A Grain of Salt: A health column… sort of

Meditation and the great escape

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Columnist

It should come as no surprise that if there is any means of dissociating from stress, discomfort, emotions, boredom, intrusive thoughts, yammering children, apocalyptic outbreaks or life in general, I’ve probably tried it. 

In some cases (Sudoku, peanut butter cups), I’ve been addicted to it. In other cases (sex, cocaine), my prefrontal cortex seemed to have just enough wherewithal to keep me from joining a 12-step program. This is a small miracle because I really like to dissociate. 

Ammi Midstokke.

Miriam-Websters says to dissociate is to “separate from association or union with another.” Most of us are dissociating while we simultaneously expose ourselves to that thing we’re trying not to deal with. Some fine examples of this is how much we need to drink alcohol at family gatherings and scrolling our phones while our kids complain about algebra. 

For years, enlightened elitists and paid professionals have naively asked me, “Have you ever tried meditation?” as if it were the cure to all my ailments.

“No, but mushrooms. Is that the same?” Granted, I had the emotional maturity of an acorn at the time, so I don’t think it even qualified as a vision quest. 

I read about meditation everywhere. I even read books on meditation and “mindfulness practices” and eat raisins and breathe in the suffering of the world and breathe out… well it was supposed to be light and love, but it came out more like peanut butter cup breath and food guilt. 

The thing about meditation and the trauma survivor, in particular the complex layers of trauma I have delicately woven into my history along with shame, perpetration and regret, is that the idea of being left to our own devices in our own minds is terrifying. And arguably unsafe, according to some. 

In my mind, there is a dark, musty cellar of soggy cardboard boxes, unlabeled of course, stacked one on top of the other. Trying to drown out the noise of the world leaves me opening those damn things to discover what’s inside. It’s not exactly Christmas decorations.

Years of therapy coupled with the sexy suggestions in all my self-care manuals somehow had me start wondering if meditation couldn’t serve as the greatest dissociation of all. Also, it fits nicely into all the other stereotypical things that shape my archetype: middle-aged woman living in a mountain town who drives a Subaru and orders matcha lattes. 

Also, meditating is more socially acceptable than most of my former coping mechanisms. It was worth a try.

Here’s what I’ve found: If you take an accomplished dissociating outdoor enthusiast and offer them a soundtrack of a mountain lake lapping at cool stones with forest birds tweeting in the background, they may slip into an elective coma.

But here’s the best part (moms… read carefully): I told my whole family that I was going to learn how to meditate and that it required absolutely no interruptions. I said this with ominous severity, as if the gods might strike them down should my spiritual quest be impeded by drivel about being out of bread or something far less important than the very righteous work I was clearly going to be doing. 

Now, I announce, “I’m going to go meditate,” and march off in the general direction of my room with a big pillow and they basically pretend I don’t exist until I emerge. So far, I only got busted rocking out to Macklemore once. I told them I was working on my levitation.

Before I started meditating, I had to hide in the bathroom for privacy and I’m pretty sure the kids were ready to gift me colonics for my birthday. 

I have also discovered that there is great calm in listening to silence, in allowing the mind to run out its cacophony of thoughts from the day, in imagining sunlight pouring over my body, or light beaming from my heart. I won’t pretend for a moment that I am good at it, doing it “right,” or any more enlightened than I was when I began. But I can say that I have found a place of reprieve, and that much to my surprise, it was in me all along. 

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at [email protected].

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