Swipe Right on Mindfulness: My Apprehensive Journey into Meditation
“You have to be where you are to get where you need to go.” ~Amy Poehler
I sat there and listened, pretending to be interested.
Did he really just say he meditates every morning? Don’t roll your eyes. At least he’s really attractive. You can just ignore the hippy meditation stuff.
But c’mon. Meditate every morning at 6am? Who does that? How ridiculous.
So I did ignore his hippy meditation stuff; he eventually ignored me.
I have an endless supply of ill-fated dating-by-way-of-phone-app tales. Most of them end in a relatively similar fashion, but that’s for another blog or a cabernet-supported whine-fest with a good friend. This dating experience in particular was quite a bit different.
Although this was the last time I dated a beautiful actor-slash-model-slash-writer, it happened to be the start of something else. Something much bigger than the initial lesson I learned—that sliding my finger across a cracked iPhone screen while waiting in the grocery line behind an adorable elderly lady writing a check for donuts was, sadly, not going to lead me to my soulmate.
However, it would guide me to a discovery far more powerful and impactful.
Not until years later would I look back on this casual swipe right on my handheld device as one of the most profound decisions I had made in my adult life. To say it changed the trajectory of where I was headed wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Thanks, Tinder. I really should go back and award you those four stars. Remind me later.
But back to this awkward date.
Shortly before this guy began to “forget” to respond to my texts, before the “new phone, who’s this?” kick-to-the-gut, before the inevitable self-doubt blame game, there was a brief, almost forgettable moment during this date that I now fondly look back upon.
The Start of Something New
I was super insecure at the time.
How does my hair look? Why did I wear this old sweater? God, he’s a GQ cover model and I look like a rejected 1999 Old Navy performance fleece ad fused with the ‘before’ Proactiv infomercial image that airs at 2am.
My mind never stopped. I was the king of insults, and I was my favorite target.
But somehow, amidst the relentless inner dialogue and self-destructive thought patterns, I noticed a striking presence from this guy. When he spoke, he was so focused. When he listened, he did so intently.
Also, he was so nice. Plain and simple nice.
I suspected he wasn’t worried about what his hair looked like. (Note: It looked perfect. Whatever.) And it seemed like he wasn’t thinking ahead about what to say next, or regretting what he had said prior. He was present. So much so, it made me very uncomfortable.
As for myself, I had a checklist of things in my head to say as well as some predetermined witty lines that I was proud of—for real, some of them were funny. I even prepared some self-deprecating jokes about being a late-twenties directionless bartender, so I could at least claim to insult myself first if that subject came up.
It was exhausting.
Spoiler alert: This dating experience with Perfect Hair was short lived. But I beat myself up about it for a while.
What did I say? Why didn’t I get my haircut? Why didn’t I get a spray tan!? I went on and on. These questions were endless and unnecessary. Except maybe the tanning one. I really should have bronzed up a bit— a little color never hurt a pale person, as my mom always says. But I didn’t. And so there I was, annoyed, bitter, single—and yes, pasty.
At the time, it didn’t make any sense to me. I was bummed. I chalked it up to my continual bad luck and blamed the world for being out to get me. Ya know, the usual.
Little did I know that this one date would be such a turning point in my life.
A Seed Was Planted
My mind was a messy field of weeds and cobwebs, but somewhere among them was perfectly conditioned soil that could harbor some new kind of life. Something about this guy stuck in my mind. And that something grew. I would continue to insult myself for the foreseeable future, but I took a brief respite from the witty yet destructive banter in my head to explore that “silly hippy meditation stuff.”
“I meditate every morning,” I remember him saying.
I still thought this was a ridiculous admission, but I decided to look into it. Maybe for just five minutes. What did I have to lose?
So instead of spending further time mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed and wondering how I know so many people with flawless beauty who are perpetually on breathtaking vacations, I pulled up Google.
In addition to a roll of my eyes, the word “meditation” used to elicit a visual of an un-showered, bearded hippy sitting cross-legged, surrounded by a cloud of suffocating incense smoke, chanting unintelligible words.
It’s partly because the term carries with it some dated, preconceived ideas, sure. But I also grew up in a very conservative town a few miles down the road from the not-so-conservative Woodstock, NY, where a drive through would be a sightseeing tour of extreme body hygiene practices of “hippies” with a side of snide judgmental comments.
That was my introduction to this world. That was my initial—and only—understanding of people who participated in silly hippy meditation stuff.
But hold up: Meditation really just means sitting quietly and focusing on what’s going on in the moment? And breathing? That’s basically it? Is it really that simple?
Yah, man, it’s that simple.
There is obviously much more to it than that, of course. There are books upon books, courses and classes upon websites and blogs on meditation. But at its core, it really is so simple: Sitting and breathing.
Why the hell didn’t someone tell me that it wasn’t this weird, silly, far-left liberal belief system? That it didn’t require a robe, facial hair, and skipping a bunch of showers. I don’t have to chant? What about sitting cross-legged? Incense and a beard? No, no, and no?
WHAT. THE. HELL.
It sounded so easy and was also a huge relief, because I look terrible with a beard and I’m not at all flexible.
I had no reason not to give it a try.
I was finally in the perfect place, mentally and physically (no beard!), for my exploration of this topic to begin.
So I started reading. Book after book after book. With an apprehensive perspective and holed up in a coffee shop with my hand covering the title so no one could see what I was reading (Uh, It’s Game Of Thrones, bro,) I immersed myself in this stuff.
I also realize in hindsight that telling someone I’m reading Game Of Thrones is not any “cooler” than revealing I’m exploring meditation. It’s basically a dorky tie.
I started by seeking out authors who had the same skeptical approach that I initially had, as it helped me tread cautiously into something that could scare me away if I dove in too deep, too fast.
Initially, I thought it was a bunch of ridiculousness. I gave up once. Twice. Five times.
But I pushed through. I kept remembering that fleeting moment from that cringe-worthy date. How relaxed, how present, how kind he was.
He meditated every day.
If it worked for Head & Shoulders Model, it would work for me. I should put that on a hat.
Ever so slowly, in the subtlest ways, I began to notice a difference. It was minimal. It was almost unnoticeable.
I just felt… better. Lighter. Happier? Maybe. I couldn’t really pinpoint it, but it was something.
And it was exciting.
Everything Happens—Yes, You Guessed It—For a Reason
At this point, my perception of this ill-fated date started to shift. Maybe, just maybe, there was a purpose of this encounter. Maybe, just maybe, it was exactly what I needed at exactly that time in my life.
The phrase “everything happens for a reason” used to drive me crazy. Mostly because I find it’s something people usually say in lieu of giving actual advice. It’s a cop-out, really. If I tell you I was ghosted by awkward Prius guy, I don’t want you to tell me everything happens for a reason. I want you to confirm my beliefs that Prius drivers are obviously the worst and that it definitely had nothing to do with me.
But I now believe that everything really does happen for a reason. Even the existence of the Prius, though for reasons I have yet to understand.
And yes—even uncomfortable, no-good, very-bad dates.
Sometimes it just takes a little surrender and hindsight to come to this realization. For me, it also took a lot of cheap red wine and years of reflecting on past decisions—and eventually immersing myself in some mindfulness practices—to confidently say I understand this clichéd phrase. There’s always a lesson to be learned.
One of those lessons is that boxed wine gives me a bad headache.
Everything had happened as it should—to bring me to this moment, to this blog post, to this glass of wine (from a bottle), to this place in my life where I can reflect and appreciate. And what a liberating and exhilarating feeling it is to say, “Yup, that happened. Here I am. What’s next?”
I’ve spent most of my life under the impression that I made every wrong decision possible. That had I just gotten one thing right along the way, just one, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
I would be married to the perfect person. I’d have a perfect career. A perfect kid. A perfect house. A perfectly filtered Instagram feed. A perfect chicken dinner, because clearly my inability to cook a simple meal stems from some bad decision I made somewhere along the way. Everything would be perfect and my chicken wouldn’t be rubbery.
But it’s not.
Or is it? Maybe this is perfection. (Not my chicken, though—I still overcook it every time!)
I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
It’s such a freeing feeling to let go of the past, to trust in where I am, to understand that everything I have experienced, whether I can understand it now or will come to a realization at some point down the road, has been leading me to where I am meant to be. My only job is to go with it.
Because, yes, everything is happening as it should, for a reason. Even the dates that don’t turn into what I had initially hoped they would.
Adopting this way of thinking has led to a much more relaxed, stress-free day-to-day life. Instead of wondering why something happened, I look for what I can take from the experience. Dating has led to endless discoveries about myself, other people, the world, and perspectives I was previously unfamiliar with.
Some monumental, some minimal.
Some dating experiences are so profound they lead you to stumble down a path to mindfulness and meditation, while others have more minor impacts, like several years of free HBO because a certain someone forgot to change his cable password after he abruptly and inexplicably stopped talking to you. (Thanks man! Hope you’re well!)
I’d say a more positive, mindful outlook and free weekly dates with VEEP’s President Selena Meyer are both steps in the right direction as well as perfectly fine reasons that these experiences occurred.
I believe all moments in life—big or small, happy or sad—always provide a takeaway. Of course, the harder the journey and the tougher the struggles, the more difficult it may be to find the reason. Maybe the reason will never be apparent. Perhaps we just have to trust that our path took us into—and through—these situations for a reason.
Not much has changed for me these days in terms of circumstances. I still go on the occasional bad date, have unexpected bummer days, and periodically find myself in inexplicable bad moods. But instead of dwelling on these moments or trying to find the reason behind them, I accept them. I trust that what seems “bad” on the surface may be beneficial in some unapparent way.
Plus, if I always tried to find a reason, I would drive myself mad and I would have less time for my aforementioned Instagram scrolling—by the way, I need to do more sit-ups. Oh and for real, am I the only one from my graduating class who isn’t #married?
Eyes closed, deep breath.
It would be misleading and simply unrealistic to say that meditation can lead to a smooth life filled with endless happiness. I don’t believe that to be true, and I think that would be missing the point.
I’m also not officially a psychiatrist—or psychologist? I confuse the two. But whichever one would be professionally informed on this subject, I am not that. Or the other one, for that matter. So I could be totally wrong about everything that I’ve just written.
But for me, this mindfulness exploration has helped me clear out ugly thoughts and acknowledge patterns of behavior that aren’t healthy. I feel like a better person today than I was just a few years ago. I’m not nicer because I just want to be nice, but also because it’s easier.
It’s easier to be patient, kind, understanding, and humble. It takes so much energy to be mad, hold grudges, and judge. Forgiving and letting go is freeing. Holding on to anger? Exhausting and it gives me pimples.
A New(ish) Me
My biggest concern with this new journey was that I would lose my edge. I’m generally a sarcastic wise-ass. I didn’t want to become soft. And I’m not talking about physically soft, because this new journey has not yet made me less vain, as I still care far too much about my physical appearance.
But baby steps, right?
By soft I mean I didn’t want to become an emotionally mushy pushover. I roll my eyes at those people.
Yes, I know, I roll my eyes a lot. Again, one step at a time.
I’m far from perfect and still have many strides to make. I’m finding the careful balance of being a mindful, better person while not changing who I am at heart.
I still unnecessarily curse at traffic despite my most valiant efforts.
If I realize someone isn’t going to acknowledge me holding a door open, I’ll sometimes maybe probably prematurely let it go so it gently bumps them.
I am ridiculously impatient with people who stand on escalators. They aren’t lazy stairs, walk!
And I firmly believe that Arbonne is basically the Crossfit of skincare and I’m not at all interested but I’m certain you’ll breathlessly tell me about it anyway.
I am a work in progress. I’m learning every day.
I’m single. I’m happy. I’m present. And sometimes, every once in a while, yes, I’m still a jerk.
But a mindful jerk at that. And for this, I am grateful.
And I owe it all to a little dating app with the cute cartoon flame.