Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mindfulness with the Meth-Addicted Spider Monkeys

Photo Credit: Morguefile by mariocom20

Mindfulness. Doesn't that just sound like a good idea? I've had mindfulness on my mind. It's on my to-do list: become mindful—perhaps later, after I finish getting the house the way I like. Just before spring break, I went so far as to go to Tara Brach's website and poke around a bit. I liked what I saw, but I didn't have any time at the moment to watch any of her too-long videos because I was very busy checking my email and watching my children do all the things that they shouldn't do. So, I bookmarked it and added it to my list of things to accomplish over the vacation: clean out chicken coop thoroughly, de-clutter, become mindful watching Tara Brach.

Guess which thing I didn't do?

I had already spoken to my mindful friend Kristine about sitting with the Buddhist group at my church the week before. She was very encouraging and excited that I was interested, but also let me know that all of them mediated for half an hour at the beginning of each gathering. Half an hour. I still have very unpleasant memories of attempting sitting meditation in the past. You are, in fact, supposed to meditate if you are sober. I believe the step says: "We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." The prayer part I've had down for years. The meditation part, I'll admit, has been a bit bumpier.

In my attempts to mediate properly over the years I have discovered these three things: breathing deeply is not necessarily relaxing when you are prone to panic attacks; spider monkeys on meth-laced Frappuccino regimens have less energy than my own ongoing narratives about myself, which run constantly and at full volume in my head; and sitting in meditative poses is as comfortable for me as being folded into a box. And now, I had fibromyalgia on top of all this.

Kristine encouraged me to tell the Buddhist group leader about my concerns. For some reason, this made me feel a great deal better. I would do this—after.

So, then it was the week after spring break. And Kristine had just gotten back from Mexico, so certainly she wouldn't be going and my kid and husband needed me to be home with them because they had just gotten back as well, so I didn't go then. I needed to go with someone, and there was no reason to be selfish about it either.

And then this last Sunday arrived. This time, I had emailed the leader and told him that I had very little experience with meditation and that I had fibromyalgia and wasn't sure if I could stay in one position for thirty minutes. He'd encouraged me to come and do what I could and said they'd help me to be comfortable. So, early, I texted Kristine to see what time it started and she said she wasn't going this Sunday but it started at 8 AM.

"Oh, OK then", I texted back."I'll wait until next week. I have a terrible headache anyway."

But she wasn't going to be able to go next week either and, it occurred to me, neither was I.

"Maybe I'll just go," I said.

I had a half an hour to decide. I'd been in some of the worst pain of my recent experience this last week. That was a very good reason not to go. And I'd have to walk in by myself. And what if my body freaked out immediately, or I had an attack of PTSD or something awful? I know me, and so I know I would just stay there, miserable, afraid to draw attention to myself.

Then I had this thought: This is you. This is your life. It's not about to be some other way. If you want to do this, bring the you and life that exists with you and just go and try.

So I went.

I did myself proud. I walked in, smiled, said yes I was Tara, and that I was going to need to lean against something so my jaw didn't go into spasm. The leader spent a good ten minutes thoughtfully setting me up on pillows and explaining exactly what would happen. Someone had a chime on their cell phone and, with all of us set up, it chimed.

My eyes were closed and I was in more or less the correct posture as I tried to focus on my breathing. The first thing I noticed was that there was a sharp pain in the center of my solar plexus when I exhaled which pulled through my chest to the center of my shoulder blades. It was probably costochondritis , which I already know that I have, but immediately I remembered an article I'd recently come across while sitting in a waiting room—the story of a marriage that survived MS.  In the article,  the foreshadowing of the husband's illness came when he experienced a symptom known as the "MS hug". I decided that this was what I was experiencing and began wondering how many of my symptoms were consistent with MS. All the while knowing that none of them were. This continued for some time before it became hard to think because the pain involved in maintaining my position became so large that thought was more or less impossible. Whatever thoughts I did have became largely focused on wondering how much longer this would last.

Meanwhile, over the top of this meth-Frappuccino chattering, there lay a very thin layer of stillness, like the membrane inside the shell of an egg. The thin-membrane of stillness hovered, unconcerned with the MS or the pain and compassionately resolved itself into remaining seated until the chime rung out again. The meth-Frappuccino spider monkeys began to notice this.

"Wow, I'm so deeply spiritual," one said.

"I'm actually not. Here I am thinking when I am supposed to be breathing," said another meth-addicted spider monkey.

They began an argument and made cases to prove their opposing points.

The membrane of stillness just paid attention to the pain increasing in my legs and chest and back and tried to locate a consciousness large enough to contain both the pain and the stillness all at once. My body started beating drums to let me know that we were done here and something terrible was happening and this needed to stop right now. The monkeys rambled on about my spirituality and Multiple Sclerosis and I continued to sit.

And then the chime rang. I opened my eyes and shifted my position. "Hallelujah!" my legs said. And I noticed that the pain, while still there, suddenly seemed smaller, and the consciousness around it seemed larger, despite the monkeys and all the arguments about MS.

And at that point I realized I was hooked. Just like the spider monkeys on their meth.


  1. This made me laugh. I have similar meditating experiences, and yet I'm hooked. I don't have fibromyalgia, but I think I develop an acute case of it when I sit to meditate. Somehow it all clears out eventually and works, though.
    Meth-addicted spider monkeys are exactly the problem.

    1. This is exactly what Buddha said was the problem. And if you don't have fibromyalgia, it would make sense that you would develop it while meditating. Since I already had it, I had to develop MS. If I had MS, I'd probably get Ebola partway through.

    2. Oh, and hives. I also get hives when I meditate and start to itch ALL OVER MY BODY.

  2. Just discovered I'd missed this post. Personally, I've always thought it would be nice to know how to meditate, because I could use a foolproof relaxation technique, but when I try to focus on a mantra, I manage to do for maybe three seconds, after which my mind wanders off and may start writing a story or thinking about what I'm going to have for breakfast or what my schedule is for the week or what might be on TV that evening or what I could write a blog post about or ... Focusing on a single word is too boring to bear, so I've never learned how to meditate!

  3. I've toyed with the idea of meditation so often, but have never really made an effort. I assume this is because the meth-addicted spider monkeys have gotten pretty comfortable with running the joint. ;)


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