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Let’s Get Spiritual
March 19th, 2012 by Christina

Almost everyone I know in my age group seems to be struggling mightily these days. Marriages are crumbling, parents are falling ill, children are morphing into terrifying teenagers, and upper arms are less tank-top-friendly than ever before, making the upcoming summer season a most mixed blessing. If anyone out there is happy and they know it, please do clap your hands (and let your arms jiggle joyfully) right now because there is not a whole lot of applause going on in my circle these days.

It almost makes one (me) want to seek something larger to believe in, something to make it all seem worthwhile. Something, dare I say, spiritual.

I’ve always been allergic to the arrogant we’re right, you’re not aspect of organized religion, having been raised by a lapsed-Catholic mother and Jewish-turned-Unitarian father (so, yeah, Christmas tree, but no menorah). Then I married an avowed atheist (who asked for a menorah for Christmas; go figure) and together we raised our two adorable little heathens. (The tradition continues!)

And now here I am, mired in midlife malaise, suffocated by cynicism. Given my spotty religious past, my god-seeking options are somewhat limited at this point. But there’s always the Buddha: Look at him, sitting there quietly, no crosses to bear, no persecution complex. Who wouldn’t want to have what he’s having? Plus he seems like a really nice guy, a total mensch.

My soul-searching fantasy is a month-long Visionquest involving bells and the Himalayas, but since that’s not feasible, I decided to try a meditation class advertised at a groovy, anything-goes church in my neighborhood called The Church of Gethsemane. (Bar mitzvah? Communion? Gay wedding? Some hybrid of all three? Nothing throws them, I promise.)

The South Slope meditation took place on a Monday evening in the church’s basement. In lieu of the Himalayas, I was hoping for low lighting, candles, incense, floor mats and liberal use of the word om. Instead, I entered a flourescently-lit basement with 3 rows of folding metal chairs and a table with a display of inspiring texts on meditation (which I misread twice–first as medication and then as mediation. Can you tell how fried I am?) A handful of blue-corn tortilla chip dregs sat unappetizingly on a cake-sized paper plate. I checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally walked into a 12-step meeting. Nope. We were going to meditate.

The upshot? It’s not easy to sit silently for 20 minutes on a folding chair under glaring, buzzing lights–but maybe that’s the point. I kept thinking that if only the lights were dim and we were sitting on the floor in the lotus position, then I’d be able to fully concentrate on my breath and stop obsessing about how I’m going to afford to fix the leaks in the bathroom ceiling and why I’m so lame at meditating and why I thought for a minute that I, of all people, could calm my busy, busy brain.

After the sitting part, the woman who led us gave a little talk on how we’re all so in our own heads and how we mistakenly believe that if we could just tweak our external circumstances–swap this for that, finally get our ducks in a row–everything would be OK and contentment would prevail. During the brief Q&A that followed, I was the only one who spoke up. I asked if the chairs and the bright lights were intentional, a lesson in finding peace among harsh external circumstances, perhaps? (Apparently not. Pure coincidence.)

So, while I didn’t emerge whole and fixed, as I’d hoped, I might possibly be one or two breaths less cynical, which is a start. Next up: The “Meditation for Beginners” DVD I ordered from Amazon.

(Oh and I still want to rename my blog to reflect my new focus on midlife musings, but I don’t want to rush into anything I might regret. Some possibilities: Under Construction; Midlife-a-thon; Woman in Progress. I’m open to suggestions, so suggest away.)

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7 Responses  
Karen Capucilli writes:
March 20th, 2012 at 4:41 am

Love this post! I think you may have better luck with the DVD. I have yoga and Pilates DVDs that I love because of precisely the experience you had in the church basement, combined with the idea thatbindo not like to exercise with others. I know what you mean about needing some peace, and you are smart tobthinknitbis going tonhave to come from inside because our life experiences will conspire to stress us out. I like all of your ideas for new blog names.

Cenzo writes:
March 20th, 2012 at 10:16 am

Do tell if the Amazon DVD is delivered (intentionally) empty.

Yogurt Mountbatten writes:
March 20th, 2012 at 10:24 am

Pistol- This is just a fantastic post! Particularly love the asides (the tradition continues!) … and sighed a weary sigh when confronted with the phrase: suffocated by cynicism. Amen to that one. If ever there was a way to kill the spirit…. The whole story is fabulous and once again got me thinking about just how brilliant a writer you are and how much I miss seeing you. xxLogie

Steve writes:
May 14th, 2012 at 6:25 pm

That’s so cool that you went to the meditation class. In case no one else mentioned, meditation is hard, especially the mind clearing type. I’ve been at it on and off for almost ten years and still don’t seem to get anywhere with it. You might try a book – Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki is one of the best. Someone once said to me that it should be required reading in our middle schools. The only problem is that it’s written in that backward logic way that they think in the east which makes it a challenge to read. Also the Three Pillars of Zen is good and easier to get through. Most if it is about the practice not the philosophy.
Stick with it and Good luck

Sarah McLean writes:
May 15th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Hi Christina, Have you read any of my book? Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation. I think it could help you :)
Thanks for the call the other day.

Lisa writes:
May 18th, 2012 at 11:12 am

Great post; very insightful. Love the mix of religious upbringing = thinking.

Stacy writes:
October 18th, 2012 at 6:19 am

I, too, started meditating seriously not long ago. I wince when I mention it sometimes — it seems so cliche; middle-aged woman gets on the bandwagon to cope with stresses. But I couldn’t have made it through some major events, like both of my parents becoming seriously ill in the space of a year, without it. It can actually alter your brain structure and the way you think. I truly think it’s the best way to learn to cope so…good for you. Let us know how it goes. Oh, and Mindfulness in Plain English is a great book on Vipassana meditation.

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