In my mind, meditation was for hippies who didn’t have their shit together and mindfulness was just a fancy word for reformed hippies who barely had their shit together. I was happy to spend an hour each week in the confines of a therapy office, but meditation was an entirely different proposition. In my mind, it was just one step away from shaving my head and handing out flowers at the airport. I was a Type A, take control, get-things-done kind of girl. There was no way I was going to spend my precious parenting time lighting incense sticks and chanting my way through the day.
The problem was, nothing else was working. I was still yelling. Apparently, I didn’t have my shit together as much as I liked to think I did. The weeks went by, the yelling continued, and mindfulness and meditation kept popping up in my life: my mother-in-law (also a Type A person) took a meditation course and liked it. I found an old book about mindfulness sitting dusty and untouched in a pile on my bedside table; I didn’t even remember buying it. A friend invited me to a writer’s weekend at Kripalu, a noted yoga and meditation retreat center in Western Massachusetts. And then one day, I was reminded of the old joke about the man who is caught in a flood and refuses to accept the help of neighbors with boats and police with helicopters, because he believes that God will save him. The man ultimately drowns, and when he gets to Heaven, he asks God why He didn’t save him. “But I sent you warnings, a canoe, a speedboat, and even a helicopter. Why didn’t you take them?”
In that moment, I was able to see that I was drowning, and I had been unwilling to grab a lifeline that I knew was out there because I was so hung up on my judgmental ideas about meditation. I knew what I had to do, as much as I didn’t want to. I begrudgingly signed up for a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. I had done some research and knew that this particular model of teaching mindfulness and meditation was developed in the late 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist by training. In the decades since, the MBSR curriculum has been taught to hundreds of thousands of individuals and used in hundreds of research studies exploring (and often confirming) the effects of mindfulness and meditation. Because it was a secular program backed up by solid scientific literature, I figured I had a decent shot at not wandering into a drum circle full of patchouli-scented space cadets.