There’s only one thing I know how to do when I feel badly – meditate. But it took me years to discover this secret. Years of trauma and meandering in and out of empty wells. When I was younger and attended church with my mother and grandmother I remembered being frightened by the seemingly violent emotion of women in church. They would rock and weep and sob loudly. They would pass out on the floor. Once I saw a large woman “get the Holy Spirit” and she hit her head falling on the alter. No one moved to help her. I grabbed my father’s arm and said “Daddy!! Daddy! That lady!” He looked over lazily and said “Oh. She alright.” I was mad at him for a long time about that and refused to go back to church with him for some weeks. My dad and I were like that: we’d get mad and stop speaking then get over it and go on.
When I saw “The Color Purple” at the movie theatre the first time with Mother and Nanny I didn’t understand Miss Celie and why she talked to God. I didn’t understand the songs in church like “Jesus Is My Friend”. Frankly I always had serious difficulties with Jesus. Well not with Jesus exactly but with Christianity, I never understood. I still don’t despite having a Theology degree from an undergrad Jesuit college. Christianity leaves me cold. I just didn’t get it.
But I had an innate understanding of spirituality, however. Even as a girl I was always happy cobbling together little rituals and prayers that I stole, magpie fashion, from my exposure to other religions. Judaism. Hinduism. A little Wicca maybe. Buddhism. Finding yoga and a yogi whose words finally made sense changed my life. My first experiences with meditation were so amazingly successful that I remember feeling suffused with a goodwill and confidence, or perhaps just an old fashioned blessing. Those early meditations carried me through the worst, emptiest, most frightening times of my life. It was the first time in my life I was confronted with human evil. I know nothing of supernatural evil like the Exorcist (and since I get so scared in horror movies that I literally cry tears of fright I hope never to encounter it.) But simple, commonplace human evil is its own terror, the kind that leaves you shivering in the bed in bright daylight fearing what will come next from someone’s spite and general lack of compassion.
Maybe your experience in life is devoid of anything that you would attribute to spiritual resolve. For me I can’t imagine my life without it. I spend a lot of time in meditation asking Why this? or Why that? Technically that is prayer. Meditation is the listening part. Somedays I’m good at calming myself and patiently falling into that Place. Some days though the fear and despair block your attempts. But that’s when you must work hardest.
My favorite thing is when an answer actually comes. Meditation is like going into Bergdorf Goodman as a beggar and having every salesperson from all the high-end boutiques greet you as a queen. “Take this!! And you’ll need this too!!” …”Oh have you seen our newest line? Have some! Oh did you take extras for family and friends? Here!! Here!” (Yes there is probably something wrong with describing my spiritual life in materialistic terms but this is my metaphor. You can go describe yours like Walden Pond or Dover Beach or whatever. My meditation is like Bergdorf Goodman, I say.)
It’s getting amazing answers from the void that are so extraordinary that it sometimes puts me in a good mood for weeks at a time. The other day I had barely been sitting for five minutes when a story idea dropped in my lap beginning, middle and end.
Someone hurt my feelings recently and I’ve spent a lot of time listening for some — what? Wisdom? Answers? Yes. — some explanation. Trying to find a salve for my heart because I feel sad.
I look at myself in the mirror and to see my tiny self. Though my face doesn’t necessarily display my age I know recognize myself as those women from my childhood. The Miss Celies. The emotional crying women in church who held it together all week long until they could make it to Church on Sunday and let their emotions free.
Except that I don’t wait until Sunday. I’ll go meditate two, three, times a day if I can. I keep asking the Universe the same question until I get an answer. In that, my spiritual practices are no different from the way I am in talking to real flesh and blood humans all day long. I like to get RESULTS.
So now I save my emotions and tears and even some joy for entering the Spiritual Bergdorf Goodman of the Universe. Alice Walker’s essay “InvSearch of Our Mother’s Gardens” was probably the most impactful thing I read in college. She talks about the fragile, mental artists who had very little in their material life and such rich emotional artistic and spiritual lives, and I remember recognizing all that she discussed as if it were a future memory. Perhaps I have finally entered that vague future memory at last.