Updated: Dec 29, 2020
At 7am on the second day of my teacher training we sat down for our first 30 minute unguided meditation. I’d briefly read a pdf that was shared with us – it seemed you could choose to gaze at a candle, do something complicated about chakras, notice your breath or repeat some mantras. I went with mantras because I didn’t think I’d remember anything else and someone said just noticing your breath was really hard. I had literally no idea what to do other than close my eyes and try to think about breathing, or mantras. If I thought of my breath it sped up. I didn’t really know how the mantra thing worked, did I just repeat it randomly or on every breath? But then there wasn’t really time on each breadth, especially not at the speed I was breathing at.
After a while my hips were burning, and that thing people say of ‘observe your natural breath’ made little sense as mine was about as natural as Cher (god I love Cher) as I tried to distract myself from the discomfort. She would come on audio every 10 minutes and invite us to ‘follow our next inhale in all it’s intrepid detail’ which was lovely and then silence. What was I supposed to do on my own? It went on like this for a few days. If I was on my own I honestly don’t think I’d have had the willpower. Actually I know I wouldn’t.
A few things happened. She suggested sitting on the edge of a block. It helped immensely. I thought part of meditating was discomfort. I personally think ‘sitting up’ is quite important, I know I that I wouldn’t get the same effect lying down or slumped on the sofa but actual discomfort I don’t believe is essential, or indeed conducive, to meditation. There are different schools of thought which would disagree with me here, but something I was reminded of on my course is that we have to have a (our own) ‘why’ behind everything we do, and that ‘why’ usually links to a goal.
My original idea of the goal of meditation was that it was a sacrifice or something to be endured. I no longer believe this. And if I don’t believe this then pain or discomfort doesn’t make sense.
I’m a fan of dating analogies. So let’s call 'meditation' Mike, or Matteo? Let’s go with Matteo. At first I was far too keen, I didn’t even really like Matteo but I kind of thought I should, I thought everyone else did.
Every time I thought I was ‘with’ Matteo - focused on the breath or Mantra or something that wasn’t ‘I wonder how long my friends husband meditates for’, ‘I wonder about doing a Mens Yoga class’, ‘I need to tell X about that thing I read’ , ‘Was that thing I posted on instagram a bit much?’ , ‘I should eat more oily fish’. I would literally think ‘amazing there he is’ I’m totally with him, totally in sync, Matteo and I are having a great time, this is how it should be. Then instantly bring myself out of it with this commentating on, or celebrating of, the moment, getting ahead of myself. So instead of Matteo and I just having a drink together I was off wondering how long Matteo and I would stay together, how long this part would last, would I introduce him to my friends.
I slowly started to realise Matteo didn’t really ask or want much from me. He did ask that I show up, he didn’t mind when, but it needed to be 30 minutes every day. No more no less. That was, and is, my rule. Show up, never get up until the 30 minutes are up, never think I'll start again in a bit. Even on those early weekends when no one was watching. Even in later weeks when I had 10 hours of assignments and revision to do, even when ‘Oh but if I just go and send that message or change my jumper’. Show up. Stay.
I gradually found myself being more relaxed with Matteo. We became quite comfortable with each other. I still wasn’t quite sure what I thought about him and I was ok with that. My mind would wonder off (it still does, loads, of course it does, it always will - it’s what minds do). I stopped panicking or rushing. I just gently brought (and bring) it back , over and over again. I knew Matteo was there and that at points in the 30 minutes we’d spend some time together.
Also I started doing the ‘complicated chakra one’ (it’s not remotely complicated). But for me it meant I could build something. I could first notice the breath and the heartbeat, this can take me several minutes before I can have a little period of focus. And then I could visualise different chakras and energy and words or affirmations associated with them. I asked my Teacher whether I’d just created a new distraction, a new world to entertain me. She said she was no guru or expert , and as ever there’s various schools of thought, but in summation she suggested that if it’s something you’ve built, if it’s something you build every time - then it doesn’t require anything extrinsic and that’s quite a powerful thing. That makes a lot of sense to me.
Beyond this I found that I often really liked spending time with Matteo or, let’s be honest, because I haven’t completely lost it, I mean with myself. Not all the time, sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's boring.
Writing an essay for the course I started writing how I would try to improve, focus better, schedule meditation in and then I realised that was all nonsense. In so far as if I genuinely commit to something discipline will never be enough. I have never in my life stuck to a Resolution of any kind.
If I continue it will be because of what I’ve found, so I wrote this instead. I’m sharing this not because this I think this is what meditation would or should look like for anyone else. I’m sharing this because every article I’ve read has told me what to stop doing or what meditation isn’t, lists of broad benefits are presented in quite a cold way and I just never really understood how to get from A to B.
Meditation seems to me like a pause – a stillness that gives some awareness or appreciation for the things that come before and after, like the pause between the inhale and exhale, or actually it oddly also brings to mind for me a service my family and I used to go to on Christmas Eve. I remember as a child thinking it was long and often boring (and always cold) although there was something quite reassuring in the ritual and familiarity. Anyway I remember it really as a pause – as a child thinking when this is done it will be Christmas. But the thing that strikes me is that I remember this pause and the feeling far more than whatever came after. I guess in a similar way that the other night I don’t particularly remember what I did but I remember the half an hour I meditated, or actually maybe to be more accurate I remember the feeling of when I meditated and not really the feeling of the rest of the evening.
When I sit down to meditate sometimes I suddenly I want to do other normal everyday things that I can’t because I’m sat on a mat with my eyes closed. I gently try and steer my mind away from those things (it's different each day but actually that has become less and less of a battle) but I wonder if there’s a sort of value in just taking ‘life’ away for a bit. And actually at the end of the 30 minutes I usually I find what I actually want to do is not those things I thought.
Maybe this next bit sounds indulgent or a bit much but then you are reading an article on meditation so there you go.. I found it a way of checking in with myself every day. It’s given me an opportunity to let things surface naturally – a space to see or feel what I believe to be true about myself without lots of words and analysing. Instead of interrogating things it just lets the feelings and emotions surface, and allows me to notice as things shift. In that well known Yogic phrase 'without change or judgement'.
Also sometimes ideas, creativity or ambitions appear, my rule is I never write anything down and I try not to run away with them into the sunset for the half an hour, but noticing what comes up and how I feel about it has made me understand what I want a lot better.
Finally I’ve found some gratitude for things I hadn’t thought about. Practices like gratitude journals just personally for me had always felt a bit forced. I start the meditation with visualising the breath and the heart pumping blood, and it’s surfaced a realisation that whenever life or my head have been more messy, my heart and my breadth have shown up without me paying them any attention. I’m reminded that they couldn’t give a shit what job I have, what I post on Instagram, how well something does or doesn’t go. Whatever ridiculous thing I stress about, all the times I forget what actually matters, they’re just there.
So as someone far more articulate than me wrote “We just keep turning up. Not because we think we should, but because it is beautiful—because we cannot not.”
I said to someone the other day I never thought I’d be that person who meditates, then I remembered there never is a that person.
Meditation is sitting on the floor (or on the edge of a block) with your eyes closed for half an hour, with a candle if I haven't run out of tealights. And I can honestly say I've found it quietly, subtly a little bit life changing.