything like me, your body hurts—either acutely, or in the low-grade kind of way that lets you know you’re alive in a world that values work over life, or both.
As I wrote Tuesday, I believe that the point of meditation is not stillness so much as exposure: It’s a way to get to know your “insides” through the at-a-distance gaze of analytical “outsider.” In doing so, it offers up opportunities for meaning and attention at a time when loneliness and isolation prevent so many of us from attending to the feelings and patterns of our lives in a spirit of wisdom, generativity, and witnessing.
What follows, then, is a list of guidelines on active meditation I’ve cobbled together from my life as an academic, tarot reader, and sick person. Take what works for you, as they say, and leave the rest!
— Begin in whatever way allows you to experience the least amount of pain or resistance from your body.
For me, meditation began as a walking practice for brain and body. I needed the slow, methodical, recited movement of walking around a local park I knew wouldn’t have to pay attention to coupled with the slow, methodical, recited movement of lines of poetry, narrative, and tarot spells in my mind. This took pressure off directives to focus on grounding my body or breath, both of which cause me an undue amount of anxiety. It helped me feel like “I was doing something” for the aches in my back and the ominous sense of flaring panic and/or boredom in brain that cropped up whenever I thought, oh, I guess I might meditate now.
I tried not to worry about whether this walking/recitation practice was actually meditation. I left my phone behind. I allowed myself thoughts of fret, rage, despair, whatever, but I tried to finish them out, nonsensically, with the words of other writers. So a thought like I’m going to die and leave behind a motherless kid wouldn’t end there, it would go something like this: I’m going to die and leave behind a motherless kid/ our bodies have always belonged to each other, pulling in a favorite line from Katie Schmid’s poem “The Boatman.” Or the narrativized feeling of I’m so terrified I got cancer because I’m evil would find itself transformed into: I’m so terrified I got cancer because I’m evil/sometimes strangers are just friends we haven’t met before! mobilizing a beloved passage from T. Susan Chang’s essay on the Ten of Pentacles to change the tone, even if nothing seemed to really make sense. For me, the process of meditating was—and is—about not making sense on the surface of my brain, so that sense-making could begin to happen on a deeper level. The magic was that, by making this active nonsense a habit—a daily practice—a deeper sense of things, and of myself, began to rise.
— Don’t call it meditation. Call it nonsense. Call it contemplation. Call it storytelling. Call it “the real world is hard, so I’m going to build another one inside of myself.” Call it world-building. Call it activism. Call it fucking up.