Confessions of a Beginning Meditator

Confessions of a Beginning Meditator

I don’t know how to sit. 

I'm at a yoga retreat, and we finish every class with twenty minutes of meditation. Each sitting position I try results in searing back pain at about nine minutes. That’s eleven minutes of meditation on pain.

So today, I am trying sitting on my knees instead of cross-legged like Buddha. I’m not Buddha anyways. Everything is silent: the gym, the people, the joints. No one moves. No one except the rain, beating a metronome for our breath. I feel grateful.

Five minutes. Knees are good. Back muscles report: not good. A dull pain is growing just below shoulder blades.

Two days ago, the man behind me led the first meditation session. He sat cross-legged on a navy pillow, hands on his knees. From the top of a straight spine, he asked us to find a comfortable position.

“Yoga without meditation,” he said, “is like driving a Ferrari to buy milk. It’s not using the full potential.” He was silent while we moved into position. I had deliberated between lying down or remaining seated. Was it cheating to lie down? Before I could decide, he said, “Now that you have chosen…” and I didn’t hear anything else. I was stuck, having “chosen” sitting with my left shin behind my right.

I took his words literally, figuring there was something sacred in the choosing, something symbolic in the pose before God. So I had endured the cross-legged position, sitting in agony for the final ten minutes.


Nine minutes. Back now reports a scream of pain. Scream. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes yoga people talk about energy. Right now I’m feeling negative energy. And I know my negative energy can be strong because a coworker once said to me, “Renee, the negative energy coming out of you this morning is so strong you have to turn it off. You’re pulling down the good vibes from my cigarette.”

A yoga instructor once explained that Kundalini yogis believe that their energy escapes out of their heads, so they wear turbans so that their energy doesn’t interfere with one another. She said that they nearly yell at her to wear a head scarf because her energy is so strong. I didn’t doubt her story – with her curly, vibrantly red hair and 70’s colored yoga pants, her contagious personality nearly spilled out of her. At least her energy was positive.

I probably have waves of negative energy spilling out of my head. I wonder if the man behind me can sense it. He’s probably sitting in peaceful meditation heaven, sitting there like the stone still statute of Buddha. At least, he’ll be there until my negative energy hits him.

This can’t be meditation, this inner torture. The other day, Father Tom didn’t mention anything about physical torture in his discussion on meditation. By equating my spiritual maturity to my ability to sit on a thin mat on a concrete floor without moving, I am trying to prove myself to God. In light of Christ's mercy, that’s ridiculous. Neither Christ nor God is going to care if I lie down at minute thirteen.

Nor will Stone Still Buddha man behind me. At least, I don’t think he will.

So I lie down. Relieved of back pain, my inner Witness resumes, just watching my negative inner dialogue bouncing around inside me as my back melts into the floor. Suddenly I imagine the negative energy exploding out of the top of my head. Because I’m lying down, it explodes straight toward the Stone Still man.

Tiny particles of negative energy with devilish grins on their faces bounce higher and higher, whining with glee as they approach Stone Still’s serene face. The particles land on the top of Stone Still’s head, interfering with the peaceful particles emanating from his head. A tiny battle ensues, sending sparks everywhere.

As the pain in my back subsides, I relax. Devilish particles of negative energy are ridiculous. Your imagination is running away with you, I say to myself. Even if your energy could interfere with his, he can ignore your agitated state if he wishes. He probably hasn’t even noticed that you’ve moved.

Outside, raindrops from the trees drip onto the roof of the gym. Inside, I notice my breath. Exhale – One. Exhale – Two. Inhale – Jesus. Exhale – Mercy.

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