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Thinking About Thinking

I was always a weird kid. When I was in sixth grade I memorized the entirety of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, simply because I loved it. This is a poem that is not only bleak and dark, but one that contains 18 stanzas. I still remember the look of befuddlement on my parents’ faces one night at dinner when I insisted on reciting it, line for line.

There was something about the poem that spoke to me, that addressed this feeling I had inside that there was something more to the world than what I was seeing around me.

By the time I was in ninth grade I was pouring through books on the metaphysical, delving into Wicca, attempting to find my way into lucid dreams, and reading Deepak Chopra. My favorite shop in town was the local new age store, and I would spend hours there after school, shuffling through the book shelf, running my fingers across the beautifully colored stones that were so carefully laid out in the little trays alongside candles and golden statues of the Buddha.

I didn’t know what any of it meant. I still don’t really.

The thing is that no matter how attracted to this stuff I’ve always been, I’ve nevertheless remained quite rooted in the material and physical world. I like television and social media and shopping and going out with my friends. I don’t have any real desire to sit in lotus position in a mountain in Tibet. I’d much prefer to giggle over a beer with a girlfriend while discussing a potential haircut or a funny story I heard about someone.

But again and again, I run up against these feelings inside of me that relentlessly tell me that there is so much more to this life than the things we do in our daily lives. Sometimes I feel as though there is an invisible curtain right in front of me, and if I could just figure out a way to pull it aside, I’d see something very different than what I think I’m looking at when I wake up in the morning.

I’m struggling in my life right now, for a thousand reasons I can’t get into here just yet.

In order to get through this period I’ve been doing all the things I always do. I’ve been spending time with friends, drinking wine and laughing. I’ve been immersing myself in motherhood and all the wonders and fierce trials that come with it.

But at the end of the night when I’m alone again with my thoughts, I feel that old, familiar tug. That there is something more to all this.

And that I have to find it.

So I’ve been going to yoga a lot too. Meditating a lot. Reading a lot of books that make that invisible curtain seem just a little bit more visible.

Most of all, I’ve been thinking. About thinking.


From the moment I wake up in the morning my thoughts come in torrents and streams. Long strands of fears and doubts and insecurities, thoughts that make me queasy and tired, thoughts that flood all the way through my physical self.

Until I remember. Until I remind myself.

That they are just thoughts. That I am thinking.

Glennon Doyle Melton wrote a great post about meditating this week. She captured my experience of it so perfectly.

I tried meditation in high school, again in college, and then not again until my late twenties, when I was once again feeling desperate and alone and overwhelmed by that tugging to look at things differently.

For a time when I was twenty-eight, I took private meditation instruction from a woman here in Los Angeles. I went to her apartment once a week and we sat on little pillows, facing each other. We closed our eyes and we meditated for 15, 20, sometimes 45 minutes.

At first I fought and fought against it. The thoughts that streamed through my head became even louder when I tried to sit there quietly. I grew frustrated and annoyed and disheartened.

But over and over again my teacher instructed me to go back, to keep trying.

And one day I found this little space in the middle of all those thoughts. As Glennon so beautifully wrote, it was like the thoughts were still there, but I was somewhere above them. I was no longer attached to them. I no longer needed them to exist. I was still me, but without all the things I usually think make me me.

I’ve only ever been able to occupy that little space for fleeting moments of time, but the amazing part is that, in that magical space, time seems pretty irrelevant. What is more relevant is the notion that all these thoughts running through my head all day, aren’t who I am.

That piece by piece, I can let go of the hopes and the heartbreak, the loss and the joy, and I still exist. For tiny, tiny moments, I get to bask in some kind of wonderment that I don’t have to cling so hard to what I see around me.

The first thing that happens in meditation is that we start to see what’s happening. Even though we still run away and we still indulge, we see what we’re doing clearly. One would think that our seeing it clearly would immediately make it just disappear, but it doesn’t. So for quite a long time, we just see it clearly. To the degree that we’re willing to see our indulging and our repressing clearly, they begin to wear themselves out. Wearing out is not exactlyt he same as going away. Instead a  wider, more generous, more enlightened perspective arises. Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

As I typed out the above I got stuck on Chodron’s use of the word generous. I want to be more generous with myself, allow myself to be all that I am right now, rather than struggling through every hour trying to be something else, someone else, some place else.

Here goes nothing.


  1. Love this, Claire!! Well said. We are more alike than I realized. :) Take care. You are in my thoughts.

    Comment by Susan Clark on September 25, 2013 at 10:49 am

  2. I have always struggled with meditation…teetering in and out of my stubborn thoughts and falling asleep. That middle place must take daily practice, I guess. Kudos for finding those small glimpses of clarity. Wishing you more of those moments as you navigate your days

    Comment by centuradilocus32 on September 25, 2013 at 11:50 am

  3. I’ve always wanted to try meditation!

    Comment by Sara on September 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

  4. Great piece, Claire, and I’m right there with you. When I was nine I memorized Annabelle Lee and recited alone in my candlelit bedroom. My favorite toy was the Ouijia board. I have always wanted to parse the big mysteries of life and I studied Buddhism, Wicca, the Rosicrucians, Gnosticism, meditation… a smorgasbord of spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical thought. But I am not particularly “woo-woo.” It’s not a lifestyle for me, but an ongoing, evolving curiosity and line of inquiry that has deepened as I have grown older.

    Comment by Erika Schickel on September 25, 2013 at 10:43 pm

  5. Claire, I love this. And that word, ‘generous’. If only we could all be a little more generous with ourselves. I know I have to fight with myself to allow room for generosity. It’s really hard. Another yoga teacher friend of mine calls it ‘kindness’.

    For me now, encouraging this—kindness or generosity, whichever you want to call it, to the self—is the basis of all my yoga teaching, because I can see so clearly that the people I teach are so damn hard on themselves all the time. Perhaps I can see it so clearly because I struggle so much with it myself. It’s the thing I need the most practise at myself, even though I do practise it every day. So thank you for the reminder. I hope you find the something more you’re seeking soon.

    (Also, I’ve read a couple of other pieces recently on a similar sort of theme, but specifically related to yoga. If you’re interested in reading them, I’ll round them up & email them to you.)

    Comment by Sophie on September 26, 2013 at 4:36 am

  6. Beautiful piece Claire. Especially loved this… What is more relevant is the notion that all these thoughts running through my head all day, aren’t who I am.. Sending love & strength your direction as you work through your current struggle. Wishing you a beautiful peace indeed.

    Comment by Kwqrs on September 26, 2013 at 7:10 am

  7. XOXOXOXO….Beautiful, poignant, as always.

    Comment by francesca on September 26, 2013 at 10:10 am

  8. Claire, this has nothing to do with meditation, but I commend to you My Bright Abyss- Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. Breathtaking. You are kindred spirits, too, I think.

    Comment by Sarah McCaslin on September 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

  9. Traces of mystical thinking. A yearning for some revelation, for an epiphany to rip away the tawdry rags of everyday reality to reveal a shining light. A feeling there must be a perfect existence beyond ….beyond what? I understand the feeling, but I don’t think there is a beyond. We have feet of clay and must seek moments of joy in everyday life. You have walked some dark roads and emerged into the light of being loved again. Is that not enough?
    There is no invisible curtain to be ripped aside to reveal Elysian fields. Grasp the reality you have and it’s fleeting moments of joy.

    Comment by Paul Tredgett on September 27, 2013 at 6:08 am

  10. Claire,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The final paragraph really spoke to me; those are great goals, if not difficult, for all of us to consider.

    Sidenote: are you no longer on instagram? I can’t seem to see your beautiful photographs.

    Comment by Kate on October 1, 2013 at 11:12 am

  11. Thank you. Yes, definitely still on Instagram: @clairebidwell

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on October 1, 2013 at 11:55 am

  12. I cant see your instagram anymore either! Its all of a sudden become private. I have requested you but it isnt working!?

    Thank you for your writing- you are very talented x

    Comment by Bel on October 6, 2013 at 4:07 am

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