From cynic to fan: discovering meditation

I’ve flirted with the idea of meditating lots of times. I even went to a silent retreat in Thailand years ago (and committed the cardinal sin of trying to befriend someone…)

I never got it. I always fell back on one of these excuses.

Meditation is for calm people … and monks.

Meditation is for people with self-control and sticking power.

What’s the point of meditation? I can relax when I’m asleep.

I’m too busy to meditate.

Struggling with a fresh onslaught of vertigo, nausea and brain fog about a month ago, I had a pretty substantial rocket up my ass to give it another try. I downloaded an app and started meditating. I do 10 minutes when I wake up and the same again before I go to sleep (which often translates into “as I fall asleep”).

I’ve clocked up 880 minutes so far (although I’ve probably been in the land of nod for a good 200 of those…).

I’m still rubbish at it. I’d say 80% of the time, when I’m meant to be in a deep meditative state, I’m actually chasing my thoughts around, jumping on them and getting lost in them.

But there have been a few moments when I’ve managed to calm my mind long enough to just focus on my breath. And in the moments when I do, I’ve finally got the point of it. And it’s not just because of the delicious calm of experiencing a relaxed brain.

When I’m not jumping on my thoughts and heading down one rabbit warren after another like an excitable puppy, I can see my thoughts more clearly. I’ve learnt that most of my thoughts have strong emotions attached to them (excitement, happiness, fear, anxiety, anger, frustration) and these emotions have an impact on my physical body (butterflies in tummy, sense of calm, tensing of my shoulders, uncomfortable knot in stomach). If I jump on a thought, it hangs around longer and so does the physical sensation it has created.

I’d love more excitement and happiness in my life, but I’m less keen on fear, anxiety, anger and frustration and their physical corrollaries.

Realising this reminded me of a quote by the Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl. He was imprisoned at Auschwitz and wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning about what he discovered during his incarceration. He wrote “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Meditation has opened a tiny chink between my experience of life and my reaction to it. I am learning that just because something shit happens (e.g.vertigo and ensuing extreme levels of unsteadiness) I don’t have to react in a correspondingly shit way (get emotional, start wondering if I’m ever going to be able to get back to work). I can park the physical problem without turning it into a “thought problem” too.

It doesn’t just apply to illness. It applies to everything in life. Shit happens. More often than not, I can’t control the shit. But I can control how I react to it.

I still can’t say with conviction that I’ll stick with meditation. It’s hard work. Some days it feels as if I’m trying to tame an endlessly curious monkey which has an entire jungle it wants to roam through.

But I’m going to try.

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