For the longest time I’ve been trying to learn to meditate. I’m comically bad at it, and, so far, practice isn’t helping.
The exercises I do are for mindfulness meditation. Most ask you to do nothing more complicated than focus your attention on your breath. When the mind wanders, as the mind inevitably will, you’re asked to gently pull your attention back to your breath, away from whatever shiny worry or bright regret distracted you. I think of this return as the slow pan of a movie camera in an intimate dinner scene, or I think of it as the gliding angular correction to a boat’s path when one oar is held in the water, but, however I think of it, I cannot master the gentle aspect of my attention’s return. Instead I get angry. Angry at my mind for wandering, angry at my lack of focus and will, angry at the humming anxiety that spreads like background radiation throughout my mind, remnant of some genetic big bang I will never be able to explicate or understand.
At these times I despair that behind these exercises is a philosophical core my personality is simply not compatible with. Meditative practice asks you to be gentle; it asks you to be non judging; it asks you to be grateful. I am none of these things, which is why I cannot sit with my breath, because to sit with your breath is to sit with yourself. Defeated, I decide to quit the practice, to stop torturing myself.
But then there is a moment like the one in this photo. A sight as simple as a few lit windows and the brittle outlines of trees. I stopped to look, and just like that I was in the space those exercises are supposed to take you. For a moment I was still and thoughtless and possessed of nothing but my five murmuring senses, the rise and fall of my chest, the beating of my heart.
I take it as a reminder that the rarity of these moments is no reason to quit. It is the reason to keep practicing.
Somewhere to the right of this sign, my 11-year-old daughter is dancing with a boy for the first time.
Working in my favorite room at the Fayetteville Public Library. There's something about high ceilings -- both inspiring and intimidating at the same time.