After my beautiful, slow and plodding dog, Riley, died last summer, I had to come up with a new routine. No longer tied to our wonderful morning walk in the park, I wanted to try something new. Like those walks, it had to be contemplative and beautiful and put me in touch with nature. So almost every morning for the last year or so, I’ve been meditating for 15 minutes or so upon waking up, using the Headspace app on my phone.
The app has the calming British voice of Andy Puddicombe. You may have heard of him – his TED talk has had over 10 million views. Andy speaks for a minute or so about a thought, and then takes you through the exercise, which is reassuringly more or less the same each time:
You start by gazing at the room, then closing your eyes and listening to the sounds around you, feeling the points of contact with the chair, and then following your breathing. You breathe in, you breathe out. You stay focused on your breathing. You count your breaths up to 10 and then start again. It is so simple and easy that it is laughable.
‘What is the big deal?’ I think each time. A child could do it. An idiot could do it.
I, however, must be a little lower than the idiots. I cannot do it. I fail again and again. Every day – several times a day.
And yet I always return, optimistic. ‘This,’ I think … ‘This will be the day that I master breathing!’ The story in my head goes something like this:
Breathe in, one, breathe out, two. ‘What am I going to wear today? How about that blue top with the light-colored pants? Will it be warm enough? Will it be cool enough?’ ‘Oh no! I wasn’t supposed to think.’
Breathe in, three, breathe out, four. ‘Those clients are coming in – I like them so much. The guy always wears a nice watch. Remember when Dad had a nice watch? I always loved Dad’s watch. I wonder what happened to it. Where did he get it? I think he got a watch from his father, once. Isn’t it funny to think about how things last longer than a person does? How can that be?’ ‘Oops! I better go back to breathing.’
Breathe in, five, breathe out, six. ‘Oh shoot. I must have been breathing all that time in between. What happens to those breaths that I forgot to number? Do they count? Did I really breathe? If a breath falls in the forest but doesn’t get counted, is it still a breath? How am I ever going to catch up? Am I supposed to skip ahead? How does this work?’ ‘Oh no, here I go again.’
Breathe in, seven, breathe out, eight. ‘Well, that was a really short breath. Kind of more like a snort. Does a snort count as a whole breath? It was kind of a staccato. Like just the punctuation, not the whole sentence. How do I know when a breath counts as a breath? I have to do this for 15 whole minutes? How am I going to sit still that long? My leg itches. My arm itches. My leg must be falling asleep. I must have left something on the stove. I think I need to pop up. How long can 15 minutes last? It seems like for –‘
Breathe in, nine, breathe out, ten. ‘Whew, we made it! Can’t we get up now? Why does it feel like I am leaning over? Am I allowed to straighten myself up? Or am I supposed to stay leaning over like the Tower of Pisa until I’m done? This is uncomfortable. Do I have to live with the discomfort? Forget it. I don’t care what they say! I am straightening myself up. There, that’s better!’
“And now,” Andy’s voice, which seems strangely distant by now, says, “start over again at one.”
Breathe in, one, breathe out, two…
And so I fuss with myself, going back and forth for that eon that lasts for 15 minutes every morning, laughing at my woeful inability to sit still. I think Riley, who stopped to smell ALL of the roses, would say I’m improving.
Joy S. Rosenthal, Esq.
Rosenthal Law & Mediation
225 Broadway, Suite 2605
New York, New York 10007