Remember how great meditation sounded — once?
Remember trying it?
But ... was it weirdly harder for you than for anyone you knew? Harder even than books, friends, and celebrities said it was? Did you keep trying, maybe switching techniques — vedic, Zazen, guided, lovingkindness, mindfulness — yet never transcended the fretful, surprisingly agonizing proto-stage, could never stick to it or make it stick, then quit?
Did this then join your list of perceived failures, perceived proof of your perceived incompetence?
Like certain merchandise, meditation should carry warning tags: This practice might harm those who hate themselves.
Through neither its own fault or ours, meditation is booby-trapped. For some, it is a supertrigger in disguise.
Self-hatred sabotages certain skills — attention, relaxation, focus, tolerance, persistence, gentleness — that form the foundations of meditation. Aiming to attain them feels for some like crawling handcuffed over blazing coals.
First step: Body-awareness. Flesh on fabric, flesh on flesh, respecting every gurgle, twitch, and itch as breath balloons the belly. Ordinary people find this boring. Those who hate their bodies want to scream.
Some, maybe most, self-hatred stems from childhood trauma — during which some of us learned to flee our insulted, invaded bodies mentally, to not only not be-here-now but to be nowhere, ever. Terrifed, defiled, we chorused Eject! Eject! and became these frozen fakes we now despise.
Simply inhabiting the skin is harder for those who avoid selfies and mirrors and massages than those who don't. Meditation is a flesh-acceptance crash-course. Sitting still can feel like freefall.
Self-hatred subverts the patience, faith, and confidence required to learn new things. After our first-ever guitar or tennis lessons, we called ourselves clumsy oafs, forever doomed.
Meditation asks us to suspend all assumptions, trusting constant change.
How can we do that when we trust nothing and no one, including ourselves?
Can we stop feeling that our every action is an audition, performance, contest, trial, or test? Could we once feel unjudged?
Next step: Stop reacting to thoughts. Drop each one into space like the abstraction that it is.
This is the finest part of meditation: spreading space between thoughts in which to observe, accept, detach from, then release them.
But if ordinary people struggle to observe/accept/release their ordinary thoughts, how can we conjure superpowers to catch — much less ditch — those fiery fuselages of regret, terror, and you-are-a-failure besieging our minds?
And what if we trust our thoughts way too much — because we grew up thinking ourselves so repulsive, helpless, hideous, and weak that even bad thoughts seemed our sole weapons, comfort, and company?
For us, that sweet imaginary stream into which meditation asks us to set thoughts adrift like twigs transforms from clear water into thick, viscous shame.
Next step: Focus on something — mantra, body, breath — besides your "self." We of all people should embrace this with our hearts afire. But self-obsession is a dark addiction hammered into us by those who said: Why do you keep making me punish you?
Meditation is vastly rich in possibility, variety, and history. It saves lives — including, allegedly, Lindsay Lohan's.
But if you hate yourself and have tried in vain to meditate, maybe for years, don't let that fact make you hate yourself more.
This fantastic practice is stacked against us. Great teachers could perhaps guide us past its booby traps. But — Trigger Number 57 — our kind hates asking for help.