Meditation: How? Why? What works?
Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to wake up. That was the case for me. For years, I lived my life on autopilot – moving through each day, checking off the to-do list, everything blurred together – throw in a laugh here, a smile there, parties, running errands, homework assignments, brushing my teeth, exercising, celebrating a birthday or a rite of passage. Throughout all that time, the one person I ignored, and almost forgot about, was me.
And then I got sick. For two years no one knew what was wrong with me and it was not until a friend read a story about mold, that we discovered the cause of my illness. Determined to get better, my sickness drove me to explore alternative medicines and set me on my road to wellness. At that juncture, of getting well and healing, I began a budding new relationship with myself, warts and all.
I examined my fears, insecurities, anxieties, jealousies, obsessive tendencies, over thinking… Luckily, I had help and guidance-- a phenomenal spiritual healer who used her incredible intuitive abilities to help me see my blocks. She is very connected to the universe and she shared her connection with me, guiding me to clear the cobwebs. I was a bit like Humpty Dumpty (after he fell from the wall) but with her help, I reassembled the pieces. In many ways, I was setting them right for the very first time.
Everything we want to do well in life requires work, commitment, and determination. Getting to know oneself is no different. Avoidance is easy. You can keep yourself constantly busy, but doing what? How many times have you heard someone say, “I am so busy. I never have a moment to myself.” But, if you were to analyze that too-busy person’s day, is that “busy-ness” merely a cover? Is "busy-ness" protection? Because being still and going within can be scary, even intimidating. What might you discover about yourself in stillness? Will you find that you like yourself?
I remember when I first started meditating. I would make myself comfortable, take some deep breaths and try to quiet my mind. But it wouldn’t work. The ping-pong match of thoughts in my head wouldn’t slow down. I gave up, hoping to try again the next day, and then the next day, and then the day after that. However, with some continued effort, I started to be able to breathe. I began to watch and feel my breath, to relax, and, ultimately, to connect.
As I meditated, I would intuitively ask “what do I need to know?” I would wait, and wait, and wait, but usually I did not get an answer. Often, I felt a pit in my stomach and thought that whatever the universe had to say would be negative – I had done something wrong or I was not good enough. You know when you get a voicemail from a family member saying, “I need to talk to you” and you think something must be wrong (or worse that you have done something wrong)? I was conditioned to reflexively go negative, like a dog trained to heel.
But that was only the beginning. After continued attempts to meditate, all of a sudden it was like all that darkness inside – the fog of insecurities– was surfacing and clearing. I never heard an actual voice in my head that said anything, yay or nay, but I did have many meditative moments that provided answers to the questions I asked. It felt like waves of information washing over me. Sometimes the messages were obvious – like, duh, I should only be friends with people who respect me – but you’d be surprised by what a difference it makes to truly internalize a message. Changes followed, some friendships faded and new ones emerged.
Since those early days, my meditation practice continues to evolve. It has taken many different twists and turns. Just last night, someone asked me what is my practice? Who is my teacher?
I find questions like those hard to answer. How do I label something that is so internal, so me? Yes, I have had many teachers. I have practiced many forms of meditation– Transcendental Meditation, Mindfulness, and Vipassana. I have done standing meditations, moving meditations, mantras, visualizations, you name it. I love guided meditations, especially ones recorded by my healer. (She encodes her energy, facilitating a deeper state of relaxation and release.) I set intentions sometimes hourly or by the minute– sending my positive thoughts out to the universe.
Choosing a type of meditation to practice is almost like choosing what to wear for me. Which one is going to serve me best or suit my mood or help me to shift? In my constant evolution of self, no doubt, my key to unlocking me is meditation.
No matter which meditation I choose to practice, I make sure to practice daily and I TRY to never judge it as good, bad, or anything in between. Some people might label their meditation as “good” when they go into a full trance and literally float out of their body. (Seriously, who needs drugs when you can experience a meditative high?) “Not so good” meditations might be those when your mind races like a monkey. I try not to judge because all meditative experiences are equally beneficial, whether I’m in a trance or swimming in my thoughts. Often mental chatter is a result of meditation stirring up stress and anxiety, sending them to the surface to be released.
Meditation clears my head, helps me to focus, regulates my moods, elevates feelings of love, kindness and compassion, and helps me to release crippling fears and have courage.
It increases productivity and is restorative; like a nap, but much more restful. It allows me to take notice and yet take no notice. It is a form of detachment. And, while meditation is supposed to quiet the thoughts, it also crystallizes them, bringing clarity. I can not write without first sitting in meditation. My favorite intention is for clarity of thought and articulation.
Most importantly, meditation facilitates a connection with myself and what I have discovered, a vast universe. As I go within, I essentially go out– discovering that life and living is so much bigger, more dynamic than we can ever imagine. Meditation is the practice of waking up.
Today, a lot of people seem to be meditating, especially celebrities – Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld, Rupert Murdoch, Gwyneth Paltrow, Russell Simmons, Donna Karan. Even hedge fund managers, like Ray Dalio, who attributed his success to 44 years of daily meditation. Companies that are aware of the perks bring in mindfulness coaches. Schools encourage meditation. Google offers employees courses like Search Inside Yourself, Neural Self-Hacking and Managing Your Energy— all just fun titles for meditation. Every article I read on happiness mentions meditation. It may be trendy, but I am hopeful that meditation is here to stay.
Fortunately, there is no right or wrong way to meditate. You will never be graded! Thank goodness, because meditation is not always easy and it takes practice. We all need to work at being AWAKE. When I hear someone say they’re too busy to meditate I find it ironic, because the more time I devote to meditation, the more “time” I seem to have.
Since I began meditating, I often think back to a favorite childhood book, Are you there God, It’s Me, Margaret? It is about a young girl searching for answers about herself and life. Since I was little, the title has always lingered. Maybe because Margaret and Mara share the first three letters, or maybe because I knew as a child that I too would one day ask similar questions. It took a long time to find the courage to ask, but I have, and in stillness, I’ve found answers.
Lovely, Mara...especially the idea that there is no "wrong" way to meditate. For those of us that have fallen out of practice, it's a gentle reminder to return.