When I meditated for the first time, the hair of my shins lie raw against a thin pillow and over a freezing-cold hardwood floor in the second story of a Chicago martial arts dojo. I sat for 50-minute intervals at 5 a.m. Blood seemingly left my legs by 5:20 a.m., the ghosts of needles tweezing their way through my heels at half-speed.
I felt my brain grow infimed as it sat idle, my consciousness frustrating itself and berating its carrier with a one-man chorus of negative catchphrases, insults, hectors, and razzes. All the greatest hits, up to and including “Fuckface” and the always-apoplectic “You Can’t Even Think About Nothing for 50 Minutes?? FUCK.”
The most recent time I meditated was this morning on the left side of my couch at 5:30 a.m., reclined backwards, thinking about the natural flow of my breath smoothly into my diaphragm and flowing out of my lungs, clear-minded with the vague shadow of a dream lingering, sporadically falling back into fugue states of half-sleep. A deep sense of contentment comes here and there, only visiting.
In between, I’ve fucked up a lot. I’ve shifted in my seat, sure that one ass-cheek is bigger than the other. I’ve had long-form fantasies and forgotten to meditate altogether, hearing the ding of the bell during yet another triumphant moment of the mind. I’ve answered the question “Are you meditating?” during an outdoor meditation session with a terse “YEP,” thereby sort of killing the peaceful point.
Through it all, I’ve experienced the transfiguration of not really caring about fucking up. A real Fucking Up of Age.
My days of internet travel take me to all the worst corners of the thoughts-via-fingers world, but I read a miraculous YouTube comment today* . Miraculous for two reasons: No. 1 It didn’t say “All Lives Matter” or “Trump 2016” and No. 2 the commenter noted that the video, featuring David Lynch’s talk on meditation and creativity, forgot to mention that meditation is all about learning how to fail.
I shot up from the floor of my bedroom**, craned my neck closer to my phone’s screen, and realized the concept was what I’ve been doing for the past 640 days in a row: Learning how to fail over and over again.
Failure has always been a sore spot for me. “Don’t fuck up,” was a prelude to anything and everything. Despite years of failures, something I consider to be a cornerstone experience of human existence, I always had sky-high aspirations and expectations for myself, lofty enough so as to be surely missed as often as humanly possible. “Don’t fuck up,” became a taunt. The wins felt good temporarily; the stink of failure latched on like a leech.
Every day during meditation, I face the reality of failing and fucking up. I’ve become OK with it***. Failure is an opportunity to see why the task didn’t go well and try it again later. The more I fail, the more I expect to fail again. The sting of the defeat, the failure itself, numbs and subsides. It loses its gravitas.
Things have gone poorly every day for nearly two years, 15 minutes at a time, and it feels damn good. “Are you having a bad day or a bad five minutes?” I now ask myself, putting a small segment of the day into the canon of perspective.
Every day I become distracted by the comment-section of my brain and ignore it, viewing the positive and negative visages of the mind with a disinterested glance before they fade into nonexistence. Every day I recall, in passing, a time I ended up red-faced and red-eyed or bright-eyed and hopeful. Every day I remember that I’m not unlike anyone else; a few feet here and there from the final fuck up.
People often ask me what meditation has done for me. “The main thing,” their eyes say, “not any of that stuff we always hear about it making me more patient or tolerant of bullshit or whatever-the-fuck. No.”
Well, the main thing meditation has taught me is that it’s OK to try, even if you don’t do the best job every single time. You have some room to do something that is good, bad, or untenable so long as it’s not your last effort****. You’re allowed to fuck up.
* Internet travel is how I like to think of full-time work in 2016.
** Where I go when I’m tired but it’s a bit too early to sleep, and besides what if I miss something exciting online?
*** I suppose it has also helped me think a bit more metaphysically and realize that life is an LP-length, collective swoon, the ultimate failure, but that’s another matter entirely.
**** Of course, if you do something untenable, you should probably open the door, tuck, and roll and accept failure, baby.