An Ode to Not Meditating

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I know, I know: It’s good for you.

It’s good for us, damn it. Good for the nation. You’re not going to open your blissfully de-focused eyes after 20 minutes of meditation, sigh, rise slowly to your feet, and then go charging off to sack the Capitol. Not immediately, anyway.

And I also know that a serious meditation practice is … serious. It’s not about gongs and white blankets. It’s not about smooth vibes. It’s not even about spiritual hygiene. What you get, instead, when you start to meditate—when you first sit with yourself—is a rather stunning immersion in the rawness and chaos of your own nature: the whirling thoughts, the howling needs, the funky wiring, the sacked Capitols, etc., etc. Light that stick of incense, by all means, but it’s the hell-smoke of your personality that you’ll be smelling.

I know all this because I sat with myself (and sometimes with other people, also sitting with themselves) for a number of years. It helped me enormously. It calmed me down. But now I’ve stopped. And I have to tell you, I think I prefer myself as a nonmeditator.

The feeling is not unrelated to the pandemic, probably, because nothing is unrelated to the bloody pandemic. As the world went flat as a pancake, I became less interested in leveling myself out. No steady drone of mental health for me, no thank you, not today. Let’s have the spikes, let’s have the troughs. But there’s more to it than that. The practice of not meditating, as I have pursued it over these past few months—not meditating first thing in the morning, not meditating during the day, and taking particular care not to meditate in the evening—has brought me home. Sensations, nice and nasty, possess me. Moods run me. I’m not observing my thoughts as they arise one by one, unbidden, from the ever-bubbling bed of the brain; I’m thinking my thoughts. I’m not groping toward the white light of nothingness that irradiates all phenomena; I’m stewing in the somethingness. Am I a tad less tranquil? Uh, probably. But it’s worth it.

So: Uncross those aching legs, solemn sitter. Open up. To the grand sensory flux, to the enthralling, windshield-filling present tense, to the zillion emotional-psychological tangles, to the distractions and inundations and (most glorious) to the plain fact of your incorrigible, temporary you-ness. Give it a shot. You can always ride them again, those glossy theta waves of deep meditation. They keep rolling; they roll forever. You, on the other hand, do not.

This article first appeared in The Atlantic


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