Long before Shaq began leading his own Guided Meditations, it took some convincing from The Nicessist to start training his anxious mind. This is the story of how The Nicessist helped Shaq MacNeil finally commit to meditation.
I was ready to give up. This would be another night’s sleep ruined by a restless mind. Visions of embarrassing moments from hours ago gnawed at me, causing me to toss, only to turn when even more embarrassing visions from years ago met me in place of comfort.
“You need to relax,” a calm voice whispered from the foot of my bed.
I rolled over and saw The Nicessist sitting lotus, embodying serenity.
“Has anyone ever told you that stating the obvious is a really annoying habit?”
“Shaq, have you ever considered trying meditation?”
“Sure I have. But I didn’t take to it. I had no idea if I was doing it correctly and after a few minutes, I felt like an idiot sitting and breathing–maybe committing cultrual appropriation too. And it’s tough to make time for meditation. Besides, it won’t work for me. My mind is full and that’s something that I’m extremely proud of because I’ve always considered it to be a side-effect of my massive intellect. Why would I want to empty it?”
“Because the benefits of rest can’t be underestimated. Surely someone with a massive intellect such as yourself knows that. Plus, the high blood pressure your doctor alluded to may drop through meditation. Your blood may flow better through those nicotine-shrivelled veins if you pursue meditation. You’ll spend less money on antiperspirant every week, you’ll feel less anxious and stressed and have more feelings of well-being and experience deeper relaxation.
All of which are fine reasons to give meditation a try, but in Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate benefit of meditation is liberation of the mind from attachment to things it cannot control, such as external circumstances or strong internal emotions. The liberated, or “enlightened,” practitioner no longer needlessly follows desires or clings to experiences, but instead maintains a calmness of mind and sense of inner balance. Doesn’t that sound like a state you’d like to be in?”
I rolled my eyes, growing fed up with the pitch.
“I know you’re not going anywhere until I try meditation, so can you stop trying to sell me on it?”
“Well it’s not going to work unless you let it. I simply want to help you understand what meditation can do for you.”
“Let’s just begin. What do I need to do?”
The Nicessist read off what was scrawled on its ethereal hand:
“Meditation for beginners:
1. Sit or lie comfortably.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage and belly. Make no effort to control your breath; simply focus your attention. If your mind wanders, simply return your focus back to your breath. Maintain this meditation practice for 2–3 minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.”
“Do I need to repeat a mantra or something?”
“You may if you wish. This would be a form of concentration meditation, which isn’t recommended for beginners because, as you know firsthand, it’s not easy to focus the mind without fundamentals to fall back on.
For you, I’d recommend mindfulness meditation. It encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get tangled in the thoughts like the way you’ve tangled yourself in your sheets. Simply be aware of each mental note as it arises. See how your thoughts and feelings move and you might be able to identify a pattern or what it is that’s keeping you up. Over time, you will become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge experience as “good” or “bad”. With practice, an inner balance will develop. I promise.”
Though I was skeptical of what I was hearing–you mean the answer has been sitting eyes closed and breathing this whole time!?–, my eyelids sagged down and my breathing became as organic as waves. Rather than swarm and sting the living shit out of me, my thoughts floated on by, never impeding from sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt rested for the first time in a long time. As I went about my day, I noticed that my usual cynicism was absent. In its place was a sense of wonder. The hornet’s nest of regret, embarrassment and shame was no more. There was instead an infinite well of positivity to draw on simply by stepping aside to observe thoughts while focusing on my breathing.
Before, I thought of meditation as a chore. Now I know it’s a gift I give myself multiple times a day. Is it motivated by the fear that if I don’t keep it up, the hornet’s nest will return? Yes. But if fear isn’t a good reason to keep good habits, what is?
The Nicessist is a divine being that visits author Shaquille MacNeil in times of mental anguish.
In Nicessism, Shaq recounts the teachings he’s received from the mindful apparition.
To keep up to date with its teachings, follow The Nicessist on Twitter and Facebook.