Meditation is back. I don't know if it ever really left, but more Americans are meditating today than ever before. People who meditate these days come from all walks of life and aren't necessarily weird New Agers or pretentious actors. Students, lawyers, West Point cadets, athletes, prisoners, and government officials all meditate. There are even yoga classes for children and for dogs. Why not me?
The main reason I wanted to try meditation is because there are all kinds of claims about its medical benefits. More and more doctors recommend it. It's supposed to help depression, control pain, increase longevity, slow down cancers, invigorate the immune system, and significantly reduce blood pressure. Time magazine recently reported that "meditation can sometimes be used to replace Viagra." And you don't have to be embarrassed at the pharmacy when you pick it up.
The whole idea of meditation is to try not to think of anything. I figured I'd be pretty good at that. Whenever I want to think of a great idea, or where we should go to dinner, or what the name is of that familiar-looking guy approaching me, I don't have a problem drawing a blank at all. I seemed like the perfect candidate for meditation.
So last night I tried it. I turned off the lights in my office, and sat in a comfortable chair. After you close your eyes, you're supposed to say a word or phrase to yourself over and over again. That's your mantra. I decided that my mantra would simply be the word, "One." After a few minutes, I wasn't sure if it was working, so I switched to "Peace." I hope it's okay to switch mantras in the middle of meditation. I wouldn't want to have a bunch of yogis mad at me.
Then I started thinking, "Hey, this isn't so hard. I'm not thinking of anything. ... Oops!"
Then other thoughts started intruding into my meditation. "Why do kids need meditation to reduce stress? Whatever happened to playing on the playground?" "Yoga classes for dogs? Rascal already sleeps 23 hours a day. How much more relaxed could he be?" I took some deep breaths, and I returned to trying to relax.
Pretty soon, the thoughts started again: "Am I meditating yet?" "Do I look stupid, sitting here like this?" "I wonder if my blood pressure has gone down." Then the killer popped into my head: "I'd better start relaxing soon. I can't sit here all night."
It's like when you haven't fallen asleep yet, it's three in the morning, and you have to get up early for an important meeting. Right when you tell yourself, "I'd better fall asleep soon, or I'm going to be in bad shape in the morning," you might as well get up, get dressed, and wait for your newspaper to be thrown into a puddle. You're not going to fall asleep that night.
As I sat there, I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. My heart was beating faster, and I assumed my blood pressure was rising. I got panicky when I thought about what this was probably doing to my immune system. Trying to relax was really making me nervous.
So I gave up. But since the benefits are so great, I'm going to keep trying. I'm sure those people who can meditate all day, lower their pulse at will, walk on hot coals, and not be annoyed by call waiting didn't learn all the tricks in one night.
The main thing I've got to learn is how to clear my mind, how to stop thoughts from intruding. I think the key is finding the right mantra. I'm going to give up on "One" and "Peace." Instead, if I just keep saying to myself, "I've got to come up with a great idea," I'm guaranteed to think of nothing.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.