I was 28 years old at the time. Life felt hard, monotonous, and not very joyful. Each morning I awoke slightly depressed, not feeling very excited about my life. My hopes or dreams felt very far away…
It’s not surprising that I soon began to feel a deep calling towards a new perspective on life. I didn’t really know why (well, I knew it might help with creating more inner peace) but I needed to learn how to meditate.
At the time I was living in a small town with a partner who in retrospect was a terrible match for me. He drank, and I didn’t drink much (anymore). He smoked and I loathed smoking (after years of fighting with my parents not to smoke). [Nothing against smokers, I was just really sensitive to the smell of it as a sensitive girl growing up]. But mostly he was not a very nice person, and we really did not belong together (which I figured out after a few long months of living under the same roof).
I was looking for a higher perspective
I was in part looking to get away from my life when I went to my first Vipassana retreat to learn how to meditate. In retrospect, I was also looking for a higher perspective on my life. I knew there had to be more to life than this dim view that I had of it.
It was a dark and cold November day and I was on my way to the formidable 10 days of silence. The camp was a temporary camp set up for this retreat and it felt like hell to me. We were asked to sit from 4:30 AM until 9:30 PM. We could get up pretty much every hour to have a short walk before sitting again. We were fed breakfast and lunch, but no dinner (it is easier to meditate on an empty stomach). We had a short break in the afternoon.
It felt really hard to sit for hours on end
As I sat on that cool floor for so many hours, layers of blankets wrapped around me, my mind raced and I felt like I had a knife piercing through my right shoulder blade. This remained for 7 LONG days. I don’t know what propelled me to continue rather than getting in my car and going home because none of it felt easy. But then, my life also did not feel easy in any sort of way, so I figured I might as well stick it out to the end.
A lightness began to settle into my bones…
To my surprise, by the 8th or 9th day I began to feel a lightness that I had not remembered feeling in a long long time (other than while intoxicated as a teenager). In fact I don’t now if I ever felt that good before…
By the last day of the retreat I was laughing and smiling with others, feeling very comfortable in my body and at ease in my mind What a joy! And for no particular reason except that I had been sitting silently for the past 10 days.
It has been about 22 years since that first retreat and I now have a much better sense of what happened to me during that time.
It is very common when we first meditate that sh*t comes up. In fact a lot of it can come up, especially if we have trauma buried deep within, as many people do without even knowing it. It may not even be trauma buried within us, but years of nervous system imbalances or other disturbances that can feel uncomfortable coming up. That said, meditation is still a VERY worthwhile thing to pursue.
The incredible benefits of meditation far exceed the initial discomfort of it
In my experience of meditation the benefit far exceeds the initial discomfort (which not everyone experiences as intensely as I did, and for others it can be more intense).
Begin with a dynamic meditation
The ideal way to begin meditating is to go with the agitation in the body. Wait? Go with agitation? Yes. This can be done by consciously and chaotically moving the body. This simple gesture can powerfully release stored tension, trauma, and/or pain in the body.
It may feel so odd and crazy that you may want to hold yourself back from expressing fully, but do not. Be total in your releasing of whatever needs to be released. Release until you are exhausted and cannot continue. And when you reach that point where you feel done (it might be 5 minutes, or 35 minutes), you must lye down and be completely still. This last part (lying down) will allow any fresh new energy (that had previously been stagnant), to go where it needs to go in the body.
A famous mystic named Osho was the original creator of this cathartic meditation. For more information on this you can check out this link here.
Long deep breath
If this dynamic meditation feels like too much for you, then start with the breath. The breath is the bridge between the mind and body, and can relax you tremendously, as well as to help you become more alert and aware in your life. Many revelations and increased physical energy are just a couple of the benefits of breathing more deeply.
You can begin with the long deep breath. Begin this breath by sitting comfortably in a relaxed setting. Close the eyes, keep the spine straight, and bring a gentle smile to your face (your smile reminds your mind and body that it is ok to relax). Inhale as deeply as you can a couple times without straining the breath. Just allow the breath to go as deep as it can without pushing too much. Once you have taken a couple of deeper breaths, notice if your belly is moving out on the inhale. Ideally it will expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale not the other way around. So the breath ideally moves in a wave like motion, inhaling into the belly and then moving up to the top of the lungs. Exhaling out of the lungs and then out of the belly. It is a very natural breath that babies do effortlessly, and that you can train yourself to do as often as possible.
These two exercises are not meditation by definition, but are very good precursors to meditation. If you want to learn more about meditation, stay tuned for my next article which will go into more detail about three different practices that you can begin to use on your own to create more inner calm.