The Longest 15 Minutes
I woke up anxious this morning. I know why… sort of. I mean, I know the bold outline of why. I got home later than I like to last night, which meant I slept half the day away, or at least, most of the morning. That makes me anxious. In fact, my body naturally wakes me around 7 a.m. every morning, and it was no different today. When I awoke, I recognized the symptoms of not enough sleep — the sandy feeling in my eyes, the groggy feeling in my head. I briefly considered getting up and forging ahead with my blessed Saturday on five hours of sleep. But then I rejected that notion and decided to roll over for more shut-eye.
Before I did that, however, I made a fatal error, something I’ve been doing more and more of lately. I picked up my cell phone. Checked for texts, checked my email, and then — the worst — clicked into Facebook, which is starting to give me a queasy, saccharine feeling. This furtive feeling of being caught with my hand in the cookie jar somehow, of wasting time, time that can never be regained. It’s like how I used to feel when a soap opera was on mid-day in my home, or anyone else’s home — it depressed me to the point of panic. It felt like an intrinsic assault on humanity, integrity, responsibility. That sounds a little extreme. Truth be told, I don’t know why soap operas on mid-day panic me. But they do.
Checking Facebook and scrolling through all kinds of stories that make me scared, sad, and upset is similar. I read about the coming mass deportations of our Latino community and imagined our beloved Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland living in fear or being scrubbed of half or more of her residents. This made me cry. I read about the 32-year-old engineer from Hyderabad, India gunned down in the fourth-largest city in Kansas by a nutcase who thought he was “middle-eastern” and shouldn’t be be here. His crime? Having the wrong color skin and a drink with a friend in the wrong place. When I read this, I cried.
What’s left of the rain forest being gutted by greed again, the “Muslim ban,” our most respected press (BBC, NYT) being banned — incredibly — from the White House this week. Talk of an ugly, terrifyingly expensive wall blocking out our friends (as if a wall ever worked). It’s all sickening, and I can’t read it anymore. That’s the truth.
This, compounded by a poor night of dancing last night where my self-confidence crumbled as in days of old. I felt like a rank beginner at tango again last night. I felt I couldn’t keep my balance for the life of me. The room felt too bright. I was self-conscious about my toenails, if you can believe it. I didn’t have a partner for the class and others did. I felt alone and abandoned. Even though a friend offered to practice only with me for the entirety of the class, I gave him up, pointing out it wasn’t fair to others who had no partner. Then, I felt sour about it.
By the time the female half of the teaching team tried to help me, I was long gone. I felt literally monstrous. When she tried to show me the “adorno” (the adornment), where I’m to trace the floor in a pretty way with the tip of my toe, I felt like a monster. I felt literally like the beast in Beauty and the Beast. I felt huge, clumsy, furry, gross, dirty, and ugly. As painful as it is to admit this, it is true. When I’m tripped up hard by my anxiety and not able to fend it off or sidestep it, I’m brought to a place of annihilation. If there’s any work for me to do on this planet, while I have this body and this life, it’s to get to the bottom of that. And to help others trapped there once I do.
My confidence in tatters, I focused relentlessly on my mistakes. I pushed with my right hand when the hand should be relaxed, the elbow strong. I pitched and heaved all over the floor when I’m supposed to keep my axis at all times. I was unable to ground myself, and in trying to get grounded, actually impeded my partners’ movements, slowing them down and making them work hard to dance with me.
When I finally roused myself at 11 a.m. this morning, I was upset for wasting time. All the things I want to do and complete this weekend loomed up at me, leering, knowing full well I wouldn’t, couldn’t get it all done. I’m late on several side projects, have serious house-cleaning to do, haven’t seen my dad in days, haven’t written reliably on Medium in weeks. Abandoned my memoir months ago.
I haven’t checked the downspouts, haven’t checked the roof (and we have two leaks — one in my son’s bedroom and one in mine). I haven’t called my brother, my sister, my other sister… I haven’t been practicing dance at home, my yoga practice is in the garbage can, I’m not hiking enough, the torn peroneal tendon in my ankle gives me grief and confuses me. I have an auto-immune disorder and don’t know what to do about it. I have fungus on my toenails that won’t go away, and I hate it. I take baths in baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and Epsom salts, but nothing seems to help.
Peri-menopause is not a picnic, and it makes me feel old. I’ll be 49 in April, and that’s a shock.
Yet… there is so much to be grateful for. As my old friend Cliff used to say, “Focus on the positive.” You’ll be fine if you focus on the positive. For each of these complaints, I can flip it and be grateful. Each and every one. For example, I have leaks in the roof, but it’s MY roof, and though the bank still owns a significant portion of my house, I do have equity in it, and every day I’m closer to owning outright that rare thing — a house in the Bay Area. That’s something to be grateful for — hugely so.
Even better though is having a daughter that invites me to meditate with her. Can you imagine? How did I get so lucky?
Yes. This morning, feeling hunted, haunted, as I do when anxious, I was sort of milling about the house, unable to start anything, unsure what to do first. Make breakfast? Make coffee? Do yoga? Fold clothes? Write? I couldn’t decide what to do. So, what did I do? Picked up my cell phone, of course.
By the time noon rolled around, I was a veritable basket case. I had drifted to my daughter’s room several times to shriek — get this — Clean your room! What are all these clothes all over the floor! You’re on your cell phone too much! Where is it? I pay for it! I’m taking it. You have no discipline! Give it to me!
Then, upon spying it upon the nightstand, I swooped in and scooped it up, to deposit in the tea drawer in the kitchen. She was mad, of course, and tried to stand up to me. Somehow, I “succeeded.” Being bigger than me, she can easily block me (and has in the past). But, she didn’t. Maybe she realized on some level I was right. But, wow. What a hypocrite (me, of course).
When she came down to the kitchen some time later, saying she’d put her clothes away and where was her phone? I admitted I was anxious this morning.
“Why?” She said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “This Trump stuff really is scary.”
I barely refrained from telling her about the young man shot to death in Kansas. But refrain I did. I don’t want to pollute her world. Pollute it, I do though. When I’m anxious like this, it bleeds into everything. It makes others suffer. It’s toxic.
My daughter, my fifteen-year-old daughter, then said, “Do you want to meditate together?”
If you can believe it, I actually hesitated, briefly. Because I’m self-destructive. Because I don’t know what’s good for me.
Then, my better side came through, and I said timidly, hopefully, gratefully, “Sure.”
She led me to the living room and began setting up her seat to meditate with some stacked pillows. I got the purple yoga mat out of the front hall closet and shook it out onto the floor. I got some blankets and folded them to make a seat for myself.
When we were seated side-by-side, cross-legged, she said, “Fifteen minutes?”
I said, “Sure.”
I thought, derisively, that’s not enough. Fifteen minutes. What can that accomplish? But, I acquiesced. Fifteen minutes had to be better than nothing.
It turned out to be quite possibly the longest fifteen minutes of my life. I swear to God, time slowed to a crawl. It seemed to not unfold at all. Time went on and on. And on. It was crazy. This, after feeling for hours, days, weeks… months? Years? that it’s tumbling me along in a river that I can’t control, can’t escape, a river that’s drowning me.
During these fifteen minutes, I was out of the river. I was on the bank, watching the river, and wow what a show. My mind proceeded to unroll a tapestry of thought, memory, worry, planning, regret, hope, fear, guilt, confusion, and the rest of it. But this time, it was revealed to me in portions, in snippets, like the view from the train door of the various stations you stop at on a long journey. The door opens, you view the station and all the tumult in it, and then the door closes, and you continue on.
The truth is, I didn’t meditate “successfully.” Meaning that God knows I wasn’t able to focus on my breath very often, very long, even at all for long flows of time. But, the fact is, I did return to my breath, even after not only viewing the platform but getting down and rubbing shoulders with all of the denizens in that slice of life. Still, each time, the realization eventually descended on me that I had to get back on the train, somehow, and climb aboard I dutifully did.
I returned to the breath.
This happened many, many times. Having my daughter beside me, meditating, was the force that allowed me to stay, stay, stay. Stay put. Alone, I probably would have vaulted up numerous times and then given up. But hearing her steady breathing beside me kept me in place. It brought prickly tears to the backs of my eyes.
The time went on and on. It was interminable. I thought, She’s tricking me. We’ve been meditating for half an hour. Forty-five minutes. There’s no way this is fifteen minutes. Finally, sure she was tricking me, I prepared to open my eyes. Just then, I heard the click of the cell phone camera as she took my picture. I opened my eyes and looked at her. She was smiling at me. Just then, the alarm sounded.
It was fifteen minutes. She showed me. It was the longest fifteen minutes of my life, and one of the most blessed. Even though I’m still a mess and still have adrenalin coursing through my system, my daughter brought me closer to base. I’m steadier now, more grateful, a little calmer.
Most of all, I realize how profoundly lucky I am to have a daughter like this. And a relationship with my daughter like this. How did I get so lucky? I was immature, projecting my own fears, anxieties, and disappointments on her this morning, acting ridiculous. Somehow, my fifteen-year-old saw through the posturing. I made an admission to her in the kitchen, acknowledging my anxiety. She responded to my bid with real compassion and wisdom. And we got through the moment, through the morning. She restored me. And to give myself credit, I allowed myself to be restored.
Now, I’m listening to Albert King sing, “Everybody gets the blues….” And this helps too. “She got the blues, that’s what’s wrong with her… the old-fashioned, country blues… can you dig it?” Ah, these delicious Texas Blues! This delicious child! The sun is shining, I own a house, I have a job, all is right in the world. I just got the blues. It’s no big deal.