“Removing old conditionings from the mind and training the mind to be more equanimous with every experience is the first step toward enabling one to experience true happiness.” – S.N. Goenka.
I stumbled into meditation by chance. It was April 2015 and I was a few months into my job as a sales rep. I enjoyed my role but was anxious and tense all the time. I was a super sensitive person by nature and it was easy for me to get upset about the smallest thing. My emotions swayed like a seesaw and I felt that I no control over them. I didn’t know what the hell to do; I felt so helpless. I knew that I was in a better place compared to a year ago – I no longer had panic attacks at the very least. Still, I really wanted to figure out how I could make the transition into living an anxiety-free and emotionally-stable life.
One day, my boss at the time suggested that I try mediation. He spoke to me about this 10-day meditation course in a technique called Vipassana that he’d done multiple times and how transformative it had been every time. I decided to go for it and registered for a 10-day course in July. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d survive it because the schedule and code of conduct seemed so hardcore. Here’s what it looked like (scroll down to the part that says ‘timetable’ to see what the schedule was like). I’m curious if it freaks you out too. As you’ll notice, it involved meditating for 10-10.5 hours every day. What was more, you didn’t talk to – or even make eye contact with – others for 10 days. You were also not allowed to have any electronic device or reading/writing material with you. Basically, all you did for 10 whole days, was meditate.
The goal of Vipassana is to help a person develop an equanimous mind. You learn to focus on your breath and then proceed to decipher and focus on the sensations in your body. If you’d like to learn about Vipassana specifically, I encourage you to read more about it here. The course was extremely challenging for me. The first 5 days were agony and I could barely focus on my breath for a handful of seconds. What I noticed the most was just how busy my mind was and just how much internal chatter went on every second and minute. When I finally had to sit with nothing but my thoughts, it was unbearable and I wanted to run away from them. But of course, there was nowhere to go. I had to try and focus on my breath and that seemed like the only way to get away from the painful internal chatter. Things got better after day 5. I was able to focus on my breath for a minute or two before my mind wandered off again. I became better at being patient with myself as I learned to focus. But I couldn’t proceed beyond focusing on my breath to focusing on the sensations in my body. That was advanced stuff and my mind was not ready for it.
The days following the course were one of the strangest of my life. I definitely felt more peaceful and quiet inside. My anxiety levels were at an all-time low – something I’d never experienced before. It was surreal. I didn’t keep up the meditation practice, though, and in a few weeks, the effects of the course wore off. Sometime in late 2016, I started meditating once again. It was on and off, but I started using an app called Headspace a few times a week. I noticed that I was the tiniest bit calmer after meditating for 10-15 minutes. Sometimes I wouldn’t have focused on my breath at all but event the act of sitting in silence for a few minutes helped me become calmer. In November 2018, after having seen how beneficial medication was, I decided to meditate every day for one full year. Some days it was for only 1-2 minutes but that didn’t matter. I wanted to commit to making mediation an integral part of my day-to-day life. No matter what else was happening in my life.
In July 2019, I did the 10-day Vipassana course again. The experience this time around was very different. It was evident to me that my daily meditation practice had had a cumulative effect. It was much easier for me to focus on my breath. I was able to successfully focus on the sensations in different parts of my body after day 4. After the course was over, I felt like a whole new person. The evidence came in the form of my reactions to some pretty intense legal stuff that would have otherwise made me supremely anxious. I was able to keep a cool head and respond from a rational standpoint. What’s more, I was able to have a sense of empathy and compassion for all the other parties involved. A part of me thought, “well, that’s new”.
Fast forward to now, meditation really has become an integral part of me. It’s just something I do every day, period. And I’m so much better for it! That’s not to say that I don’t have anxiety issues anymore. I do. I think meditation helps me manage it better. It has also helped me develop a healthier relationship with it because I no longer view it as something to hate or run away from. I’ve learned, in my own unique way, to embrace and dance with it. It’s all good.
Here’s how I’ve personally benefited from meditation:
- It helps me quiet my mind. Science says that we have 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day. That’s a mind-boggling number of thoughts. I welcome some respite from them…especially given how anxious I tend to be. I like being able to let all else go and just focus on my breath for a few minutes.
- I feel so much calmer and have better focus, sometimes for hours together, after meditating. Of course, external circumstances can impact how much longer I’m able to carry that sense of calm. In general, I’ve found that the longer I meditate, the longer I’m able to carry the calm into the day. This calm helps me focus better on my work tasks.
- Practicing mediation daily has had a centering effect on my life. It’s an anchor of sorts. A place of quiet and calm I can go back to no matter what else is going on and that’s comforting.
- It has made me a tad more non-reactive. This is a boon for an overly emotional and sensitive person like me. I’ve become a lot more composed and am getting better at coming from an emotionally stable place while interacting with others or responding to the curveballs that life throws from time to time.
- I’d like to believe that it has made me a kinder and more compassionate person. A couple of reasons for this – I tend to do a number of meditations from the Headspace app that are focused on qualities like kindness, generosity, compassion, happiness and so on. These remind me to actively practice these qualities. I also sometimes practice Metta or loving-kindness at the end of the meditation. In the Vipassana course, Metta is taught on the last day as a way of sharing one’s peace and love with the world. It’s advanced stuff, I think, but I’d like to become more compassionate as I go deeper into practicing meditation.
If there was one habit I’d want every person on the planet to adopt, it would be meditation. Meditation has transformed my life and I thank the day I decided to make it a part of who I am and what I do on a daily basis. If you’re new to meditation, I would strongly encourage you to give it a try. If you’ve tried it and haven’t yet made it a practice to meditate daily, I’d strongly suggest that you do! It’s worth every effort and second that you invest in it.