February 13, 2014

Meditation Month: The Wisdom of Mitch

Day thirteen of our monthlong challengeMax Zahn

February is Meditation Month! The Tricycle team members have challenged ourselves—and our readers—to meditate every day and blog about our experiences. We needed a little help, so we called in bestselling author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg to lead our meditation-themed retreat this month and speak to us on how to incorporate meditation practice into the workplace. We’re also featuring three meditation e-books: Tricycle Teachings: MeditationTricycle Teachings: Meditation, Vol. 2, and Tricycle Teachings: Commit to Sit. Last but certainly not least, back by popular demand is Brad Warner, known this month as our Meditation Doctor, here to answer any questions we have about our personal practice.

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The shaggy yet incomparable comedy icon Mitch Hedberg had a joke about quitting cigarettes—or was it about starting to floss? It went like this: “I can’t get into the flossing thing. People who smoke cigarettes, they say, ‘Man, you don’t know how hard it is to quit smoking.’ Yes, I do. It’s as hard as it is to start flossing.” I picture Hedberg in a nondescript dentist’s waiting room, interrupting an elderly man as he flips lazily through Golf Digest. “How many times you tried to pick up flossing in your lifetime, Pops?” he asks. “How many times? ’Cuz I just can’t do it.”

Despite the annual behest of my dentist and occasional condescension from dental hygienists, I don’t floss. I just don’t. So I’m in no place to hop on the high dental chair about Hedberg’s lack of discipline. What I will say is that the wisdom of Mitch—and there’s always a wisdom of Mitch—is that it’s just as hard to pick up good habits as it is to give up negative ones. The longer time I spend as a card-carrying postgraduate adult, the more I realize that habits rule the day. When I was a kid I could binge on Laffy Taffy and then immediately play hours of pick-up basketball. Now I have to stretch before and after any physical activity. Habits matter. It’s one of those clichés that’s true, and thus doubly annoying.

All of this preamble allows for the constructive treatment of a hotly contested topic: nighttime meditation. Nighttime meditation is my equivalent of starting to floss. Well, I guess starting to floss is my equivalent of starting to floss, but so is nighttime meditation. I’ve been trying to establish a nighttime meditation routine for years. When I do it daily—for a week, or a month, or even a couple of months—it’s fantastic. It takes less time to fall asleep, my dreams are better, and there’s more space in the day for other activities; plus, you know, all of those alleged spiritual benefits of the thing. Yet it’s so damn hard to keep up. Why?

Sleepiness, for one. Maybe you can relate. Meditation is more frustrating when I’m tired because it’s harder to follow the breath. My mind ends up in the clouds. (Mostly, I suspect, because they resemble pillows.) Plus, the time before bed is a sacred hour usually reserved for my other daily practice: reading the news. Part good citizenship, part curiosity, and part an admitted—though pathologically millennial—egotism around being well informed, this is an activity that I sometimes squish ahead of meditation on the priorities list. It takes herculean effort to sit silently when lefty demigod Glenn Greenwald has just launched a new publication titled The Intercept.

Alas, this is that moment in the column when I put Obama’s 2008 "Yes We Can" video on loop, breathe deeply, and reveal my latest effort to rekindle nighttime meditations. It began last night. So far, so good. I refused all of my mind’s petty rationalizations and sat for 20 minutes. Of course, I had to watch some Democracy Now! afterward.

I see it as heeding the wisdom of Mitch. Certainly no one could quit smoking and start flossing at the same time

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