The Benefits Of Meditating Badly

Sit with your thoughts for 10 minutes (or as long as you can).

Author by Sara Benincasa
Art credit: Carolyn Raship

Three unusual things happened in my life last year: First, I was single on purpose. Second, I actually read a book that a friend recommended to me. Third, and perhaps most unusual of all, I got into meditation. 

The first thing was unusual because I’ve historically made sure that I’m always attached to another human being — in order to avoid the most horrific fate imaginable: spending time alone with my thoughts. There are various terms for people who operate like this, but “codependent” is a particularly tasty one. Mmm. Tastes like issues.

The second thing was unusual because, although I’m an author, I hadn’t read many books in recent years. Instead, I churned out all sorts of stories, thinkpieces, listicles about celebrity butts — whatever paid the bills — and had no time leftover to read anything longer than a magazine article or tweet. Note to future authors: Don’t follow my example! If you don’t read other writers’ work, across multiple genres, then your creativity well will run dry. You have to replenish it with art, art, and more art.

But it was the third unusual thing — which was very much intertwined with Thing One and Thing Two — that made the biggest difference. To meditate is to choose to be alone with your thoughts and the moments in between them. And what helped me to do this frightening thing, and even make a habit of it, was the encouragement I got from my friend Shawn and the lessons I learned from reading the The Power of Habit, the book my friend Sabrina recommended.  

I ran into Shawn at our friends’ Oscars party, which is a thing that people in Los Angeles like to throw. (It’s a little like a Super Bowl party, but less homoerotic.) Shawn did me a great favor that evening by grabbing a bite with me after the party and extolling the virtues of meditation. Embracing a meditation practice, he told me, had changed his life for the better — it helped him gain focus and shed anxiety and make various other improvements. 

I was lonely, having just broken up with a vaguely cute but moody creep I dated for the express purpose of not being lonely. This middle-aged adult human refused to take a managerial promotion at a fancy t-shirt shop because he wanted to work on his writing. Folding clothing, he told me, was easier. So was chatting with customers.

I thought that made sense. And I admired that he was frugal. Eventually, though, I realized that he was only frugal because he needed money to afford weed, which he smoked incessantly. He also didn’t write, ever. Our breakup, after three glorious weeks of true love, went like this:

ME: Hey, space is really healthy and maybe we should slow down a bit.
WEEDO: I agree. I think we’re moving too fast.
ME: Me too! We’re on the same page. You’re great. Glad we talked.
WEEDO: God, do you want to marry me or something? This is too much!
ME: You’re bonkers. Goodbye forever.

Anyway.

Shawn posited the radical theory that meditating could help me lead a life of greater clarity and thoughtfulness. I mused that maybe I’d been foolish to commit to a dude who slid up in my Instagram messages with the message “I swear I’m not a creep; you can ask Becky.” I downloaded a meditation app that evening.

I tried it the next morning and liked it very much. But past experience taught me that I would give up this valuable discovery after a few tries. How could I keep up with something that held so much promise?

Then my friend Sabrina, an artist and activist, told me she’d benefited greatly from a bestselling book about the science of habit. It helped her stop drinking. It helped her start running. It helped her feel better. It helped her do better. All of that sounded pretty good to me. So I started listening to The Power Of Habit on audiobook every night before bed. And every morning, before my 7am remote copywriting job began, I got up and headed over to the odd nook in my wall where a Murphy Bed lived in the ’30s. And I sat. Alone. With my thoughts.

Most days, I only meditated for 10 minutes — sometimes 20 if I was feeling ambitious or wanted to delay starting my aforementioned 7am copywriting job. Sometimes I followed along with the meditation teacher’s narration, hanging on his every word and breathing peacefully during the spaces between his instructions. Other times, I tuned him out entirely and coasted on my own. Still other times, I veered into a mind-wandering state and got startled when the session was up.

But I kept doing it, day after day. The book talked about the importance of “cue, habit, reward.” So every morning, when my alarm woke me up, my cue was the site of my meditation cushion. My habit was the meditation practice itself. And my reward was feeling better (or eating breakfast, or both).

I don’t know when it started working. It just did. I consciously noticed the improvements a few months later, after I’d hired a nutritionist and started using a spreadsheet to keep track of my sleep, meditation, and diet. My parents came to visit, and I was under pressure to hand in a screenplay before a potential union strike deadline. The previous strike had lasted several months. If I wanted to get paid anytime soon, I needed to finish ASAP. Juggling the deadline and life in general and the copywriting gig was a lot.

One day at breakfast, when I was distracted by all the work I needed to do, my mother said something that usually would annoy the living hell out of me. And, as usual, it did — but here’s where things changed: I took a deep breath, politely excused myself for a 10-minute walk, and returned to the table. And I didn’t yell at her.

Look, if meditation did nothing for me other than help me not yell at my mother one time during breakfast, well, that’s good enough for me. But that’s not all it did for me: Meditation helps me sleep better. It helps me focus at work. It helps ease my anxiety when I go into hyperspeed. It helps me remember to pause, stretch, and relax during a 16-hour work day.

There are times when I still make foolish and impulsive choices, or get pissed off at people, or lose track of expenses in my budget spreadsheet. I don’t always drink enough water or eat enough greens or say no to dessert. And I haven’t been to the gym in forever.

But I keep showing up, day after day, and taking a few minutes to meditate. I show up for myself, and I show up for the people most affected by my behavior. I show up for my art and I show up for my day job, because I actually really like it. Some weeks I meditate seven times. Some weeks I meditate three times. But I do it. And I’ll keep doing it. It doesn’t matter if I’m not the best at it. As it turns out, “the best” isn’t even a thing when it comes to meditation. But I can be alone with myself now. I’m even beginning to like it. 

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About Woolly

A curious exploration of comfort, wellness, and modern life — emotionally supported by Casper. It’s a beautiful magazine published by a mattress. Come on, you know it’s not the weirdest thing to happen this year. The first issue includes a love letter to comfort pants, a skeptic's guide to crystals, and an adulting coloring book.