My first brush with meditation involved a kindly Buddhist monk, in way over his head, and 20 or so screaming children. I had chosen “Buddhism” for my compulsory Religion Class in year 5, and each week the monk would attempt to get us to calm the heck down and meditate, by repeatedly saying the words “Imagine there’s a bright crystal ball in the centre of your body.” I, being a goody two shoes teacher’s pet, would promptly close my eyes and make some effort to imagine this non-existent crystal ball, all the while fighting off thoughts like “this is stupid” and “when’s lunch”. Meanwhile, the cool kids in the class ignored poor Mr Monk completely and spun in circles on wheely chairs.
Now it’s more than a decade later, I’ve just graduated from university with a Bachelor of Psychology, and I’m in dire need of some clarity.
I’m at that fabulous stage of life where in theory I’m an adult, and ought to be on the path to a kick-ass, successful career, living on my own, throwing hundred dollar bills in the air while laughing gleefully (that’s what adults do, right?).
Instead, the reality is that I’m in retail, living with my parents and dreading those all-too-frequent moments when actual adults turn to me and say, “So Hana, what are you doing with yourself now that you’ve graduated from university?” It’s a hard question to answer, and “Sitting on the floor drawing rabbits on spare bits of paper while eating chocolate” doesn’t tend to go down too well.
And so, to find some answers of my own and figure out the path I want to take from here on out, I’ve plunged head first back into meditation, with a slightly different head space and far more of an open mind than when I was 11 years old, surrounded by screaming children.
So far it’s been a mixed bag. There are just so many obstacles to overcome when you meditate. First you need to find the time, perhaps by giving up some of those precious minutes of extra sleep in the morning. You also need to find a comfortable, quiet space where you can shut yourself off from the noisy world, and focus on what’s going on internally. Then once you’re sitting there, upright and eyes closed, the distractions come flooding in.
I’m focusing on my breath, focusing on my breath… Oh my, the next door neighbours are being extra amorous this morning. And it sounds like mum’s just smashed a glass in the kitchen. Also, I feel a sneeze coming… achoo! Bless me. Am I wasting my time sitting here just breathing? I have so many things to do, this feels counterproductive. Aaaand now I’m hungry. When’s lunch?
So many external sounds I can’t help but react to, and so many internal thoughts which take me far away from the present moment and off into La La Land.
But here’s what it boils down to: it’s all part of the process. Of course I get distracted – my whole life, my mind has had a free reign to chase after and latch onto any exciting stimuli it desires, whether positive or negative. Finally attempting to tame it was never going to be an easy ride. And life will always have distractions, and unexpected happenings that mess up neatly formulated plans. So I might as well take the time now and learn how to be as non-reactive to these distractions as possible, whether they come from the outside world or from my own chaotic thoughts.
I also try to keep in mind the multitude of scientific research which has so many positive things to say about meditation. Studies tell us that regular mindfulness meditation reduces stress, anxiety, and procrastination, increases resilience to the crap bits of life, helps increase focus, and improves relationships. It’s been shown to help you sleep better and feel more rested, so even if I choose meditation over a sleep-in, I may end up feeling less tired. And even though I might feel like I’m wasting my time sitting there just breathing when I could be rushing about doing something, spending 15 minutes meditating each day will mean that when I finally do open my eyes and face the day, I’ll do so far more productively and with greater focus. The benefits definitely outweigh the difficulties.
But I’m no expert. I’m just an amateur meditator trying to make better use of my time and find answers, not for the people who ask me what I’m doing with my life, but for myself. I’m still at the beginning of my meditation journey, in the midst of The indigo project’s 8 Week Mindfulness Meditation Course. I’m learning lots but I have yet to reach enlightenment (surprisingly this didn’t happen after one 10 minute meditation session), and so far I still battle with my thoughts for control. All I can do is keep going, know that the struggles I experience have been experienced by many before me, and have faith that clarity will come. My first steps in the right direction are to simply not beat myself up when my thoughts wander because my stomach is rumbling.
And there it is, I’m hungry again. Which reminds me, when’s lunch?