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Dear Little Bobby,
I sometimes have panic attacks and often have a lot of anxiety. I know that you’ve recommended meditation to people before, but I can’t meditate. My mind doesn’t work that way. I can’t be calm or sit still. Every time I try, I fail. And that isn’t very helpful. How do you do it?
—Anxious in Albuquerque
Meditation takes practice. No one has ever suddenly awoken in midlife without any training or effort and become a buddha. Our minds are naturally busy. The same way that a puppy is naturally distracted and frequently without direction. Our minds are almost always on the go. Too often, we live in the past, while at the same time our minds are anxious about the future. The result is that, for many of us, we are not truly happy in any given moment.
Learning to calm our minds will reduce stress and anxiety. It can help us to be truly happy.
When I tried to meditate in college, it did not seem to do much. I did not get anything out of it. I thought I was supposed to empty my mind, which is pretty hard for us to do, especially with no training. Then years later, I found a Kadampa Meditation Center here in Albuquerque, which teaches guided meditation. The biggest difference with guided meditation is that I was given a meditation object and guided on how to hold it. Usually this object is love, compassion, forgiveness or maybe a mental exercise like exchanging self with others (where you try to visualize yourself in the place of others, thereby developing compassion for them). Over time, these mental exercises, along with yoga, helped me to relax my mind and body.
For you, I would recommend that your meditation begin with choosing an object (like love, or anything else positive that you want to work on) then sit comfortably and close your eyes (completely or mostly) and focus on your breath. Find your natural rhythm of breathing.
Then, using your imagination, pretend that all of your anxieties, fears, anger, etc., are black smoke in your center and you are blowing it all out. Pretend that you can see it leaving you. Do that for a while, because being able to imagine it is the first step towards having a life without those negative feelings.
Visualize yourself being surrounded by bright healing light (or glowing angels, or whatever you want). Smell honey and nectar. Then breathe those things IN, the healing, the warmth, the happiness.
When you lose the ability to focus your mind, when you hear a sound that distracts you, when you have a negative thought, or any thought that distracts you from your object (love), go back to your object. Go back to forgiveness. Go back to compassion for your “enemies.” Go back to love. Negativity and black smoke OUT. Positivity and healing light IN.
Keep doing THAT, over and over, for five minutes, 10 minutes or whatever.
At first you will keep getting distracted. Our minds are like puppies that have not yet learned how to STAY.
Go back to love, over and over.
If you practice this frequently (like any other kind of practice), every day, every week—the more the better—you will become more and more familiar with remaining focused. You will have more experience being calm. You will begin identifying with that happiness and peace of mind. You will reduce your anxiety, not only by breathing in positivity, but you will also be learning about your mind. What is distracting you? What keeps coming up? Anger about the past? An unresolved issue in the present? Fear about the future?
This practice helps gives me a clear understanding of what I need to work on. I have discovered anger in myself that I did not know I had, perhaps about the distant past. Or maybe I need to forgive someone now, maybe I need to forgive myself. Or maybe I need to focus more on gratitude. The possibilities for spiritual growth are endless for creatures like ourselves.
This practice is not about focusing on our issues. It is about dealing with the obstacles to our own happiness. It is about making ourselves and others happier, by focusing on compassion for ALL sentient beings. And all of that BEGINS with us taking the time to sit down, close our eyes and focus on being calm and happy. We can imagine ourselves and others as truly happy. Then we can work towards making that happiness a reality.
My friends and family know that I still have obstacles to work on, but they also know that I have made a lot of progress, in large part because of this practice. Let me know if you need more help.
—Little Bobby Tucker
Working on himself since 1975
Dear Little Bobby,
When I started dating my boyfriend last year, he had a job and a car. Now we live together and he has neither. He is a few years younger than I am, so maybe he doesn’t understand how important a job is. Recently we have started to fight about money.
I know that my love shouldn’t depend on whether he has a job or not, and I’ve had my issues in life with family and relationships, and I’ve recently been cleaning up from a drug addiction. I feel like I’ve been doing better, staying clean and trying to be a better person.
At first, I felt like my boyfriend was helping me with that but now I have started to resent him for not even trying to get another job. I love him but I’m frustrated and confused.
—Trying not to fight in Albuquerque
Wow. He definitely sounds young. Whatever his age, he seems to not be getting it.
I would suggest that you immediately tell him how you feel. Directly and clearly, if not, this situation cannot possibly last with the resentment and the fights. And why would you want it to? Maybe you have told him directly, which means that the two of you seem to be in two different places in your lives and two different realities. You have your priorities—like staying clean and having a partner that contributes to the rent—and he has his priority: himself.
To some degree, that self-cherishing is to be expected in young men, especially in this country, but that does not make it anything other than what it is: selfishness. You are right. Your love should not depend on him having a job or not, but you loving him also does not mean that he can continue to live off of you, unless you want to enable him.
By pure coincidence, I have recently quit my full time “steady job” as a temp! My girlfriend encouraged me to do it, to focus on music, on writing, working part-time, etc. But we are doing this with open communication. If money becomes a problem, or if anything about our financial and home situation becomes a problem, we will address it.
If I were your boyfriend and I wanted to continue being with you, I would get the first job within walking distance that I could find. I would work at a sandwich shop or a big-box retailer for six months or a year or whatever, while I continued looking for a more desirable job. Because sitting on a couch and letting his girlfriend pay all of the bills? Those are the actions of a boy, not a man.
Do not lose yourself in this young man’s issues. Sometimes loving someone means giving them a hand, or offering a place to live, but sometimes loving them means taking the training wheels off and showing them the importance of helping themselves.
Is he open to how you feel? Are you truly helping him or enabling him? Only you can answer those questions.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way” —The Beatles, 1965