For 246 days, my husband and I have been exploring our own bodies. I’d prefer to explore his—my god, you should see it—but that would defeat the purpose. Meditating pre-dawn on straight backed vintage Barcelonas we lugged home from Palm Springs this last winter, I’m nowhere near an uninterrupted full body scan. My mind tries, turns inward. Then, against any conscious will; poof! Lost in thought again.
Follow along, we’ll use my body as our guide.
Step 1: Find your spot, preferably with real-world noise and a likelihood of interruption. Near the dog. Screaming kids in the background. The Amazon delivery guy showing up. All would be ideal. It’s helpful to learn meditation with the conditions that prevail. Sit up or lie down. Bathroom stalls are a great option in a pinch.
You don’t even need to shut your eyes—looking spiritual is not a thing.
Step 2: Start with your Head. Tingling scalp, pressure in sinuses, nose, cheeks, day-old whiskers, ears, mouth, coffee-stained teeth, tongue, jaw, chin with new pimple.
Somewhere between my eyes and nose, I end up lost in the endless caverns of my mind––
Unpaid taxes… that fight… what will we need to retire?… how many calories are in an ice cream sandwich? … schedule MRI for broken wrist … I’m such a fraud … how many people live in Croatia?
Just after a particularly absurd thought, such as, why do dogs still hump after being fixed?, I jolt back to awareness. You will too.
Step 3: Neck.; Buried Adam’s apple, throat, sagging skin, Did we watch the season finale of Yellowstone yet? Seeing my face on Zoom makes me mute.
Fuck. I regain noticing and recommit to the meditation. They say the “practice” is in the coming back.
Step 4: Shoulders. Deltoids, trapezius, knife scar’s entry point, I can’t believe the dog needs that allergy shot again, Whew! Thank God they de-funded the IRS again!
Step 5: Arms. Biceps, triceps, forearm covered in tattoo sleeve, elbow, broken wrist, ring finger with square platinum and diamond wedding band, knuckles, knife scar’s exit.
This style of meditation, which I prefer to describe as ‘mental exercise,’ is called Vipassana. Free from the constraints of religion, it’s the scientific practice of looking at what our minds do when left unattended. My unattended mind is the equivalent of a six-week-old puppy pissing everywhere.
Thus far, I’ve observed;
1) Emotions are spectacularly unreliable.
2) Emotions are great information and terrible decision-makers.
Step 6: Chest. Pectoral muscles, nipples, silver dharma wheel on platinum chain, “hey Pillsbury doughboy,”
With just the slightest awareness that I’m moving from arms to chest, I begin to shake, to slip away. The steady me, the learned me, the therapy-twelve-step-700-self-help-books-32-year-meditator me gets hijacked again and again— back in the closet, back to 328 pounds, back to a beautiful-for-anyone-else-but-me life where I could not breathe.
Shame’s vile landscape.
A Saint Helens’ worth of dysmorphic delusion.
“At least he’s smart”
Three decades of sex with my shirt left on.
I believe the benefits of meditation are entirely illusive until the moment you least expect them and most need them. Repetitively returning to the meditation assures me I’ll find my way through if I don’t react. If I stand still. If I shut the fuck up and hold tight. My mom, a seventy-five-year-old free spirit who genuinely believes she single-handedly stopped the Vietnam War, likes to call it the sacred pause.
I have learned to pause and pause and pause and pause.
Step 7: Abdomen. Stomach, hidden six-pack, loose skin, spicy rolls of shame
Thoughts are like bad roommates.
Step 8: Back. Upper back, lower back, spine, a tattoo that says “remember”, do my fat roles show through this shirt?
Step 9: Pelvis. Hips, groin, waist size 44, 42, 40, 38, 36, 32, 29, 34, 30
Poof. Gone. Then I come back. I’m getting better.
Step 10: Genitals.Penis, testicles, scrotum, we need more of that Clorox, where are our large ziplock bags? I hate my new running shoes, why is my body still an apology?
I know. I feel you. Just keep going. If you want reassurance, jump on Insight Timer. They log how many of the eight billion of us are meditating at any one time. Today it’s 5,698.
Step 11: Legs.Thighs, birthmark, hamstrings, knees, calves, scar from a Brown Recluse spider bite back in ’79.
Over time, as the late, great meditation master and posthumous Netflix star of “Wild Country,” Osho liked to say: “get past the insanity created by the past by being a simple witness to your thought process.”
With all this observing, I find a great surprise: I am not my mind.
Step 12: Feet. Ankles, heels, arch, soles, runner’s calluses, big toe with giant blister, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, pinky toe,
I must have done-it-wrong-and-I’ve-failed-yet-again.
What’s for dinner?