Snorkeling in My Subconscious

A new type of meditation helped me reshuffle my memories

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I’ve been doing a new type of meditation — “therapy” is an equally good word. There’s really nothing to it (all I do is set a 30-minute timer and sit quietly with myself), but the effects have been profound.

What I mean by “sitting quietly with myself” is that I let my attention go wherever it naturally goes, while trying to maintain awareness that I am sitting here, now, in the background. Whenever I notice that I’ve lost that awareness, or that I’m feeling impatient or distracted, I anchor my attention in the sensations in my body, then let it go wherever it wants again. If something intense, like a pang of anger, comes up, I try to give it space, lightly saying “you’re welcome here” to the experience. I try not to overthink what I’m doing, trusting my gut when something feels important. So if I feel like I need to cry, I just cry, without trying to check whether I’m truly present every second.

This simple practice has uncovered so muchunder the surface of my mind! It’s a bit like snorkeling — until you dive in, the water seems perfectly uniform, but underneath the glories are endless. One of the most interesting “fish” I have found are the emotionally charged memories which spontaneously bubble up to the surface when I am sufficiently calm. Here are a few examples.

  1. I noticed I was stressed about an upcoming social interaction. I let myself fully inhabit that feeling and… Poof!

Here, now, on my meditation bench, I can’t stop crying.

The tears come, and come, and come. Had I carried this sadness here all the way from third grade? At the end of the sobbing, there is calm.

2.

The memory is dense with feeling. Intoxicating awe at the privilege of being here, at the sight of every blade of juicy grass and every sandstone curlicue. Around that, something dark and heavy. No, the feeling seems internal to the memory, something I carried with me often across this quad.

The word comes as if from outside me, but when it lands, my body shudders in recognition.

Oxford had been a dream come true, but my time there was punctuated with periods of despondency. I called it depression; the word “loneliness” never crossed my mind.

I found it hard to make friends with British classmates; most of the people I was closest with had been visiting students who disappeared after one year. I was lonely.

3. I feel lost. The feeling is connected with a sensation in my hips, but every time I try to focus my attention on that area, I bounce off, like there’s something lodged in there causing me to skid. I feel impatient, distracted. A minute goes by without me knowing where I am. “You’re welcome here, lostness,” I remind myself.

That familiar flash of embarrassment stands for more than just high school scouting. I suddenly realize that a part of me believed that everyone except me already knows how to find their way in life. I had felt not just lost, but terrified of asking for directions.

4.

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I let myself feel all of that day’s pain and shame. From the comfort of my meditation bench, it suddenly makes sense. It wasn’t just about dancing. The experience had been a concrete manifestation of an existential fear: the fear of waking up on my deathbed to learn I’d been running after all the wrong things. The fear that I had never been as advanced as I thought I was. That I didn’t belong here. That I never belonged; thinking I did was no safeguard.

The fear was exactly this: I had been spinning in the wrong direction all along.

I cry during almost every one of these sessions. That might sound horrible, but these are the cleansing tears of music, of poetry, of safety. Most of all, they are teachers.

The more I’m taken back to the past, the more I understand the present.I’m afraid of meeting new people; a part of me still believes that anyone could turn out to be Victoria. And when I realize that, the fear lessens.

I think of this meditation as mental reshuffling. An experience triggers a memory, which triggers a feeling, which triggers another memory. After I observe this sequence of events, it stops being inevitable. I don’t have to consciously try to stop it — social interactions just no longer send me into a panic; dances naturally stop provoking existential dread.

The more of these friendly tears I let fall, the fewer tears of rage and helplessness I experience off the meditation bench. I no longer need to avoid my feelings; I know I have space for them all.


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Staff writer at Rabbit Hole Magazine. Harvard PhD. Want to video chat about one of my articles? Pick a slot at calendly.com/evebigaj

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