Once a month I forget to stop an app called “Headspace” from guilting me into meditating for another thirty days. I started doing this at the very end of my senior year, when my sensations of anxiety and dread became debilitating for the first time. Before I went in for my first and last Broene appointment, I wrote out everything I was feeling and why—for myself, to process, but also so that this new stranger didn’t have to dissect me herself, careful and certified. When I was done, I refolded what I’d written and she handed me a spiral-bound packet with a picture of a pond on it. She mentioned this app too.
Recognizing and tracing my familiar pangs doesn’t make them go away. Even if they’re baseless. You can’t make yourself feel what you know. Enter Andy.
Andy introduced himself on our first date. He’s got a really soothing voice, with a cockney accent that made me giggle the first time I tapped play. (This is probably a more crucial qualification for his work than his years as a Buddhist monk.) Plus Andy always sounds candid and casual, like he’s there with you, just thinking out loud, rather than reading from a script in a recording booth. It’s disarming. I’m still amazed how many different ways Andy can phrase the same simple instructions: feel your weight pressing down. Breathe deeply. Close your eyes. Do nothing else.
I started paying for our time once I’d exhausted the “Basics 1” pack. Premium offered more specialized series, named after alternative Fruits of the Spirit: “Self-esteem,” “Acceptance,” “Balance.” Andy’s People have my credit card info, and every month on our anniversary, our relationship automatically refreshes. Again, I get an email thanking me for not calling it off. There’s a bill for $12.99 tacked to the bottom. Might as well do a session.
I still haven’t formed a habit, even though Andy asked me to try when we first met. (He keeps a “days in a row” counter on the homepage to remind me, and I can’t blame him for being passive aggressive.) Instead, I use the app like a tool. A tool like certain playlists saved to my phone, to whip out anytime I want to facilitate a feeling of tenderness (or manufacture any other mood). It’s my tool in bed, to counteract the time I spend scrolling feeds in the dark, which I know is bad for me (something about blue light and sleepy brain chemicals) but which feels as natural and necessary as lying down in the first place. I’m sorry Andy. I’m using you. I’m using you as a tool when it feels like my blood is carbonated. I lock myself in a stall, sit fully clothed on the toilet seat, do a quick three minutes, and you greet me and tell me to breathe the same way in a new way.
So I feel some shame in doing it “wrong,” by which I mean, very much wanting to do it right, while exercising zero discipline. Andy has a tricky perspective on effort. Like falling asleep, I can’t be trying. Andy concedes we’ll never do it well, but the sessions recognize my familiarity as his words become placeholders. More and more space is filled with open silence. We’re getting used to this: the shepherding of my distracted attention back into the air. Sitting off to the side and seeing my traffic go by.
I usually want anything categorizable as a “skill” to be easy and immediate for me, but I had an opposite reaction with this. I loved the sensation of being a beginner. I loved that I was feeling better and yet had dipped in so little, that I had so much to learn, that I was so new. I want to recognize that most days and weeks and years, being okay is maybe a matter of taking it dutifully and incrementally the same way. “Starting with the eyes open and a nice soft focus.”