Meditation: It won’t happen overnight but it will happen
When you read the title of this blog did you hear and see one of the Pantene shampoo advertisements? I know I did when I started typing it. As a young girl I wanted the long, luscious locks of a Disney princess and so I remember these ads well. I hadn’t thought of these ads for a long time until my meditation teacher in Bali last year (ironically with long luscious hippy locks) sold ‘meditation’ to us with these very words. Anyone who has seen my dry, brittle, frizzy hair will know that I cannot vouch for Pantene but what I can vouch for is the power of having a meditation ‘practice’.
We live in a society where we have so much information available to us that we have become used to quick fixes. We want everything now, with minimal effort. If we don’t know the answer to something we simply Google it, if we don’t have a date it only takes a swipe left or right on an app to get one, and if we are sick there are multitudes of drugs for us to purchase for a quick fix at numbing our pain and symptoms. A few weeks ago whilst teaching a guided meditation class, a new student running late ran frantically into the class making a lot of noise in the already serene environment. What more, the meditation class was in a hammock and having missed the very specific entry into the hammock he wrestled with the fabric for several minutes until he finally settled into what looked like a very uncomfortable posture.
After the class he came to me concerned, saying that he didn’t get it. When I asked him what he meant by this he responded with “well, I didn’t enter a state of bliss, my mind wouldn’t stop and I was frustrated.” I assured him that this was highly normal for the first time practicing meditation and in fact most people don’t actually experience complete thoughtlessness, we just get the odd glimpse here and there. I then went on to tell him that it is the effect slowing down our minds has on our life that is the major benefit of having a meditation practice. Still looking forlorn I cheekily added, “in the wise words of Pantene – it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.” He seemed very disappointed but I totally understood his disappointment.
Like most of us we have been fed ideas through our consumerist culture that states of bliss, happiness, peace etc can be achieved through external sources and with minimal effort. Buy X and you will be happy, do X and you will find peace, take X and you will feel bliss. Unfortunately I feel meditation, this ancient and wise ‘practice’, has been turned into such a commodity and therefore there is some sort of misconception that meditation is easy. No wonder so many people, curious to know what all the hype is about, attend a meditation class, have a terrible experience and never go back. My first experience of “meditation” in my early twenties was exactly that. For the hour class I sat in a state of anger and frustration. I was itchy, I was hungry, I was fidgety, I was frustrated with the stranger next to me because they didn’t seem to be struggling, I absolutely hated it. I vowed I would I never try that again, meditation was not for me. I was happy being highly strung – that’s just how I was right?
As a meditation and yoga teacher now, I like to emphasise the word ‘practice’. Like any other ‘practice’, meditation takes time and isn’t always comfortable. Whenever you sit to practice meditation you are essentially sitting with your self and your thoughts. Now this can be hard if you do not have a good relationship with yourself and have a lot of mental chatter. So, generally in meditation we start with some kind of anchor – usually the breath, or tuning into specific sounds, or listening to a guiding voice, or repeating a mantra. Thoughts will keep coming but essentially what we are practicing is slowing down the amount of thoughts that come through or even intercepting thoughts by coming back to the anchor before the thought is fully developed and leads us into a tangent of other thoughts. So although you may not become thoughtless or enter into some sort of state of bliss you are practicing connecting to the breath and slowing down, detouring or even changing these thoughts.
There are now a significant amount of studies that support the positive side effects a practice of meditation has. I am not going to quote any here because I have felt and experienced these changes myself over the past few years. Meditation or meditation ‘practices’ have helped to change my life by quieting my busy mind, calming anxiety, and making me more courageous and free flowing. But my meditation practice didn’t enter my life in a conventional or even conscious way. In 2012 whilst touring with a show, away from family and friends, a nine year relationship I was in came to an end followed by the death of two close and very young friends and then the passing of my last grandparent.
Disillusioned with life and feeling very lost I entered into a deep state of depression and was really struggling with life. Not knowing what to do but needing an escape from my dark thoughts I started drawing. I had been an art major in year 12 and remembered the mindlessness I had felt when I used to draw so I gave it a go. I drew at work and at home and sometimes through the night as it helped me slow down my thoughts and just focus in on the page. Another thing I took up at the time was rock climbing. I was terrified of heights but thought if I could conquer my fear of heights I might be able to conquer this state of depression I was in. What I found with the rock climbing was that I didn’t actually conquer my fear of heights (I have since learnt that fear will always exist) but due to the risk factor and intensity of rock climbing I was able live moment to moment as I committed to the task at hand. Although you might not classify drawing or rock climbing as “meditation” it helped me enter into a state of mindlessness. Jiro Taylor, a peak performance coach I follow calls this our “flow state” – a state of focused awareness where we are able to make the task at hand the most important thing and therefore slow down our mind.
The last few months have been a bit of an emotional whirlwind for me and although I have kept with very traditional seated-style meditations, these meditations have become really difficult again. Every time I sit I feel like a war takes place in my mind and so lately I have also incorporated more activity based meditations to assist in the slowing down of my mind. Things like yoga (asana), walks through nature, watching the flow and ebb of the ocean, and writing. After one of these activities I then find it easier to sit with my thoughts and enter into a meditation practice. I believe finding your easy access flow activity is one of the best ways to start entering into meditative-like states. In an age of digitalisation we are often so caught up in multitasking that we are never truly able to focus our attention on one thing. Essentially that’s how we start to meditate by focusing our attention on one thing – our breath, sounds, sensations.
So perhaps the idea of wearing yoga pants and sitting in lotus position isn’t your thing but it doesn’t mean you cannot introduce meditative-style ‘practices’ into your life right now. What is an activity you love to do that slows down your thoughts? Surfing, singing, writing, reading, walking, watching the ocean, jumping out of a plane? There is no right or wrong we just need to have the willingness to try different things until we find these easy to access flow states which will then hopefully lead us towards meditation. But just remember if you are thinking of embarking on some kind of meditation ‘practice’- it won’t happen overnight but it will happen. 😉