I have an alter ego. An evil twin. A persona I slip into—sometimes without even realizing it.
Let’s call this persona Lauren. Lauren tends to take over in social situations where I’m keen to impress people or make them like me. (In other words, pretty much all social situations.)
Lauren is brighter than I am, sparklier. She laughs at your jokes, or when you say something mildly (or wildly) inappropriate. If the conversation lulls, she launches into one self-deprecating story about herself after another. She’d rather share painful personal details than face a moment or two of awkward silence. If you’re a single man, she might find excuses to brush your arm or shoulder with her fingertips.
Lauren doesn’t disagree with you, ever. Her cheeks cramp from smiling so damn much.
For years, Lauren came out whenever I went to a party, or clomped on my black heels into a job interview, or even tried to make conversation with the yoga teacher whose class I took every Sunday. I’d walk away from these situations buzzing with what I now call a “fakeness hangover”: an exhausted, overstimulated kind of anxiety. I’d lie awake revisiting every single thing I said or did, convinced I’d embarrassed myself. Or, if I did manage to dazzle a person or two, I’d worry that they wouldn’t like me once they got to know me better.
I recently shared all this with someone who doesn’t know me terribly well. Her eyes got big and sympathetic, and she said, “That sounds exhausting.” Which, yes, it is.
The worst part, though, is that when Lauren starts popping up too often, I lose track of myself. Because, beneath the giggling and the people pleasing, there’s a real me. A me who doesn’t want to just laugh it off when someone makes an offensive joke or when my date says, “Wow, that’s thrifty,” about my fifteen-year-old Passat. A me who’d rather help out in the kitchen than touch the shoulder of a stranger at a party. A me who absolutely, positively sucks at eye contact.
(Last night I went to dinner with a friend and she kept glancing over her shoulder, thinking I was staring at something interesting. Sorry, AnnMarie.)
Unless I want to spend the rest of my days with my nerves frayed and fried by my own fakeness, I need to take a moment every now and again to connect with myself.
Maybe you have your own version of Lauren. Maybe you’ve lost yourself somehow—whether in personas or workaholism or soul-withering relationships or hobbies you don’t actually care for. Maybe you feel as if you skim the surface of your days, forgetting how to break through.
In that case, this meditation is for you.
I know, I know. Finding time is hard and sitting still is hard and your mind just keeps chattering like a runaway jackhammer. I get it. I’m not very good at sitting still, either. But if you’re a verbal person, or if (like me) you have an overactive mind, you find the type of meditation that I suggest—which uses a mantra—more grounding and accessible than the common suggestion to “just follow your breath.”
So give it a try and see how you feel.
Here’s the how-to:
Sit in a chair with your feet resting on the floor. Close your eyes. Get comfortable. Let your breaths deepen a bit, but don’t force anything.
When you inhale, think of the word Welcome. When you exhale, think of the word back. And repeat, over and over, with each breath.
Welcome back. Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment, and doesn’t it feel good to extend that welcome to yourself—the real you, not your alter-egos or your hang-ups or the shortcomings you think everyone notices?
Keep going for five minutes, or longer if you’d like. When your mind wanders (and wander it will), just welcome it back.
This is for those of you who want to incorporate tiny moments of mantra and mindfulness into your life on a regular basis.
Decide on a trigger, some little thing you do every single day. Then, whenever you do that thing, take a breath and think, Welcome back.
- when you look in a mirror
- when you get in or out of your car
- when you put down your phone
Personally, I'm going to take a breath and think welcome back before engaging in new conversations—whether in person or online. I doubt that'll be enough to keep Lauren from inviting herself into my life—she's pesky like that—but it may just keep her from spiking my drink and pounding around in my head for days on end.
So, do you have your own version of "Lauren," or am I just crazy?
And do you use any meditations or rituals to bring yourself back when you've lost touch with yourself?
P.S.: I started to write this post while making lunch, and I almost set my oatmeal on fire—twice. That’s how I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. Thank you so much for all of your support as I’ve launched this blog. Every email, comment, and social media response means the world to me.