A Year of Commitment: My Journey with Meditation
Type into Google “Meditation” and you get 4,540,000,000 results, with additional 200,000,000 results for videos alone. Interestingly enough for me though is the fact that my own path never crossed the internet when I started in 2017. I had an actual meditation teacher with over 30 years of experience, leading a group of eight people through six sessions every Friday afternoon. In a recovery clinic for the treatment of various mental health issues like insomnia, anxiety, depression and such. It was then that a very long journey began, and it is nowhere near an end.
Meditation, defined as “to engage in contemplation, reflection or to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
That does not sound so difficult at all, now does it?
Well, let me tell you, I could have saved myself over four years of practice if I would have been taught one simple thing back when I started. And of course, I am willing to share my gained wisdom with all of you: Just sitting cross-legged on the floor, trying to quieten your mind for thirty minutes per day, is not the only possible approach.
This might not seem like a huge revelation, but for me this is exactly what it was, an epiphany.
See, since starting out in the environment of a clinic, with a man telling me that my anxiety levels could be managed by mastering meditation, even when I would have a panic attack in the middle of the main train station in Zurich, I wanted to master this art so badly, so intensely, that I went at it from the perfectly wrong direction, with the worst possible intention. My aim was mastery, without considering the fact that, for one mastery takes a life long to achieve, and then also, mastery is not a remedy for someone suffering from perfectionism, who should aim to slowly ease into a technique rather than throw everything into it all at once.
Anyway, my mindset was set. And so my approach was too. Everyday I tried very hard to sit straight, cross-legged, on the floor and quieten my mind. There were two weeks at a time that I would do it consistently, then a month of a break with no practice at all, then I would motivate myself again for five days in a row, only to fall back into all patterns and not practice at all. Why?
Well, several reasons come to mind.
Body issues: I got back pain and leg pain, and pins and needles and I did not like it. It reminded me of my displeasure whenever I tried to engage into sports.
Mental issues: This ‘quiet time’ seemed to be the exact moment when my brain thought it best to go over the day, the to do lists and then of course the agenda for the next day, or simply what was in the fridge that I could cook later in order for it to not go off, or what has been said by someone that kind of made me want to cry.
More mental issues: When there was actually one time that I achieved a few seconds of bliss, of nothing, of quiet, I instantly thought about how I had reached it and was back in my mind again. This lead to an overall unrealistic attachment towards a result, increasing expectations the longer I practiced, with decreasing motivation the longer it took to get a simple few seconds without mind chatter.
And, you might have guessed, more mental issues: The longer it took and the more decline in achievement of stillness, quietness, tranquility. A vicious circle, or rather vicious straight line that brought me to not continue practicing at all, brushing it off with such excuses as not having time. Or if I sneezed after ten minutes of practice and that turned me off.
Lastly, deep rooted belief patterns, which I guess, also count as more mental issues: Discipline. Oh. How I despised this word. In my ears it rang like the choir of a million times my mother’s and father’s disappointment, scolding me for nearly every little sidestep I may have taken, or not have taken. Now, 32 years later, on a rainy, foggy evening in October, nearly a thousand miles away from my parent’s house, I had a revelation that changed my perception on the principle of discipline. Something that shook me to the core and recalibrated my relationship with its meaning. Alright, I do not remember if it was foggy, or raining, but I do know for a certainty that it was October (because it says so in my journal) and therefore am guessing that this was predominately the weather of this month. But more to the point, I binge-watched self developmental videos, because why not, right? And I came across one that read “How discipline leads to happiness”. As I was in a mental state of new beginnings and already in love with the concepts and possibilities of self-development, I clicked on it. Also it is way easier to watch something than try again to sit cross-legged on the floor and calm the mind.
Needless to say that this video lead to my core being transformed drastically and the word ‘discipline’ all of a sudden meant something completely different to me. No pressure from parent’s expectations, but simply the fact of a commitment to myself, a promise to honour and love myself.
And this was the moment when my meditation practice changed drastically, and for the better.
I committed to give it a try and meditate every single day. Not for mastering the art, not because it was and is a trend and I wanted to be part of it, not because of the hunt for the next state of bliss. Simply because of the promise I made to myself and the curiosity of where it might lead me to.
This was also the moment when I needed to find a realistic way to keep that vow. Since at that point I was not able to sit cross-legged and without thoughts for ten minutes, I needed to find alternatives. And, oh boy, did I find them, and, oh boy, were there many out there. I was shocked. There was such a variety of mediation techniques, a whole new world opened for me and I almost felt ridiculous that I never even had thought about searching for them.
My research revealed another thing to me: Meditation was more than a daily practice, it was a state of mind. There were articles about incorporating mediation into daily tasks like washing dishes, folding laundry, even climbing stairs. It all came down to being in the present moment. Presence includes mindfulness and awareness. Awareness is the continuous scan of inner and outer environment, it is the contents of consciousness or what someone pays attention to. Mindfulness focuses on increasing one’s overall, general awareness by cultivating the ability to pay attention by choice. Flow is a state in which the individual’s focus, or attention, is completely absorbed in the present moment activity. The important difference between mindfulness and flow is this: In flow the attention narrows and comes absorbed in activity, whereas in practising mindfulness, the awareness expands to include everything within and around me.
Presence, mindfulness and flow allow us to function in harmony within our environment, achieving our highest potential.
So much for the theory.
But this was all it took. Another approach to meditation, another option to ease into the whole practice of it.
Detaching yourself from the non stop chatter of the mind in order to focus the attention on how your muscles worked, how your breathing flowed through you, how your whole body feels or simply absorbing myself totally into the task of making coffee. The noise the boiling water makes, the bubbles it sends up, the steam and how it feels on the skin, the sudden eruption of smell as soon as the water meets the fresh coffee ground. All of it.
By now, you may or not may think that this progress is kind of no progress at all, and oh my, did it really take her two years to come this far. Well, I am very proud to say, it did, indeed. It took me two years to realise how deep mediation goes, how deep it can flow through you as more than just a practise, how it becomes a state of mind, a state of being.
And since the day in November, nearly exactly one year ago, I not only kept the promise to myself, which makes me proud because now I can tell my parents how disciplined I am, but also transformed my whole mindset and lifestyle.
I started with the most mundane thing- sleep mediations. My mind usually always started to formulate all sorts of plans and plots and to do lists, right when I least needed it, aka in bed when I wanted to sleep. Therefor I started with guided sleep mediations, my favourites to this day are the ones from Jason Stephenson. The next step for me, personally, was to have a guided meditation that covered something related to my life at this specific time. For example, if I had a bad time and was feeling anxious I would tune into a guided meditation about letting go or if I struggled to relax, I would put on a guided meditation starting with a body scan exercise. You see where I am going with this. Make the meditation practice about your needs, let it be the answer to a day of struggles, let the practice evolve around your desires and thoughts. Simultaneously, whenever I felt stressed about having to do chores, I purposely slowed down, reminded myself that I literally had to do nothing except die, and instead reminded myself that I wanted to do this. Be it folding the dried laundry, washing the dishes, cleaning the windows or grooming my dog, Marjorie, I gave it my all. I was mindful about my movements or aware of how I felt and where the emotion sat in my body, like maybe a stiffness in my left calve or a tension in my right shoulder. I practised letting thoughts and pictures that surfaced come, be, and float away again, tried to detach myself from interpreting this as good or bad, lovingly returning to focusing my attention on the task I was doing. Or, if I was sitting on the window sill, looking up to the sky, the stars, the moon, the sun or the river running below, the traffic passing by, I would practise observation without any stories, judgment or analysis about what my eyes perceived.
Gradually, I became better at not thinking, and also at realising when I was thinking and what I was thinking and how, excuse the language, my mind would produce an endless thought-diarrhoea, commenting on everything, even the simplest things, like for example: “There is a squirrel.”
Anyway, I got pretty annoyed with my thoughts, at some point I thought they were absolutely distracting, and I think it may have been around the same time that I started craving an intensified daily practise. The same way my own thoughts seemed to distract me, now guided meditations started to annoy me. And this was the moment when I took another attempt on turning an old enemy into a new friend: cross-legged, upright position meditation and quieting my mind chatter.
By then I also had a new bedtime routine. I would do some soothing Yin Yoga practice, write into my journal (or draw, or express gratitude for things that came to mind) and afterwards I would meditate directly before sleep. Alarm set, light off, and no distractions whatsoever around.
Marjorie’s subtle breathing in the background, here or there a noise from one of the other apartments, a bus or car on the street below, my own steady and calm inhalation and exhalation. Bliss is an understatement and the ripples of this self care routine reached far into my daily life experience.
Suddenly I was not running through nature anymore, instead I was walking, even pausing here or there to listen to a bird song or admire a ladybug, a snail, a worm, a falling leaf. I released the never ending pressure of ‘having to do’ and replaced it with ‘wanting to do’. If I did not feel compelled to do it, I would not do it, of course excluding responsibilities related to work. My walks in nature with Marjorie would be meditation, my grocery shopping would be meditation, my talks to people would be mediation, my household tasks would become mediation and my life changed, completely, irrevocably.
For the better.
This is why I want to share my story. Meditation, as a mindset, can alter the course of your life, the perception on your possibilities, release the tensions and pressures and expectations our current society puts onto our shoulders.
So, here it is. My manifesto for every hopeless soul, craving peace and tranquility, declaring to not be able to implement meditation into their lives. Either they claim they are not the type of person for it, or they tried it, but it was not for them. I humbly disagree and would argue that meditation is for everyone and it would make our world a better place if more people out there would be able to transform the strenuousness of their existence into relaxation. If a lesser burden weighs on our shoulders, it makes place for the ability of compassion, consideration and ultimately love. I wish my story of exploring the world of meditation and finding my own way within it, truly and honestly, serves as an inspiration, maybe even aspiration, for even one more soul out there, to try and tune into this magical new way of seeing life itself. Floating above one self, objectively being able to make decisions not based on expectations, stress, pressure, anxiety or struggle, but decisions based on a bigger picture, based on the fact that every action causes a reaction and each and every one of us has to decide if our actions come from a place of kindness or ruthlessness, selflessness or selfishness, compassion or love.
And, here it goes, my recommendations for anyone who has not yet started or has started but gets as frustrated as I did.
Find your own approach. Try out whatever you need in order to find a way that works for you. From Zen meditation (the absolute focus on one task at a time), to Pranayama techniques (breathing as a way to connecting with your body), from simply observing the outside while observing what is going on inside (focusing on one specific point while observing your inner though world), to engaging yourself in a flow state while you forget all time and place and completely immerse yourself into something like a drawing, writing, a book, running, swimming, walking or sitting by a tree. There are hundreds of possibilities that could be just the right way for you to get to know yourself and bring you closer to your very own, unique and special way of reconnecting to your own meditation practice.
There is no fault in failing, for really there is no failing as long as you keep on trying. A lot is going on and you missed a day or two of the ten minutes you promised yourself to do? You fall asleep while meditating? You suddenly realise that you have had an intense talk going on in your mind although you were supposed to clear the mind chatter altogether? So what. Practise creates progress. So what if you fell asleep, maybe your body and mind needed this kind of restoration instead. Or your mind chatter gave you an epiphany or a really good idea? Perfect, and try again, maybe some other approach that makes it easier for you to clear your mind. Two days gone without practise, well, it is the third day, so here we go again. Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, meditation in contrast though, is all about loving and caring about yourself. So let the destructive, negative, self-harming talk and feeling of disappointment go. Every new decision counts, get back into the saddle, do not give up on your own self development. You are empowered, you decide, you just keep going and eventually you will get there.
Discipline. Again, a word that for most of us equals pressure and ultimately, probably, failure. Nonetheless, rest assured, discipline is nothing more or less than a word that has been loaded up with our human judgment of and on it. Discipline, reloaded and renewed, discipline 101 if you want, is something totally different now. It means that you as an individual, make the decision to care and love and protect yourself. It is the choice that you make how you approach this promise to yourself, it is your free will that creates the environment in which this promise can thrive and it also gives you the absolute control of how you want this promise to manifest itself. You yourself are the one scolding you or you are the one forgiving yourself. You are the one criticising yourself for not being perfect, or you are the one praising you for trying it anyway. You are the captain of your sail, no matter the state of the sea, you decide how to react to the circumstance you find yourself in. Once you find your preferred meditation technique, you will not give up on this feeling of relaxation that spreads throughout your life, and therefore will be able to enable discipline as a form of self love into everyday life. Do not falter, keep calm and carry on.
Lastly, there is only one more point I want to add. Meditation as such has turned out to not only be good for my own mental state, it not only has transformed my whole life and being, it also has brought a much more elevated gift. The gift of compassion and consideration and love for others. I am less self-absorbed in my own hasty, stressful world, my own emotions and my own agenda. Due to the overall more relaxed state of being I am able to see other people and their struggles more clearly. Previously unjustifiable rudeness, like the elbow of a hurriedly passing by individual or jumping the queue, an impolite comment or a grumpy faced outcry, an uncivil tone within a discussion or even a promise made but not kept, a forgotten birthday- I genuinely, affectionately, lovingly forgive, smile and try to show my compassion and understanding, support and love for this other being. I am able to focus objectively on the simple fact that every human I encounter has an absolutely different experience and perception of the world than I have. (Also every living being for that matter, but humans seem to be the only species unloading their burdens onto other living beings). I do not know their story, I do not know what incident drove them into behaving the way they do. I do not know how much pain, suffering, unbearable or unthinkable life situations they endure or had to endure. So, if I try to be the best version of myself, empowered by the tranquility of my state of being caused by a daily mediation practise, I can bring love, kindness and compassion into this world. A smile, a gesture, a compliment after an insult, one step at a time will heal the world. That is my firm believe.
Also, sometimes I too do not smile at the cashier even though it would have been so nice to do, lately though, I almost every time regret it afterwards, because by now, being the kindest version of myself has somehow grown from a belief to a continuous thought during my days, expressing themselves through my actions and by now have kind of established themselves into habits that make up my values, which I humbly hope to be able to translate someday into my destiny as a soul living this human experience.
Anywho, I much rather leave you with the wisdom of someone who already achieved this.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
|| Mahatma Ghandi||
Thank you for reading and taking time out of your busy day. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts maybe you might also enjoy my video on this topic.
From my heart to yours, all the best!
Love and light, beloved souls