The thing that really scares me is spontaneous personal expression. For example, I can actually freestyle pretty well, but I’ve only done it for an audience a handful of times. Doing it for one person is even scarier. Rapping someone else’s lyrics for any audience doesn’t raise my pulse at all, but having people hear what I come up with in the moment is oddly terrifying.
Last night was my friend Luke’s birthday party. Before the complete production, which is like the parties I’ve seen in movies, but better, he hosted a small dinner and meditation session for half a dozen of us. I went because I’ve met awesome new friends every time I’ve gone to one of his dinner parties, and despite hearing about how much it’s improved everyone’s lives, I’ve just never really understood meditation.
We all sat on cushions on the top floor of his house. We would be doing pair meditation, Luke explained. We were to sit and ping-pong back and forth offering one word descriptions of what’s going on in our bodies and minds. He and his partner went back and forth to demonstrate:
Uh oh, I thought. What if I can’t think of what to say? What if there are two sensations? What if it takes me too long to articulate it? What if I don’t feel anything? What if I sound ridiculous? What if I keep feeling the same thing– should I make up something new or just keep repeating?
All of those niggling fears faded to the background and were replaced by a much bigger one when I heard what Luke said next: “let’s do this for twenty minutes”.
Besides the Vipassana retreat I bailed from early, every other attempt to meditate has been me setting an alarm for ten minutes and then deciding after 90 seconds that it was pointless. Now I would have a partner, so I couldn’t bail.
Deep breath. Ok, let’s do this.
At Vipassana, I kept having thoughts. I’d try to extinguish them, but they’d be replaced with more thoughts. If I could somehow force a couple seconds of mental emptiness, I would immediately congratulate myself and lose it.
But this tandem meditation was different. When forced to articulate thoughts and sensations, I found that they all got stage fright. Miraculously, I never fell into the loop of thinking, “I need to think of something to say”. Instead, my mind was blank for most of the time.
After a few minutes the alarm went off. Luke must have set it wrong, and now we’d have to start over. I couldn’t believe it when he told us that twenty minutes had passed. It was the first time I’d ever experienced that timelessness that meditation is supposed to provide.
To experience any of the real benefits of meditation, I’d have to do it on an ongoing basis, but this exercise helped me experience what meditation is like and made it feel a lot more accessible. If you can get over the fear of acting ridiculously, give it a shot– it’s as simple as I described.