A soothing voice enters my ears via my bluetooth headset connected to my phone.
"Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Notice where you feel the breathe most distinctly."
Okay, I feel it in the center of my nose and in my torso. Back feels a little sore. Maybe it's because I hit the pull-ups too hard this week. Maybe I should skip it today?
"If your mind begins to wander, gently bring it back to the breath."
Dammit, how did he know? Okay, inhale fully, exhale. This will help with swimming. DAMMIT. Okay, inhale, exhale. Don't get distracted...
"As thoughts enter your mind, notice them. Note them, but allow them to pass and return to the breath."
Don't remind me of my busy mind, app. Clear the mind. Blank paper. Nothing but breathing...
And so the process continues, over and over again for ten minutes. Getting the mind to train itself not to wander. I've had a tenuous relationship with meditation for the last thirteen years or so. I bought a book, learned about the basics and was doing well with it. Then I took years and years off of the practice. I realized I needed to come back to it recently.
The Idiot Behind The Wheel
I was amped up. Full of coffee and motivation to get to work on time and teach my ass off. I was driving my truck, exiting the freeway and turning right onto Hollywood Way from Alameda. As I approached the corner, I stopped at the intersection to check for oncoming traffic when behind me I heard it.
I check my rearview mirror. "Asshole in a silver sedan. These guys honk with impunity and all I'm doing to check if it's safe for me and for him. There's no consequence these days. Anybody can honk at anyone for any reason, real or imagined..."
Then a switch flipped.
"I'm going to teach that IDIOT a lesson!"
I complete the turn and then pull over. I put it in park and get out of my truck and start walking, fists clenched towards the car behind me who had just completed the turn. My teeth are bared, I'm ready to fight. As I approach the vehicle I spout a line of colorful expletives that I can't even remember and the guy stops, looks at me with a bewildered look on his face. His eyes are wide and his gesture pointing to himself says only one thing.
"Are you talking to me?"
I snap back into being a rational human being again. "Sorry! I thought you were somebody else!" I walk away and I'm just dumbfounded.
I'm the idiot. That was so stupid. That was the stupidest thing I've done in a long time. What did I think was going to happen? HOW did that happen? I never just react like that!
I'm really, truly mad at myself for this. I'm a father for God's sake. What would have stopped him from running his car into a madman who just tried to attack a moving vehicle with HIS BARE FISTS? I'm a responsible adult male, not some animal.
Time for a Little Reflection
I was a really quiet kid. Not one for casual or even moderate conversation. Beneath my exterior there was a lot going on. The wheels were always turning and when I did speak my parents were often surprised by the insight I had. That said, there was a bit of a monster brewing. I have no idea why, but every so often I would get incredibly angry and lash out either physically or verbally. I had a mean streak that would arise very occasionally. I carried this into adulthood where I would lose my temper, become very frustrated and react negatively.
This has lead me into some strain on my personal relationships. For all the close relationships I have, I'm sure my friends can point out that one or two times that Phil did "that really dick move". I don't want to be that guy. I'm not going to be that guy any more.
Meditation practitioners often talking about thoughts passing like clouds in the sky. I like how the creator of the Headspace app describes it. It's like sitting on the side of the road, watching the traffic go by. Your thoughts are like these vehicles. You can either observe the traffic, or choose to participate and run after the cars. The narrative in your head is a series of thoughts and ideas that can either ignore, act or react to. Some people live their entire lives just listening to the narrative going on in their own head and reacting to it, like an animal in a cage getting whipped every so often.
"God, why did I do THAT 5 years ago!"
"That guy's an idiot! I hate him. I want to kill him!"
"My life sucks! Everyone's out to get me!"
These are just stories we tell ourselves. That's all. You can choose to tell yourself a different story at any time. A more positive one. This isn't just wishful thinking, like everything is puppies and rainbows. No, this is taking the reality in which you exist and choosing to deal with it differently.
That quote did it for me. I don't have to be good at meditation. I do not have to be a shaman or some new age weirdo. I just need to train my mind not to react to every little thing. I need to recognize that I and I alone control the narrative.
Again, a game changer for me. I can choose to be angry and I can choose to be content. I can develop a practical toolkit to take whatever situation I'm in and make better choices with how I respond. Since I've started meditating again, I've lost my temper a lot less. If my kid misbehaves, I'm less likely to view him as a burden and more prone to understanding why his three year-old brain is behaving in that way. The guy behind me in traffic is just having a bad day, perhaps. It's not my problem and none of my business. I'm more patient with myself. I'm more patient with my students and my family. If things don't go my way, I don't have to be a raging child about it. The choice is mine.
This is what meditation has helped me to do and it can help you too if you feel like you need to improve your narrative. Here's what June looked like on my Calm app:
I missed a few days, but I'm working on it. The ten minute a day investment in yourself may pay dividends in your day to day life. I like Headspace and their take ten program. I also really like Calm and their daily meditation. There are paid subscriptions and free versions, but try it for yourself and see how you like it.
I am by no means a master meditator. I still struggle with my "monkey mind" all the time, but I am getting better at recognizing when the narrative is going off the rails and I can right the ship if I catch myself going to places I do not wish to visit.
And if you see me on the news for attacking a moving vehicle, you'll know that this crap doesn't work and you can go about your usual narrative.
"DAMN! Why did I do that! ARGHHH!..."