For the last 27 days, I’ve been participating in a meditation challenge. 30 days, 10 minutes a day, no distractions. Just breathing, silence, attention.
I wish I could say that I’ve been 100% committed, focused, and followed through perfectly every single day. I haven’t. Some days I’ve remembered to meditate 5 minutes before going to bed and I fall asleep as I’m sitting cross-legged on a pillow. Some days I skip the practice entirely.
Nonetheless, interesting things have been happening to me, and I can only assume they are as a result of this challenge. While I find myself focusing more sharply–on my work, on my poetry-writing, on my relationship with my self–I also find myself withdrawing–from my blog, from sharing very much, from giving in to vulnerability in my relationships.
I’ve come to a very profound realization recently, and it is this: for all of my life, I have felt like I need someone else to be happy.
When I was 9, I started keeping a daily diary, a habit I continued into college and only slowed down on a couple years ago. It’s fascinating to browse those journals and read about life through the eyes of my 13-, 16-, 19-year-old self. I changed and grew so much and yet, one thing remained the same: I wanted someone to share everything with.
I’m hesitant to publicly admit this because I don’t like the way it sounds. I don’t like what it might imply about me. I don’t like that I didn’t grow up independent and empowered and ultra-feminist.
To be honest, my mom had to force me to go to college. I told her, “I don’t want to work, I’d rather just marry rich,” and she said, “That’s not a good plan. Get an education.”
My entire college career, I thought I would be married by the time I graduated. I thought that by the time I marched down the aisle in that cap and gown, I would have a diamond ring on my left hand, preparing to march down another proverbial aisle (and I thought I knew exactly who was going to buy that ring).
But, on the day I graduated, I did not have that. The person I always thought would give me a ring did not give me a ring. And my heart completely imploded.
I had no plan. I had no goals. I had only ever wanted that ring.
What happened next was messy, chaotic, largely unhealthy. I let my life turn into a tornado for a little while, and I made a lot of choices that went against my intuition. It was like my life was this huge scab that I kept digging a nail into, even though I knew it would hurt, even though I knew it would scar. I didn’t let it heal. I just kept picking.
If you know me well, you are aware that I am shamelessly devoted to Dr. Phil. You can laugh at me all you want, but I will tell you one lesson I have learned from him that I have seen proven true over and over: you can tell if someone has truly changed, because they will have a story to tell you.
You can blab and make resolutions and list pros and cons, but until there is a catalyst, until the story reaches its climax, you will not change. Your heart has to crack open completely before it can be pieced back together.
Last October, something unspeakably awful happened in my life, that I won’t detail explicitly for privacy reasons. In the past, I would have been tempted to flaunt the story, to try to compete in the war for who owns the deeper battle wounds. (This is a cock fight we all engage in from time to time.)
But if I’ve learned anything in the last six months, from my yoga teacher trainees, from my coworkers, from the student workers who work for me, it’s that we all know pain. We all have been bruised. We all have a story that has hurt us, that has turned us inside out. And we are all still here. Still breathing.
I think what this meditation challenge has done for me is this: it has forced me to sit with myself, by myself. It has required that I process the tragedies of my own life, that I recognize the arc of my own story, that I let go, specifically, of that ring I needed so desperately.
Of course I still want to be married. I was created to be a wife. It’s part of my identity and it’s something I deeply, soulfully want.
But that doesn’t mean I have to wait to be happy.
I’ve always been afraid of being happy without the ring, because what if I stop wanting it? What if my entire life goal has been a hoax? What if I’m not allowed to have what I’ve wanted so desperately?
But if 2014 taught me anything, it is this: you cannot afford to live as if you are your own enemy.
You cannot afford to create a life you’re unhappy in. You cannot afford to spend time with people who do not actually care about you. You cannot afford to waste time torturing yourself, regretting your failures, dwelling on what never was. You have to be your own best friend, or you will never truly be happy.
You have to be gentle with yourself. You have to take care of yourself.
And you have to sit with yourself. If it has taken you less than the 6 years it has taken me to comprehend even a smidgen of this life lesson, I am proud of you. Sitting with your life is sometimes the hardest, most painful thing you will ever do; but it is also purifying, liberating, and redeeming.
I don’t think I’ve figured out the trick to perfect meditation (if that even exists). But I can tell you this: if you take 5 minutes a day, every day that you can, and just focus on sitting and breathing, your life will change. I promise.
And if you mess up and fail and skip a day or two (which you will), be gracious to yourself. Forgive yourself. You cannot afford not to.