On a cold weekday morning in late winter, I meditated imperfectly leading to a wondrous moment of play, the effects of which nestled down into my heart like sweet birdsong. So much of my life’s work has been to unravel the dangerous threads of perfectionism woven into my being, the accompanying shame making it hard to discern what only feels real and what’s actually true. In the latter half of living, I listen more to Spirit, whose guidance is like the astonishing words of Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”
I caught a bit of that astonishment on an ordinary Monday morning during my usual habit of dropping into an online meditation after breakfast. Sitting into my lounge chair rather than at my desk, I slipped under a handmade quilt and opened my laptop, seeing my friends pop on screen for the daily sit at the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. Mirjam led us that day, and her warm presence ushered all of us into a place of deep peace and stillness. I still heard her kind voice leading us in meditation when I fell asleep.
Now I’d like to add here that I don’t recommend sleeping during meditation all the time. Sitting in meditation is about having an alert yet restful state of mind, which creates the ideal conditions for insights to arise. Remaining awake also helps reshape the more primitive parts of the brain that have been formed through trauma, stress, and overwhelm to become settled in peace, calm, and kindness. And meditation (like prayer) is a practice of awakening to the truth of who we are, defined not by the voices of shame and fear, but of a love deeper and more vibrant than anything we have known. But hear this: please don’t shame yourself for falling asleep while meditating because in sleep, we dream of higher things that can awaken us to dramatic shifts in consciousness, which is what happened to me next.
Even though I usually meditate upright, I leaned back into my chair due to chronic back pain. Drifting off to a light sleep, I felt uplifted, flying through the air and drifting over tall sunny mountains and deep fertile valleys, near the lands of Albuquerque and Caprock Canyons, Taos and the Hill Country near Austin. I dreamt of course, but the experience felt grounding, even as I flew through the air. Out for only twenty minutes, I awakened with a start and waved goodbye to Mirjam and friends online. I flung myself out of the chair, stretching my arms upward and gazing at the faint blue above the barren pin oak tree outside. A realization dawned on me. I am made to understand this: I am to visit the garden store now.
Except that I almost didn’t make it to the garden store because a litany of worry thoughts surfaced, which I noticed with curiosity. Shouldn’t I go for a walk instead? I only have fifty minutes till my first appointment, and I need to clean the dishes, straighten the rooms, and practice my Spanish first. What about prayer? Don’t I need to sit in contemplative silence first? Does meditation count as prayer? What about making sure I read poetry first? Wouldn’t it be better if I finished the book on friendship I started last year? What if . . . ?
I paused and watched my mind generate reminders of my to-do list, but this time, instead of obeying the worry thoughts, I did the opposite: I drove to the garden store with determination, marveling at the ultramarine sky and the pleasant drive through quiet suburban neighborhoods, past the old Methodist church and over the bridge spanning the river that runs through our city. Everything was bathed in the warmth of a mid-morning sun, the landscape brightened in beauty, my heart peaceful as I drove on.
When I arrived, I parked my car and walked slowly reverently through the store, admiring the red miniature roses, yellow pansies, and fragrant alyssum. I meandered to the small pots of thyme, basil, lavender, oregano, and chives, the leftover herbs from last year’s season. Picking up the tiny herb containers, I smiled, remembering all the fun I’d had gardening and the ensuing delight I’d have this year once we begin again. Rather than feeling pressure to buy anything, what arose within me was deep gratitude for the life growing all around us, for the workers who cared for the plants, for the beautiful earth who mothers us every season with the goodness of new growth, the glory of life in simply being.
As I drove home, I was elated because I listened to a voice inside rooted in love and followed an invitation to play. At lunch, I shared the moment with my partner who celebrated my experience, noting it was indeed play, an unstructured time of enjoyment and simply doing with no pressure to perform. How much life have I lost in striving to be perfect in all things? How much grief do I carry from these moments which are lost to the oblivion of time? I know when my striving for perfectionism started, how it shaped me for decades to come, but now it doesn’t have to define my future. The rest of the day passed in a joyful dance, of feeling light and free as I let go of shame and lived in the moment, my counseling sessions and time with my people a sheer wonder and delight.
Why bother sharing these small moments of goodness that come wrapped up in our daily existence? The words of T.S. Eliot come to mind in our fast-paced modern age: “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” I share this moment of play with you now so you can play with the ideas I’ve presented, pausing at moments where you’re offered something different from your usual routine, a sacred opening which could perhaps free you from a familiar path of striving, neural nets driving you to endless work and worry with no payout except more anxiety.
We play and frolic at parks, sing and dance with abandon, laugh our heads off at our friends’ jokes, because we know this truth in our bones: there is a better way to live than endless striving and relentless fear. We matter and our play, the forgotten realm of childhood, lives on in our minds, and with great courage and curiosity, we can rise to these moments with an open heart. I’ll see you at the garden store near the roses or meet you at the church basement for dancing. Maybe we’ll meet at the strange coffeehouse near downtown and have decaf espresso and play that new game together. In any case, I’ll know you by that look of joy on your face. We’ll laugh and take great care in living, our lives touched by the transcendent beauty of this moment together, this oneness alive right here and right now.
Jenn Zatopek is a writer and trauma-informed psychotherapist living in Texas. A native Texan with New England roots, Jenn writes at the intersection of science and faith, longing to encounter the divine in the most unexpected places. Her work has been featured in Ruminate Magazine, Fathom, and elsewhere. More at Jenn's website or follow along on Instagram.
Photo credit: Kelly Wright via Midjourney AI