With the Lenten season almost upon us, I’m reminded again how terribly bad I’ve been lately at sacrificing or “giving up” things for Lent. (Never mind New Year’s resolutions which are pretty much out of the question. Forgetaboutit.)
But about this time last year I heard some theologian say it’s perfectly consistent with Lenten spirituality to “add” something positive in one’s life, in place of giving something up. Lent can be considered a time of self-improvement.
So in February last year, instead spending 40 days trying to surrender chocolate or alcohol from my life or something else just as much fun, I decided to seriously do something healthy for myself every day. I decided to give meditation another try.
I say another try because I was first exposed to it back in the Dark Ages, college in the late 1960’s. As an elective, I took a religion course on Mysticism taught by a rabbi from Winnipeg. I remember the class was hugely popular and terribly hard to get into. Again, this was the 60’s. Anyway, we would spend the first 20 minutes of class time in meditation.
I didn’t stick with it, however. One thing or another got in the way. Being drafted into the Army among them.
Fast forward forty-plus years.
As it turns out, last year I had just read Dan Harris’ wonderfully down-to-earth book 10% Happier. I also talked with him about it on television via satellite, as they say.
You may know that Dan Harris as one of the weekend anchors of ABC’s Good Morning America. For years he has covered religion and spirituality for the network. He’s done a bang-up job doing it, by the way.
After reporting on it, Mr. Harris himself became attracted to meditation and a convert. One reason for that he gives in the book is that today meditation is practiced regularly not just by granola-eating, sandal-wearing “hippy”-types, but also by people from all walks of life, including Navy Seals. Nowadays it’s part of their training.
The health benefits of meditation have been well-documented for years. It can lower blood pressure. All kinds of things.
Mr. Harris was convinced. Mr. Harris convinced me.
Early one morning he even tweeted me his encouragement from the set of Good Morning America suggesting I start with just five minutes a day, which I did.
Today I meditate for twenty to twenty-five minutes first thing in the morning in our sun room. I haven’t missed a day in almost a year. Sometimes Desi joins me on my lap. (Desi is Desi Arnaz, our cat named after a Cuban bandleader who married well.) I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not, but Desi seems to enjoy it, usually sitting perfectly still with me.
The idea of meditation is to try to clear the mind and turn off “the voices” that are constantly in our heads. I’m here to tell you it’s incredibly hard to try not to think of anything, but there is something about the process of trying to think of nothing that is beneficial.
For me at first, nothing happened. After awhile, nothing happened either.
But eventually little things at work started to bother me less. Tailgating drivers behind me on the road started to bother me a little less. It’s funny. The benefits of meditation seem to kick in when I need them most, when I the most stressed.
Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been life-changing or anything. I still get mad to be sure, but less often and with far less intensity.
Anyway, I never expected miracles. These things take time. But for me, it beats giving up chocolate.