I sat under our rented umbrella, a couple sunbathing on my right, girls in surprisingly distracting thongs in front of me, screaming gulls all around. I had dug a nest in the sand and lined it with a beach towel.
I sat cross-legged in my nest, put my upraised palms on my knees, and closed my eyes to meditate.
They sprang open. What am I, nuts? There’s people everywhere! And waiters hoping to sell another $8 water bottle, and sniffing dogs, and tattoos! So many tattoos! A salamander on a girl’s back! Chinese characters! Why?
We’re meditating now.
Right. OK. I inhaled and closed my eyes again. The jumbled conversations seemed louder with my eyes closed, as did the thumping bass of the club music someone was playing.
Cigarette smoke, dead fish and that saltwater smell like a big soft sweatshirt. And underneath everything, the whoosh and hiss of waves that never start and never stop.
I can do this. It’s kind of cool. I’m going to be able to tell my family, while you were out playing in the ocean, I was meditating. I meditated!
We’re meditating now.
This is how meditation always goes for me: It’s one distraction after another. When I started practicing, around eight years ago, I thought these distractions showed what a disordered mind I had, how rotten my concentration was. “Boy, am I bad at this,” I thought. But I was just a beginner. Surely it would get better.
It never got better.
If you want the real scoop on meditation — the techniques, the history, the many fruits of the practice — the library has all kinds of books about it, written by people with a lot more experience and wisdom than me.
But I have learned this: It’s not about the distractions, it’s about the reminders. Every time I remind myself that we’re meditating now, I’m prioritizing meditation over plain old thought. I’m practicing steering my attention away from my thoughts.
What makes this difficult is that I adore my thoughts. They are so interesting!
I could spend (I do spend) hours with them, remembering the freaky hairstyle I saw in the grocery store, worrying about car wrecks. But meditation has taught me that, when I let go of a thought in the middle of thinking it — when I say, actually, fascinating thought of mine, I’m going to meditate now — the thought loses some of its fizz and sparkle. It becomes less important. And my perspective widens, just a little.
It’s a very weird practice I do inside my head that helps me get out of my head. But that’s what I’ve found.
After my first meditation workshop I went home and discovered that my 6-year-old, whose needs had always seemed kind of, well, childish, was in fact a person, with plans and opinions, none of which were petty or foolish. She was suddenly enchanting to me.
But it wasn’t my daughter who had changed, it was me. I had practiced letting go of my thoughts, which helped me open myself to hers.
I haven’t stopped meditating since.
Elizabeth Uppman is one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers. She can be reached at email@example.com.