I’ve tried and tried. Been to retreats; done it at church; practiced it walking, sitting, chanting, silent. I’ve made a place to “sit” at home. But meditation does not come easy for me.
I believe mindfulness meditation can have benefits. And so do other folks: According to a recent post in the New York Times’ “Well” blog, “researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.” The study showed a boost gray matter in areas of the brain associated with regulating emotions and taking perspective, and a decrease in the areas associated with anxiety and stress.
Less stress, more equanimity? I’ll take it. But 30 minutes of meditation? I dunno. I can sit quietly for half an hour, no problem. But the goal, it seems, is to keep your mind still for that long—and that’s where the trouble lies. If you saw me meditating, I’d probably look peaceful enough. But if you could read my mind, you’d see it churning like a commercial-grade washing machine agitating an improperly sorted load of clothes.
Recently, though, I received some unexpected encouragement in Walter Mosley’s latest crime mystery series. It features Leonid McGill, a quick-fisted, middle-aged P.I. who used to work more cases for the bad guys than the good and who, when Mosley introduces him, is trying to change his karma (though I don’t believe karma is the word he’d use).
The plot includes mysterious NY powerbrokers, remorseless assassins with hearts of gold and beautiful women in various stages of distress— plus so many fight scenes and plot twists you have to read every chapter twice to keep up. In the midst of murder-mystery madness, our protagonist McGill finds his center either duking it out in a sweaty boxing gym or practicing Buddhist meditation.
When he’s in a particularly stressful situation—say, being interrogated by suspicious police who want him behind bars by any means necessary—he turns to mindful breathing.
I think that last phrase may be have been intended as a bit of Mosley irony, but even 30 minutes of peace would feel pretty good for a single mom with a stressful job and way too much on her plate. And counting to ten? That, I can do.
If my favorite mystery author and a team of neuro-experts say it works, maybe I'll give meditation another try.