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A story about Survival and Realization

My first attempt at meditation was out of utter desperation. I was quite sure that if I didn’t calm my mind, find some type of peace, and stop freaking out, I’d never sleep again. I might just go pop! like a can of Pillsbury biscuits—press at the seam until it pops, and out comes all the goo.

I asked for a divorce at a table for two in the Cracker Barrel. I hadn’t planned it that way. In fact, my husband and I had taken a weekend mini-vacation, something we rarely did, hoping to get away from our busy lives and focus on our relationship. Rekindling was the idea.

And it had worked for the first 48 hours. We attended a literary conference, my idea. We sampled a variety of shot glasses on a bourbon tour, his idea. We listened to live music at a local brewery, our idea. We were best friends and being away together had always been easy. It was the being together at home part that was tough.

The third night, we decided to meet a few of his friends for dinner. At dinner, the conversation took a series of turns I wasn’t comfortable with, and I felt myself grow silent. This alone though, merely being morally uncomfortable at dinner, wasn’t what did the marriage in for me. Instead, his nodding along and his laughter pulled at me, nudged at me. The conversation—one that planted seeds of disgust and had me scanning for the exit sign—put him at complete ease. In fact, he seemed more himself than he had been in weeks.

I heard my therapist’s voice, “Mercedez, what you’re describing are core values, not opinions and commonalities. Sure, a marriage can work when people have different opinions. Not having everything in common is actually a strength of a union. But, core values—those are different. You have to be on the same page there. Values don’t just change overnight.”

I pretended to fall asleep on the ride home. In the morning, we packed the car and got on the freeway. Twenty minutes into the drive, I spotted a sign for Cracker Barrel.

“What do you want?” he’d asked with menu in hand.

“A divorce.”

So, when I picked up my first book on meditation, when I downloaded the first app, and when I attended my first yoga class, I was merely trying to survive.

I suppose that’s how a lot of us start. Nobody tells us to make meditation a daily habit, like showering or applying deodorant. We don’t suddenly become intrigued by the idea of sitting quietly and trying our best not to think.

We turn to meditation because we desperately need it. We need the quiet. We need the calm. We need the breath. We need to feel as if we can take the next step forward without crumbling, yeast pouring out of our fragile seams with a startling pop!

I didn’t know I needed those things so much as I knew what I didn’t need: I didn’t need sleepless nights and migraines that kept me cowering under a pillow until late afternoon. I knew something was wrong long before I knew what it was or how to make it better.

In my first meditation book, I read about an exercise for approaching your thoughts objectively, for being able to watch them come and go as a bystander.

The book said to imagine you are sitting across from yourself, and that self-spouts out every thought you have—it just goes on and on, verbalizing everything that crosses your mind. A person who vocalizes every single thought you have? What would you think of that person sitting across from you, rambling incessantly?

I knew right away that I’d run from that person—a shoes to pavement, hauling ass kind of run.

To navigate a divorce, I began setting a five-minute timer first thing in the morning. Sitting on my bathroom floor, I focused on my breath and casually dismissed my thoughts: “That was a thought, back to my breath.”

This isn’t a story about perfect meditation. My timer is only at 10 minutes a year later. It’s still hard, like really hard. I’ve since bought six more books and watched countless YouTube videos. And guess what? I’m still pretty lousy at it.

No. This is a story about survival and realizing that my own mind would kill me if I let it. It’s about setting that timer every morning even if I have no idea why I thought meditation could possibly help. It’s about slowing it down and making it simple, not holding myself to any rules. It’s about realizing those thoughts don’t define me, and I can take back control, just by being still.

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