My journey with meditation
Meditation practice can be profoundly healing and transformative but as anyone who’s practiced it knows, it can also be difficult and challenging, especially at the beginning. Many people turn to it because they want relief from some sort of suffering and hope that it will provide whatever it is they might need.
Like all things, meditation takes practice. It requires a lot of trial and error - not every session is going to be a big session. I like to think of meditating the same way I think about exercise. Just like I don’t love all forms of exercise, I realized what works for some people won’t necessarily be what works for me.
The difficulties can take many different forms from fidgetiness and trouble focusing to the reemergence of painful memories and feelings that have been suppressed for years. These difficulties are also, in most cases, inevitable and even ultimately good but they can feel really hard, and I’m not surprised that some people, when they experience them, throw up their arms and say, “nope, this isn’t for me!”
It isn’t about getting to some blissful state, it’s about when we take back control of our minds, we take back control of our emotions. Meditation is about learning to watch our thoughts, not empty our minds.
I started out doing what one would think of as traditional meditation. Sitting legs crossed, hands in prayer form, and trying to quiet my mind by focusing on my breath. I set my timer for 20 minutes, and focused on my breath as it entered and exited my nostrils. It turned out to be a not-so-magical experience that didn't last 20 minutes. It seemed to last that long, to be sure. But, when I opened my eyes to see how much time had passed, it was only four minutes. I immediately got frustrated, I decided to be diligent and closed my eyes again. This time I only made it for two minutes. At that point, I decided to end my first foray into meditating altogether! So, what happened? Well, I discovered that my mind was absolutely running. In the first six minutes, it bounced around to subjects spanning from what happened at work the day before to thinking about somebody who pissed me off earlier in the week, and I thought about how I inadvertently upset a friend last week. My mind jumped to bills I needed to pay to my “to-do” list for the next day, and what I needed to do for a party that was coming up Friday evening.
My mind was like a puppy, awkwardly hopping from object to object, and unable to settle on any one thing for more than a few seconds. And the really bad part was, I couldn't stop it. I tried to, I commanded myself to stop it, all to no avail.
It wasn't until sometime later I began to study about the mind, and I came to understand how it actually works. Our minds are compulsive — they never stop. Your mind keeps you up at night, it pulls you into the past to make you regret things you did or didn't do, it creates worries about the future, and it forces you to dwell on and stress about so many things. That person who wronged you, your money problems, whether your kids will turn out to be degenerates or valued members of society, the list of possibilities are endless!
The scary thing is, most of us don’t realize any of this is going on. We simply get swept away by all of it. We spend most of our days, “lost in thought” without realizing we’re lost in thought and those thoughts lead to emotions and urges, which lead to actions and reactions. This process unfolds moment after moment after moment, with little or no conscious intervention from us. We get moody, we get depressed, we get anxious, we question ourselves and our abilities, and we say or do things that we regret later. We spend most of our life on “autopilot,” following our minds wherever they lead. Then we talk about our stress, our anxiety, the pressure of our job, our spouse, our kids, and on and on. All of these things become the struggles of life.
I like to think of meditating the same way I think about exercise. Just like I don’t love all forms of exercise, I realized what works for some people won’t necessarily be what works for me.
The good news is, meditation helped me and it can help you. It has been that doorway for me and has increased my self-awareness, but most importantly, gave me a better life by helping me manage my thoughts and emotions. It isn’t about getting to some blissful state, it’s about when we take back control of our minds, we take back control of our emotions. Meditation is about learning to watch our thoughts, not empty our minds. We are thinking machines. Each day we have thousands of thoughts. In meditation we practice following our breath, as thoughts drift by, we notice them, and come back to our breath, over and over again. This is what changes our brain and increases our compassion and happiness.
The scientifically-proven benefits of mindfulness and meditation are compelling, and it’s easy to find a list of them. But, it’s hard to explain what meditation does for you because it’s something you have to experience. What I will say is this: once you learn to separate what’s real from the stories playing in your head, life improves dramatically.
One way I found it helpful to get me comfortable meditating and maybe it will for you, I took the word meditation out of my vocabulary. Somehow it seems less intimidating this way, kind of like instead of working out and/or exercising, one could say, “I am going to move my body for 30 minutes.” It opens up a world of possibilities and helps me broaden my approach, therefore finding something I actually enjoy doing.
It doesn’t matter who we are and what we do. The fact is that we are all human. Though I don’t know every human being in this world, I do know people have questions, doubts, and anxieties at times. And I do know that meditation can help everybody without exception. I sincerely hope that it will touch the hearts of many people. Be open and give it a try. You won’t regret it.
Check out our previous blog Keep Calm & Carry On, on the benefits and easy ways to meditate.
Want to give meditation a try? Join one of our upcoming meditation sessions here.