I knew that if I tried hard enough, I could learn to calm my mind, focus and even—dare I say it?—meditate. Turns out I was wrong.
I took karate and jiu jitsu for years. Yes, I focused during those classes—but that’s because I was either (a) teaching or (b) being punched in the head. There’s nothing like trying to motivate students or block punches to keep your brain on task.
My karate and jiu jitsu days are behind me—but I’ve still clung to the notion that I could, if I really worked at it, become master of my mind. So I signed up for tai chi.
Here’s how tai chi worked: The instructor would start each class by telling us to empty our minds and focus on our breathing. Then he’d teach us poses with funky names, like grasp the bird’s tail, catch the ball of energy, and cloud hands.
I’d love to tell you what those poses look like—unfortunately, I have no idea, because the instant the instructor told us to empty our minds, my brain turned into a rabid howler monkey, and it spewed out random thoughts for 60 minutes straight. When had stamps shot up to $0.85 each? How long would it take for my ear to stop itching if I didn’t scratch it? Did I put cornstarch on the grocery list? After trying to empty my head and not think for an entire hour, I was exhausted.
The problem couldn’t be me, of course—the problem had to be tai chi. So I quit that class and took my rabid howler monkey to a different meditative martial art—qigong.
Five minutes into the first class, it happened—the instructor told us to empty our minds and focus on our breathing. I tried—I really did. But the howler monkey bounced through my head, summoning all sorts of new, pressing questions. What country eats the most garlic? Why isn’t there a “u” after the “q” in qigong? Did I leave the dryer running? How old is my printer? All of these thoughts—and many more—bashed through my brain within minutes of being told to empty my head.
Clearly, I’ll never learn to meditate—but I’m sticking with qigong, anyway. The classes are free, I can walk to them, and my brain is getting a great workout. Oh, and China is the biggest consumer of garlic (per capita, they eat 30 pounds of the stuff each year). You’re welcome. Now go focus on something.