This past weekend, I told my friends when it was over, will hereby be known as The Weekend of the Unfortunate Decisions. It was a series of choices so emotionally masochistic that they deserve to be capitalized, bolded, and forever flagged in my memory’s archives as “Things I Should Never, Ever Do Again.”
The emotional stress of this behavior led to a low but persistent hum of anxiety that vibrated through my body without rest for days. Because I was anxious, I forgot to eat. I couldn’t sleep. Meanwhile, I was exercising like mad in a misguided effort to purge the tension from my system. So I can hardly claim surprise when my body shut down on me on Sunday night, and I was left, anxiety-ridden and sleep-deprived, to deal with a very bad case of low blood sugar, a fever, and a panic attack entirely of my own making.
Needless to say, I dropped the ball on the meditation challenge this weekend. Practicing self-care just isn’t part of the equation when you’re off being an emotional train wreck.
And yet, hitting bottom is not without its own strange blessings. The Weekend of the Unfortunate Decisions, though unfortunate, was also a loud wake-up call. I moved into this week with a dogged determination to take care of myself. That meant sticking to the meditation challenge. (And eating my vitamins. Oh, and making better general life choices.)
Outside of the challenge, I do have a habitual yoga and meditation practice that I’m fairly good about honoring. I’ve been at it for a few years now, so it was jarring for me to realize that judging by the events of this weekend, there’s a very large and—until now—unacknowledged gap between what I’m doing on the cushion and what I’m doing off of it. What’s the point in spending hours developing concentration, resting in awareness, and extending metta to all sentient beings if none of the lessons I’m learning are being brought into my daily life in any genuine way?
Monday and Tuesday, as I practiced, I was mentally sucker-punched by doubts. I could still feel the effects, emotionally and physically, of my disastrous weekend. I was alarmed that the choices I had made had happened at all. I began to doubt myself. I began to doubt the practice. What kind of meditator am I, anyway? Have I not made any progress at all? Wait…have I been meditating wrong this whole time?
Yesterday I found myself back on the cushion and back with the doubt. But by then I had had enough. Yes, I had suffered. So what? It was just the first noble truth manifesting. And yes, my emotions had snowballed until they turned into a veritable avalanche of bad decisions. It’s okay—just the law of cause and effect in action. This is life. This is what happens. I don’t have to extend my suffering when the suffering is done.
So I sat and I watched my doubt and my judgment as they diminished, quieted, faded. And I found, when they had lain down for the night, that I could thank my suffering for the unshakeable conviction that yes—I really need to practice.
—Emma Varvaloucas, Associate Editor