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Misadventures in Meditation

Minding Your Mind

By Jennifer A. Gathright

I tried to meditate again this morning. I say “try,” because what really happened was that I sat down for a grand total of four minutes and then proceeded to feel like tiny humans were catapulting thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts across my cranium like in a medieval war. It went something like this:

I wonder if all this talk about the basicness of pumpkin spice lattes has affected drink sales at Starbucks in any way

Itch on my nose

Girl-on-girl microaggression sucks; I probably should never call someone basic ever

The stapler in Lowell’s computer lab has been missing for a while now

Reminder: Christmas

The thoughts flew this way and that way, until finally I had to halt the Battle of Hastings in my brain, leave my room, and move on to something actually productive, like exploring the Lowell tunnels to see which vending machine has the best selection.

Meditation is sexy right now. People who use words like “lifehack” and “crowdsource” in casual conversation definitely know how to talk about the health and productivity benefits of meditation. Even just five minutes a day is better than nothing! You don’t have to be good at it—escape the cycle of self-judgment! Just do it! I want to be like the powerful CEO who wakes up, meditates, goes to the gym, and then accomplishes her remaining four impossible things before breakfast. And that would, like, definitely happen if I really got into the meditation.

And getting work done faster would not be meditation’s sole benefit. The Buddhist principle of nonattachment is legit. I want to walk through the world engaged yet unfazed. I want to care without getting carried away. I want to be able to notice things without judging them, to look at problems as interesting and important to solve but not inherently negative. If I meditated, maybe I would figure out a better way to affix my favorite poster onto my wall instead of getting pissed each day when I arrive home to find it blown to the ground.

Maybe the reason why meditation is so hard to keep up is because the space inside our minds can be scary. I accept overstimulation in my external world all the time. I know it’s not good to constantly be on the lookout for phone notifications and new emails. And I definitely know it isn’t good to text and walk at the same time–I fell up some stairs and ripped my jeans the last time I did that. So, when I shut my eyes to the overstimulation of the external world and find the same old chatter about pumpkin spice lattes going on in my brain, I’m rightfully pissed.

But, I think all of that chatter will get better with practice. I will learn not to judge my thoughts. I’ll notice them and then they’ll prance away just like the stapler thief in Lowell.

So, the problem must be something deeper and more serious.

Sometimes, when I sit by myself and make it for longer than four minutes, I reach a locus of connection—I find a place inside of me that I think might exist in everyone else. I find the junction at which I’m attached to every other person on earth. I’m not like, Enlightened or anything, but I just feel very human and very much the same as every other human.

But with this whole meditation business, there’s always the lurking chance that I’ll find another place—the part within me that feels different; idiosyncratic. The part that reminds me how alone I am. Louis C.K. brilliantly pinpointed this feeling on Conan last year when he explained why people text and drive. Louis says people text to escape a lurking feeling of sadness and loneliness—when the feeling creeps up, they squash it by reaching out for some sort of connection, even if that connection is superficial and fleeting. And then he said the most validating thing: “Sadness is poetic; you’re lucky to live sad moments.” Louis is right—only if we open ourselves up to those sad, lonely feelings when they come can we truly start to feel the beauty of our lives.

Sometimes, I don’t want to look into my mind because I’m afraid of what I might find there. But there’s a beautiful aesthetic to life, and this aesthetic exists in my internal world as well as my external one. If I don’t shut my eyes and look inside of my mind, I’m missing out on a pretty gorgeous place. So I think I can spare more than four minutes a day to spend some time there.

Jennifer A. Gathright ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Lowell House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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