Travel | Mindfulness | Social Media | Inspiration
My first guided meditation was awful. My mind raced, wildly. Each time I gained a semblance of control horrible thoughts invaded my head. I left the room, tears on my face, a terrible sense of doom trailing me. Subsequent attempts were better: I could at least stay in the room, even if I couldn’t complete the meditation. During these times I whispered dark jokes and shamed myself because I couldn’t control my mind. On better days I looked at the peaceful gazes on others’ faces, making sure I avoided the instructor’s eyes.
Then, during one meditation, as my dark thoughts and prying eyes wandered, I recalled my son’s deep belly laughs from that morning. As I pulled a onesie over his head and pants over his butt I comically recited Rudyard’s Kipling’s poem “If,” a stoic, serious poem often called the national poem of England. The more animatedly I recited the poem, even the serious parts (“If you can bear to see the things you gave your life to broken/and stoop, and build ‘em up with worn out tools.”) the harder he laughed and the harder I laughed. I couldn’t even finish the poem; both of us were laughing too hard.
As I remembered that scene I smiled, and silently recited “If” to myself first once, then twice, and then a third time. The first time I smiled at the thought of his toothless belly laughs. The second time I realized I was, in fact, controlling my thoughts. The third time I recited it very slowly and very carefully, focusing on the poem’s nuances: its slow and steady cadence, its call for patience and temperance in the face of success and failure, and its champion of small and quiet victories. That third time I felt my shoulders drop, my stomach knots unravel, and my breathing slow and quiet. Then I recited a sonnet by Shakespeare, and then “Psalm of Life,” by Longfellow, and I felt my body relax more and more.
The words I hoped would enable my son’s spirit to fly free let my soul breathe.
Suddenly I could meditate seemingly everywhere: on the train to the office, in my morning shower, watching a stew simmer. Most times it was only for a minute or few, but each time I spoke words written by Longfellow, Keats, Kipling, or Shakespeare, my body relaxed and (I’m channeling Keats here) a pall was removed from my dark spirit—and continues to be removed with each stanza.
About Eric Bland
Eric Bland is a science, health, and technology writer with national and international bylines. He grew up in northern Indiana, caught rattlesnakes in Idaho, tracked tortoises in Nevada, ran laps above an antimatter generator in Switzerland, and currently bikes, runs, kayaks, and walks around the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Charles River, and Boston Harbor with his wife and young son.