Friday, September 2, 2016

Keep Calm And Keep Your Eyes Closed

I attempted to meditate for the first time this week, and it stressed me out.

I'd seen an advertisement for a meditation workshop led by a yoga teacher, and I signed up right away. I thought I could benefit from it, both mentally and physically. 

I didn't realize how much my health had suffered this summer until my doctor tested my blood pressure during a recent visit. It registered higher than usual. As I sat there on the examination table, with my sleeve rolled up to my shoulder, flexing my bicep to impress my doctor, I wondered why that would be the case.

Do you exercise regularly? my doctor asked. Well, of course I do, I answered. Of course, I don't, but I would never tell him that. I never tell my dentist I don't floss regularly, either. I do, however, lie to health professionals regularly. I'm not proud of it, but I'm too ashamed to admit the truth to them. It's why I only see them once or twice a year. It has nothing to do with insurance.

I can only speculate, but I don't think that a lack of exercise, or my diet, or any other factor within my control contributed to my elevated blood pressure. Rather, I think it's the result of a trying summer in which a spambot accused me of being an imbecilean airline screwed me out of a donut, and several stand-up comics called on me while performing at a comedy club.

Whatever the reason, I knew I had a problem that needed to be addressed. I had to lower my blood pressure. I had to eliminate the stress in my life. And I had to make sure my doctor didn't find out that I wasn't exercising regularly.

Hours after the visit with my doctor, I came across the advertisement for the workshop in a local magazine. I read it as a sign, a call to action. Meditation was the answer, a way to strengthen my body, mind and spirit, through quiet thought and reflection. It would be freeing.

And it would be free. The teacher wasn't charging admission for the workshop -- important, because the idea of spending money to manage my stress only adds to my stress.

I was optimistic. I had a lot of confidence in the teacher. I'd Googled her, and her credentials were impressive. She was the bestselling author of four books on meditation, had appeared on a number of news programs, and had taught classes around the world.

I was certain she could help me -- nay, I was certain she could heal me. This was my expectation: I would walk into the room, she would listen to my story, and then, through the power of meditation, she would take away my anxiety and release my stress. They would evaporate into thin air, and I would become happier and more relaxed than I've ever been.

This is what I thought would happen, essentially:

That is not what happened. Quite the opposite. The yoga teacher didn't heal me. She confused the heck out of me.

The start of the workshop was promising enough. She asked the participants -- 11 or 12 of us, altogether -- to close their eyes. Easy. I've been closing my eyes for 35 years.

I closed my eyes. And then I opened them, to make sure the others had closed their eyes. They had. I closed my eyes again. I opened them again. Should I still have my eyes closed, I asked myself. Yes, I should, I discovered. I closed my eyes again.

After that...well, the teacher didn't take away my anxiety or release my stress, I can tell you that much. She spoke for approximately 10 minutes, stringing together words that, to me, collectively held little meaning.

I wish I had written down what she'd said after the fact. Here's a brief list of words I remember hearing:

- "Fame"
- "Audacity"
- "Merchants"
- "Bro"
- "Taylor"
- "Ray J"

I may be mixing up my experience at the workshop with my experience watching Kanye West on the VMAs telecast last Sunday. But the teacher's speech made just as much sense to me.

For 10 minutes, my eyes were closed. And for 10 minutes, I was completely and utterly lost. I didn't know if she was providing instructions, or sharing an inspirational message, or something else entirely.

Don't take my word for it. Watch this clip from the workshop:

Once the teacher finished speaking, she asked that we open our eyes. I did, and I took a good look at the other participants. What I saw surprised me. They were smiling. They were calm. They were relaxed.

I was none of those things. I was upset. I was frustrated. I was demoralized. My anxiety and stress hadn't evaporated; they'd condensed. What had the others heard that I hadn't?

I quietly slipped out the door, I went home and I turned on the TV. Maybe watching a movie would help me relax. I searched Netflix for The Green Mile.