How I Know I Need To Start Meditating Again

It has been almost a year since the last time I meditated on a regular basis, or frankly, at all.

In my last year of teaching, in the same school I taught at for 32 years, in the first year back to in-person learning after the COVID-19 shut down, a group of teachers and administrators were thinking of strategies we could employ over the course of the year to “take care” of ourselves and each other. The brainstorm included everything from carving out time for more social activity to making sure that there were snacks on a regular basis. There was talk of a soup day. Some teachers organized an after-school walk once a week. A couple of teachers spent lots of time to gussy up the staff lounge to make it more comfortable and inviting. And I volunteered to host a morning meditation each Tuesday and Thursday morning in this same staff lounge before school started. So, two days a week nearly every week during first semester, I meditated from 7:30 to 8 every Tuesday and Thursday morning. On a few occasions I was joined by one or two others, but most of the time I was alone. The fact of the matter became apparent pretty quickly: even if it was something many people wanted to do, even if it was something that people thought would help them through their work day, the reality was that they couldn’t or wouldn’t afford the time to do it. I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t mind. It was something I wanted to do for myself anyway, and would have liked being able to do it whether I had company or not. And it was a bonus that I could do it in the first half an hour of the work day, as opposed to getting up a half an hour earlier in order to do it at home.

Second semester rolled around, and because it felt like, as I was getting ready to retire, I had a lot on my plate, and because no one else was benefitting from my service, I stopped hosting the morning meditation space. No one seemed to notice. I made no formal announcement. And I pretty much stopped meditating altogether. I succumbed to the feeling, perhaps, that I just could no longer afford the time for it. Second semester was frantic and harried, as second semesters typically are, and this one was super weird, in that I was keenly aware that almost everything I did on a day-to-day basis I was doing for the very last time. I’m sure I would have found the continuing meditation practice to be helpful, settling, calming. But I did not go back.

And now that I am retired, I have experienced the lowest stress levels of my entire adult life. I am seldomly rankled these days by anything. I experience a little bit of stress vicariously through my family–as my wife navigates her work life and my son tries to balance his school work and his musical endeavors. Most of that slides right off–I don’t feel like I have to take it on, and maybe, because my time is more flexible and I am not worried about much, I can try to be a support for them. Insofar as meditation was for me primarily a stress-relieving tool, maybe I have just not felt the need for it in my life as my stress levels have ebbed to the degree that they have. Until they are no longer ebbing . . .

Which brings me finally to the title of this little think piece.

I play drums in a rock band professionally–we’re a cover band, and our gigs are mostly local, and we play a few times a month. I had a gig on Saturday that went poorly for me, and it made me think about how a regular meditative practice might have helped me deal with the circumstances that ruined the evening for me in a more even-keeled, mindful way. See, I had taken my wife and son to the airport earlier in the day, and because I knew I’d have to be at the gig shortly after I dropped them off, I packed up my drums ahead of time. I drove to the airport, about a 25 minute drive, and I drove home to let the dogs outside before leaving them for the evening. The gig venue, it turns out, was also about a 25 minute drive from home. So, by the time I had taken my family to the airport, came home for the dogs, and left again, I had spent nearly two hours driving. I arrived at the club just a few minutes late for set-up, and in the process of unpacking and assembling my drum kit, I realized I had forgotten a key piece of equipment. My drum throne. I had nothing to sit on. My options: play the gig sitting in a wooden chair a good six inches shorter than my throne, play standing up, or drive back home for the throne. I chose to drive home. Another 50 minutes of driving, and I arrived back at the venue ten minutes before down beat.

I played all right. But I was angry the entire evening. I just couldn’t let it go. From the moment I played my first beat all the way to the breakdown of the drums, the loading, and the drive home, I fumed. I jettisoned my usual banter with band mates. I was far less animated in my performance. Laughed not a single time. Found myself frustrated with my band mates when performances were uneven. And in the end, I found myself angry that I had to carry my equipment without help so far away from the venue. The parking there was shit. The joy that I usually feel playing music with these good, good people was almost completely displaced by self deprecation and resentment. It was awful.

Maybe, just maybe, a meditative practice would have made me more magnanimous. I don’t know that this is true. It was my perception that meditation on a regular basis helped with the day to day stressors of being an educator in a public high school, a nigh impossible job, one that I did with a certain amount of fortitude and skill for 32 years. So, it stands to reason that a daily or regular meditative practice, even for a person who experiences minimal daily stressors, might be a bulwark, a preemptive strike against future stressful situations, help one keep up a reserve of equanimity and peace for the shitty gig, the unexpected difficulty, the tragedy, or whatever terrible thing the universe wants to toss in our direction. I guess there’s only one way to find out.

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

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