Jeff Cann, Meditation Practitioner. Cool title, maybe I should print business cards.
I toyed with calling myself a meditator—Jeff Cann, Meditator—but I don’t like how it sounds. And who gets to decide which words end with or versus er? We’ve got bakers, renters, fighters and even practitioners. But then we’ve got meditators, mediators and aviators. And it isn’t because the root words end in ate, because we’ve also got skaters and haters not to mention second raters. Inconsistencies in the English language drive me bonkers.
I became a meditation practitioner just over a month ago. After dropping Sophie off at college at the end of January, Susan and I settled in for our nine-hour drive home. That’s a long-ass drive for us. We get edgy after about three hours. What do we do for those six extra agitated hours? On this occasion, I bitched about Tourette Syndrome.
For the new people: yes, I have Tourette Syndrome. Most people are familiar with the incongruous cussing—for instance telling the nuns at church or the little girl playing hopscotch in the driveway next door to f–k off. But that symptom, coprolalia, only affects ten percent of Touretters, and I’m not part of that ten percent. I have more benign tics—uncontrollable movements and vocalizations like squinching up my eyes, making grunting sounds and punching myself in the thigh. These things don’t impair a single aspect of my life, like I don’t get kicked out of church or the movie theater, and I don’t injure myself by flinging limbs or hitting walls, but I’d do almost anything to make my tics go away.
So driving home from Burlington, Vermont, I bitched about Tourette. I guess I bitched pretty hard, because it sent Susan to the internet (yet again) to see if she could help me. The next evening, she presented her research. Susan discovered a type of meditation training called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) spearheaded by Jon Kabat-Zinn which has proven to dramatically reduce Tourette tics. She found a meditation teacher right here in Gettysburg who studied under Kabot-Zinn, and she was starting up a MBSR meditation class at the end of February. Almost unbelievable, plus the class is even free. Providence.
I’m no stranger to meditation, Susan meditates almost every day. We discuss it frequently. We even listen to dharma talks (essentially sermons told by Buddhist teachers) together. She’s been suggesting that I start up a meditation practice for decades. I always respond “trail running is my meditation.” But running is running, and while I get a lot of mental health benefits out of it, I’m not meditating. If I was, I wouldn’t be paying enough attention to the trail, and I’d catch my toe on a root and smash up my elbow and palm by falling on a big flat rock just like I did two weeks ago. I’d really like—and I really need—a meditation practice.
So, now more than a month into the program, how am I doing? I don’t meditate! I take the classes; I make notes recording what the instructor says; I make plans for the coming weeks; but day in and day out, I just don’t meditate. Well, I have a few times since the class started: lying in bed, sleep elusive, I’ve meditated to fall asleep, but I’ve been doing that for years. I can’t seem to excuse myself from the room and find a quiet corner to sit for fifteen or twenty minutes. It’s really starting to bug me.
Meditation, for me, is an eat-my-peas chore. I know I will benefit from it, but I can’t bring myself to do it. As a kid, I never ate my peas. I sat alone at the kitchen table long after the dishes were done staring at that glossy green pile of death. When I heard primetime TV starting up in the next room, I steeled myself to shove the peas into my mouth. I chewed them into paste and crammed them, squirrel-like, between my gums and cheek. The thought of swallowing cold pea-mash made me want to throw up. When my mom saw my empty plate, she released me from the table. I ran straight to the bathroom gagging and scraped the pea gunk from of the corners of my mouth into the toilet.
It’s two weeks until my next class, I need to make some progress. Julie, the instructor, sends us into Zoom breakout groups of three people to discuss our successes and failures from the prior weeks. So far, I only have failures. I can’t even say I failed; I just haven’t tried. Not only am I letting myself down, but also the other students in the class. There’s no debate: this meditation technique reduces stress, and reducing stress reduces tics. Relief is waiting for me, but I need to meet it half way. I need to start a practice. A consistent, daily practice.
Susan suggests starting at five minutes a day. Right, I won’t get much benefit from five minutes of meditation, but I get nothing from what I’m doing now. I think that by writing about this and publishing it for the world to see, I’m trying to shame myself into action. If I think everybody is judging me, I’ll step up my game to prove you all wrong. Not a very Zen approach to motivation, but after fifty-eight years, I know which buttons to push to get things rolling. Go ahead, start judging.