I have just completed a Foundation Course in Teaching Mindfulness Meditation. The course was steeped in yoga philosophy and Buddhist teachings, so it was coming at meditation from that angle rather than a purely secular approach. I found the teachings both profound, inspiring and grounded and I will continue to review this and additional content from the amazing teacher, the late Michael Stone. For those that are interested his website and podcast is worth a look - https://michaelstoneteaching.com/
During the course, I had to commit to a minimum of 30 mins mediation practice a day (with the expectation that some days you would do more). This was challenging and I have had to change my routine, get up earlier and prioritise this time over other priorities. I had several weeks where I really struggled with a lot of resistance, and it took all the discipline I could muster to ensure I did the practice, but I did it.
During the three months of practice, I found that meditation can be calming, but it can also be frustrating, boring, upsetting, irritating and can evoke a real sense of sadness of the impermanence of life. Learning to sit with these emotions and not react with ‘feeding’ the story or emotion is where the real challenge lies and being able to acknowledge your own preconditioning and judgements is not easy.
Some days I felt I could keep present and focused on the meditation anchor for longer (be it the breath, sound, sensations in the body etc) and some days my mind was like a whirling crazy thing and I found it so hard to stay present. I never know when I sit on my mat which mind, I am going to be presented with and its always different.
I had some weekends away from home during the course, so I’ve meditated in someone else’s home and on our boat (!) and that was odd, I found it harder to come back to the anchor I was working with. I think there is something about being in your own sacred space that helps the mind settle.
On a practical level, as the weeks went on, I found it easier to sit without fidgeting and the posture became more comfortable. Even though I’m a yoga teacher I was not used to sitting crossed legged for 30 mins at a time. I know feel really at ease in that position (although I do use cushions, and a bolster for support) and as a bonus I have noticed in my yoga practice my hips seem more open.
What has been most interesting to witness is how after a while the practice of switching off out of thinking, judging, reacting unconsciously on the mat translates into you becoming aware of these behaviours in everyday life. I noticed the crazy repetitive thoughts that my mind likes to follow. I have had several situations where I have stepped back and noticed my initial (unconscious) reaction to someone’s words to me and on occasions I have been able to step back with a more measured response and not just responded from the level of the ego and ‘reaction’. I am trying to bring this into awareness into my life, and I hope it will get easier the more I practice and stay conscious.
So why should you bother to do a meditation practice every day?
A simple google search will show you that science has shown the benefits range from reducing stress, controlling anxiety, improved concentration, improved sleep, controlling pain etc. But for me the meditation practice and the 76 consecutive days of practice I have now achieved has been such a massive learning opportunity.
I certainly feel more able to handle difficult situations and control my stress, I feel more filled with compassion – to the point I just can’t watch anything on TV about people in distress as I just want to pack my bags and help regardless of who they are. Our media is full of such fear and negativity about ‘other people’ who are different to us and although I already felt that way my meditation practice has really opened my eyes to the ‘lies’ and ‘fear-based beliefs’ instilled in us by society. I am digressing - this is the topic for another blog perhaps!
So, what I will conclude with is, if you have been thinking about trying meditation give it go, start simply with 10 mins a day (maybe use an app like headspace or Insight timer) start with gratitude meditations or simple breath meditations and then see where the journey leads you.
Michael Stone’s words ‘you carry eternity inside you, you have a teacher inside you, you have a practice’ will stay with me and guide me as I continue to explore my personal practice. I know I will continue my daily practice and continue to experience all it offers and hopefully in the future I will be teaching some meditation classes too ... watch this space!