The Big "M" Word


The question, or rather recap of an inquiry came from my mother during what would normally be her meditative morning walk around an idyllic lake in Upstate New York. 

"Nancy asked me, 'Do you meditate?'", mom said to me.

"Ummm, no.  Do you see how much coffee I drink?”

To some, her answer might be indicative of a need to partake in the activity in question.  

Seemingly, the buzzword amongst "holistic" health practitioners - some fellow RDs included - the preoccupation with meditation has me, well, meditating on the issue.  Is it really for everyone?  I'd argue not.

Rewind five years ago to my then-newlywed husband gifting me (and himself) with Transcendental Meditation (TM) instruction to celebrate our vows.  Myself being very much of the physical (make of that what you will), and he, the mental/spiritual, there was some sort of unofficial agreement made as to how one would assist the other in their given area of strength.

So there we found ourselves, in a nondescript Fifth Avenue office building, each assigned a stranger (TM master practitioner), who would sit with us silently and separately before handing down a mantra.  This, to the tune of around $2k a pop (give or take - the math is fuzzy as I don't really care to remember anything aside from the exorbitance of the number).  

Your mantra is a word that's meant to be silently repeated for the duration of each 20 minute TM session - performed twice daily, not too close to waking or bedtime, in a properly seated position.  And, I hated mine.  Perhaps not as much as returning to the aforementioned TM headquarters the next day for an in-depth review of TM's history (The Beatles!  Maharishi!  David Lynch!  Ellen just loves it!) followed by a group meditation.  Cue the other (mostly female) participants not-so-subtly fawning over my "evolved" husband.  Aaaaaaah...New York.

Back to the point here: with all its time restrictions, the unpalatable mantra, and the general unpleasantness of sitting quietly, not once, but twice a day, my foray into meditation was short-lived.  Its lifespan rivaled that of my husband's adherence to any attempt at physical betterment over the course of our nine years together - in a word, fleeting.

Inconsistencies in defining meditation present a challenge in measuring its potential efficacy.  (Potential efficacy in terms of neurological adaptations is beyond my scope here, but the American Heart Association is not quite sold on meditation as a treatment modality for lowering blood pressure).  Yoga, mantra meditation (such as TM), Qi Gong, and even the loose term “mindfulness” can qualify, depending on who you ask.

But what if we’re to consider the Merriam-Webster definition of meditate, which includes:

-to engage in contemplation or reflection;

-to focus one’s thoughts on: reflect on or ponder over;

-to plan or project in the mind.

Given these terms, it appears the individual has license to stray from the confines of mantras and intangibles such as “transcendence” and “enlightenment.”  So let's pose the question again: is meditation for everyone?  In some way, shape, or form that's in line with our friends at Merriam-Webster, probably.  Personally, I'd stretch the definition far enough to say that I'm meditating at the barbell four days a week, but in the purer sense outlined here, I find the quiet of the outdoors, specifically the beach, to be quite meditative.  I don't need to sit on the sand cross-legged and chanting with my eyes closed to channel a sense of calm and stillness of mind; the scenery is plenty.  I might or might not be playing Benny Mardones on repeat while I do so.  Hey, maybe early 80s adult contemporary is the ideal soundtrack for meditation.  

Perhaps you find chopping vegetables meditative.  Scrubbing your shower tiles might do it for you.  Maybe you're in a line of work that requires repetition of the same motions over and over.  Any of the above can foster contemplation and reflection.  The latter, in fact, might qualify as "movement meditation," should you feel the need to label it.   But really, why muck up a good thing by labeling it?

Which brings me to this..."meditate" on your own terms.  Feel free to seek out your special solitude if and when you need it.  But rest assured you don't need a guru and two grand for contemplation and reflection.