It’s been about five months since I paid attention to my breathing. For almost half a year, I’ve neglected to carefully observe my breath, and yet my breath has still come — in and out, and in and out, etc. — a fact of which I am only passively aware because I am here, now, alive, typing these words. Not only am I alive, but I feel fine.
I started meditating about four years ago, after a friend of mine suggested it. I meditated almost every day, noticing each in breath and out breath (or at least trying to), noticing my thoughts and letting them go (or at least trying to). Most of those days, it didn’t really do anything for me. The alarm on my phone would go off after 10 or 20 minutes, and I’d feel pretty much the same as when I started.
But article after article on pop-science websites assured me that meditation would better me in every possible way. I would be less anxious, more focused. I would be kinder, healthier. My skin would be clearer, my stomach flatter. I would feel happy, I convinced myself. I would be a better friend, a better writer. I would be patient. When that girl from college captioned another photo of herself doing Pilates with a quote from Nelson Mandela, I would either ignore it or simply mute her account instead of screenshotting it and texting it to my friends with the message, “Shoot me into the sun.”
I desperately wanted to be the person I thought meditation would make me, and I feared becoming the person I’d be — or rather, the person I’d remain — if I stopped. So I meditated over and over and over again, sometimes sitting up, sometimes lying down, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening, sometimes while squished between masses of arms, stomachs, and backpacks on the rush-hour 2 train.
Occasionally, meditation would help me achieve a sense of calm. I’d spend the rest of the day on a high, feeling pleasantly, magnanimously superior to those poor souls around me who probably hadn’t yet unlocked the power of mindfulness. Other times, I’d finish my meditation feeling worse because I’d spent the whole attempt berating myself for not being able to quiet my mind, and then berating myself for berating myself, and then thinking, I don’t need to follow this train of thought, and then thinking, Jesus, I sound like an asshole, and then going through my to-do list for the day, getting progressively more stressed. Some days, when I was trying to meditate in the morning, I’d just fall asleep again.
I didn’t consciously set out to stop meditating. I just had other stuff going on. I quit drinking, I started kickboxing, I went hiking, I took writing classes, I read more. All of these things took me out of my head and made me feel more present than meditation ever did. Occasionally, I feel calm. Sometimes, I feel bad. Some mornings, I fall asleep again. My skin is fine — good, not great. I’m still impatient. I try to let other people bother me less but I still shit-talk that girl from college. I would like to improve these things about myself, but I’m less stressed about it. I’ve got other things going on.
None of this is a knock against meditation, which is a helpful tool for a lot of people. I was setting myself up for failure by looking for a panacea in the first place. I’m just telling you this now, as we enter into a new year and a new decade, and as we reflect on the habits we want to shed or bring with us, to say that if there is a wellness trend you have been laboriously trying to get into for the past month, or the past four years, something you have been promised will improve your life in every way, even though it hasn’t so far, consider just … letting it go. Do stuff you actually enjoy instead. It’ll be fine.