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Maria Sestito

Maria Sestito is the public safety reporter for the Napa Valley Register.

My eyes were closed and I was focused on breathing. I tried to keep it steady, consistent enough that I could eventually stop focusing and just be.

This was my first major attempt at mindfulness meditation and the first clue that I was doing it wrong was when our guide/counselor said that each breath might feel “rejuvenating, “like a cool drink of water.”

Opening my eyes, I looked at her and the weird rolled up tissue on the floor in front of me. Maybe I should focus on that instead? It was too gross. I took my glasses off and tried again. The longer my eyes were closed, though, the worse I felt and the more I tried to regulate my breathing, the more irregular it seemed.

I needed to get out of there.

This was the second session of a workshop I’m taking through the university health center — it’s called “From self-criticism to kindness” and it is supposed to help students learn self-compassion. All good, right? Go, Jersey Girl!

I’ve been doing everything else in the workshop so well, which so far meant sharing. I’m a sharer. In fact, most places I go on campus, I’m one of the few people who speaks. So, being the open person that I am, I shared my horrible experience with the group.

“Tall drink of water,” I said. “I felt more like I was drowning.”

Our guide thanked me for sharing, but didn’t make me feel any better about the way my mind and body had responded to meditation. She did say, however, that I did a good job giving myself what I needed or, to use the group’s terminology, that I reacted kindly to myself.

The whole thing reminded me of when I was learning how to scuba dive. When I first went underwater in the swimming pool with all the gear on, my body clenched up and I kept popping back up out of the water with panicked breaths. Then, like an underwater guru, my scuba instructor had me play a game of catch with him while on the swimming pool floor. He calmly tossed a Nerf football to me, I threw it back to him, then it came back to me, and so on until I was comfortable.

After that, being underwater didn’t make me panic and I successfully became scuba certified.

This counselor didn’t do that, so I had to find a way out of the panic myself. Instead of leaving the room, I attached my thoughts to happy things: the warm coffee I had that morning and my boyfriend making me dinner the night before. I concentrated my energy on reliving those moments.

Crisis averted. The meditation was over.

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