Is meditation only for the spiritual among us?
I am, by nature, a worrier. If nine things in my life are going swimmingly well and one thing isn’t, my mind will find a way to focus exclusively on that one thing. And if that thing happens to something I care deeply about… well, then I’m a total goner. It completely takes over my life, making performing even routine daily tasks a huge challenge.
I’ve always envied and wanted to be one of those happy-go-lucky people who can make light of almost everything life throws at them. Those who live in the joy of the present moment; past and future be damned.
I’ve deeply resented the constant feeling of unease that seems to be the leitmotif of my life, just waiting to explode into full-fledged, debilitating depression.
“This is no way to live,” I remember saying to my best friend. “And the irony is, nobody is more aware of what a charmed life I’m living. I have everything going for me: financial security, good health, a loving spouse, an angelic child…which is why it hurts so much that I cannot enjoy it the way it should be enjoyed. There’s almost a guilt I carry about being ‘ungrateful’, which only exacerbates my anxiety. It’s such a vicious cycle,” I sighed.
“Why don’t you try meditation? I’ve heard it really helps,” said my friend. Well, so had I. Umpteen times. It was the top suggestion Google threw at me when I desperately sought a solution to my anxiety online. Meditation camps were routinely held in my neighbourhood, advertising the all-elusive ‘peace of mind‘ that I craved so much. But somehow, it had never seemed like a viable solution. The idea that something as simple as sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat could calm my constantly anxious mind and lead me to happiness sounded too ‘woo-woo’ for me.
“I don’t think I’m spiritual enough for meditation to be the answer to my problems,” I replied. To this she laughed, and said, “Whoever told you that you need to be spiritual to meditate? There’s no connection between the two. Stop making excuses and just try it, will you?”
I decided to heed her advice and bite the meditation bullet.
She was right, I had been resisting it based on some preconceived notions. I needed to approach it with an open mind. I followed up my intention with action, and signed up for a meditation class.
The first day of the class saw me sitting cross-legged on the floor, spine erect. “Focus on your breathing,” the instructor told me. “Your mind will wander, and when it does, gently bring it back to your breathing.” Well, the ‘mind wandering’ bit was definitely an understatement! I just couldn’t seem to make it focus at all, not even for a second! “Okay, now I’m going to focus on my breathing,” I told myself.
“Deep breath in…wait, my face is itchy. I wonder if I’m allowed to scratch it. No, I’d better not, it will break my concentration. But it’s realllly itchy. I’d better scratch it and then refocus. Ah, that’s better. Breathe in…I wonder if Shanta bai is better today. I hope she turns up. Really, I don’t want to sweep and swab and do the dishes again today. It’s so hard to find a replacement maid…oops! I’m not focusing on my breath. Ok, now I’m focusing. Damn, my face is itchy again. Let me just scratch it quickly…”
On and on my mind chattered. Oh, how it chattered! “How on earth am I going to rein it in?,” I asked my instructor in despair at the end of the class.
“You will!” she smiled encouragingly. “The mind is like a muscle. You don’t expect to do a thousand push-ups on your first day at the gym, do you? It’s the same with meditation. That’s why it is called ‘practice’. Consistency is key.”
She was right. It took quite some time, but finally, after about a month of daily practice, I finally achieved a few minutes of complete detachment from my mental chatter. A feeling of deep peace enveloped my being, and I emerged from my meditation session feeling completely rejuvenated. I felt like I could take on the world!
“Don’t let this feeling lull you into complacency!” my instructor warned. “You will only reap the benefits of meditation if you continue with your practice daily. It is not like a college degree, where once you achieve the feeling of peace, you stop meditating. It is an ongoing, life-long process.”
I have paid heed to her advice and have incorporated meditation firmly into my daily life. Now, I meditate every single day for half an hour, and it has completely transformed my life. I feel much calmer. My constant anxiety has given way to a general sense of well-being. I feel much more supported by life… like it has my back.
This is not to say that I never feel stressed; of course I still have my triggers. But now I have a weapon in my arsenal to slay the mental demons.
I just have to ground myself for 20 minutes, concentrating on my breathing, and I emerge victorious from the dark shadows. Just knowing I have this tool at my disposal has given me an immeasurable sense of relief, of confidence.
I feel like I can take on anything life throws at me. I may even break down sometimes, but I know I won’t crumble—I will pick up the pieces and become whole again.
So if you’re feeling stressed out or even generally out-of-sorts, you know what to do. If you don’t have the time to sign up for a meditation class, no worries. There are a ton of guided meditations available online to start you off. Believe me, even if you invest as little as 10-15 minutes a day towards your meditation practice, it will be the best gift you can give yourself.
And oh, what an immeasurably precious gift that is!