I’ve been meditating for most of my adult life which I am proud to say is getting on for 50 years as an adult! Throughout my adult life, I have studied and tried all different kinds of meditation practices from visualisations such as imagining I am walking in a favourite peaceful place, guided meditations that have been of many different types with many different intentions, meditation on candles to clear my third eye, meditation on Angels and visualisations of Angels, various yoga meditations, mindfulness practices meditating on areas of blocked emotions in the body, but now for the past 15 years I’ve been a full time practicing Buddhist having taken refuge (I have a Buddhist name), and having studied and undertaken various programmes of classes all of which are founded on meditation as the central key element and those meditations include heart opening compassion practices.
I meditate daily as part of my ongoing spiritual path and Buddhism for me is a daily practice that permeates all aspects of my life. It keeps me sane and provides me with an inner confidence and strength that I didn’t know I had when I was growing up. Of course this is my personal path and all paths lead to Rome and I acknowledge that. I acknowledge and accept all honest and brave practitioners of whatever religion or belief system they might have or not have and whatever meditation practice they choose to do. But this is my spiritual path and for me it works!
People generally look to practice meditation for many different reasons. It may be that they are having a stressful time and can’t switch off the many thoughts that keep going around and around, can’t sleep (for the same reason), need to revise for an exam, or many other similar reasons. Sometimes a GP might recommend meditation for helping someone deal with anxiety or depression. In my case, from a very early age, I wanted to escape from what I perceived as the boring reality of my life. I somehow had a sense very early on that there was so much more to life and that I was missing something important.
As a teenager, I looked ahead and could only see a path in life that seemed to close down and in on me – marriage, children, house, job, old age, death. I dabbled into Astrology, the Tarot and the I Ching became my teacher. I would spend a lot of time in my room doing readings for myself as I navigated my teens. I felt as though there was something missing from my life and decided that I didn’t care what anyone said or thought, I believed in God (although Buddhism does not recognise a Godhead) and that became my purpose – to find a spiritual path that would be right for me! I would go to the library and get books out on Gnani Yoga and religion and was mesmerised by books written by Aldous Huxley, Herman Hesse and Lobsang Rampa. These all made sense to me but I still didn’t know where I fitted in spiritually. There was a real sense of something missing in my life – a spiritual path. I didn’t feel whole, I felt empty and afraid. I practised hatha yoga and joined a meditation group at Wandsworth Adult Education Centre that was being taught by the Friends of the Western Buddhist Society -now Sri Ratna.
By the time I was out in the world working and in my first marriage, I was very anxious and depressed. The direction that I perceived my life would take did not feel at all good to me and I finally sank into clinical depression whilst submitting to this perceived ‘fate’. However, I did not take the anti-depressants as they made me feel even worse – they shut me down further and I was looking for a way out, not a bigger hole to sink in to. So I stayed with the feelings of anxiety and hopelessness and I submitted to this fate and I did indeed get married (3 times), have 4 children, buy a house, have a job, get much older – but I’m still alive!
Somehow, at the age of 21 having discovered the Buddhist class at the local Adult Education Institute in London I began a journey that set me on a very diverse spiritual path. I am still travelling this path having found my spiritual niche these past 15 years as a Buddhist and it has not been easy but it has certainly been very interesting. I soon came to realise that the journey is actually the goal! I’m not travelling anywhere. Instead I’m unraveling myself to uncover the spiritual sun within. So it’s been a long journey which has taken me to my third marriage, to 4 grown up children and now 6 grandchildren and to a time in my life where I feel I want to give something back to society, hence this blog.
During my 20s I discovered and devoured teachings by Alan Watts, Krishnamurti and Paramahansa Yogananda to name a few. My meditation journey has seen me through various yoga gurus and teachers, spiritualism and I have been an Astrologer, Tarot Card reader and psychic with a bit of mediumship thrown in for many years. In my late 30s and into my 40s I was still experiencing depression had so I had psychotherapy which helped straighten my mind and emotions out enough so that I was able to undertake training as an Aromatherapist and Reflexologist. I also taught these and set up my own school and trained people to a recognised diploma level. At the same time I had my own busy self-employed practice as a therapist for much of my working life. I also gained a degree in psychology at the age of 40 and went on to gain a counselling diploma, a diploma in hypnotherapy, a yoga teacher training diploma and also a tai chi training diploma. My life has always been one of exploring the so-called ‘alternative’ scenes. I am a seeker of knowledge. But fundamental to all of this has been practicing meditation and reading books and following teachings and teachers that have helped me develop my deeper understanding of what I believe to be the fundamental truth of all beings – that we all have within us the seed of basic goodness. A seed that when watered and given the light of the sun, can release it’s potential and develop and grow and finally blossom and illuminate us and can guide our lives in a meaningful and peaceful and non-violent- way.
Meditation has been at times a challenging path for me. It sounds very simple and peaceful (Oh if only I could meditate and get some peace!) but it actually is not always that simple or that peaceful especially if there is a lot going on for us and when we have busy and full lives. We can come to our meditation seat and be so full of ‘doing’ and ‘what’s been going on today’ that it can be very hard to unwind. But this is actually okay. The important thing is that we recognise this and practice anyway. Meditation requires us to come as we are, not try to contrive to be anything different. It is about being with ourselves, sitting with ourselves, accepting ourselves, learning about ourselves and we don’t always like what we see, but that’s okay too. Nothing about meditation is wrong, bad or negative. The more ‘stuff’ we can observe and bring to our meditation the more we can learn. Our ‘stuff’ has been described as the juicy fertile ground in which the seed of goodness within can be planted and grow.
Sitting still for a period of time can be very difficult if you’ve always slouched or used the back of a chair for support. Aches and pains tend to dominate to start with. Then for example, as we sit with ourselves there is the constant negative chatter that we are all prone to: “I should/shouldn’t”s do this or that, and “I’m rubbish at this/I’m really good at this!” “I can’t” “I don’t want to” “Why am I doing this” “I can’t sit still” etc. etc. Things might suddenly appear in our heads that can bring up past emotions or fears and hopes for the future. We relive them and have to be gentle with ourselves and be brave enough to face and sit with those emotions, feel the energy of those emotions, so that we can shine a light on them and let go of them and watch them dissolve into that light. We have to be warriors sometimes, but there is always someone that we can turn to who is more experienced than us and further along the path than us who we can turn to for guidance and support and who is happy to be our meditation mentor.
Sometimes it can feel like we are getting nowhere when we keep having to bring our minds back to the focus of our meditation. But its not meant to be a battle, although it can be so hard not to try to fight with ourselves and furthermore we often forget how we are supposed to be non-judgemental towards ourselves, make friends with ourselves, be gentle and kind and just let go of whatever thoughts and distractions arise and come back to the breath. We drift off and feel sleepy and spaced out and then we get cross with ourselves so we give up – “I’ll try that again one day…… maybe!” and wonder how it is that some people manage to stick with it and see any kind of value in it. It can be a struggle sometimes. But then the next day, as if to prove how our moods can change and transform we can sit on our meditation seat and find it can also be very peaceful and we feel inklings of bliss and laughter breaking through. Its always an adventure, sitting down to meditate because anything can happen! But meditating daily becomes a way to touch in with ourselves and check in with how we’re feeling and what our emotional and mental state is currently like. As long as we just observe rather than judge it can be very surprising and very useful.
The truth is that meditation doesn’t just happen because we sit on a cushion, meditation is a practice that we can bring into our everyday lives. It is always a practice and it requires training to get to touch in to that place where peace can bubble up into the surface of our minds. But the going can be tough as beginners as we become familiar with ourselves and the workings of our habitual minds. But the rewards are immense if we stick with it.
At the beginning, l would have to constantly remind myself that if I wanted to run a marathon I would need to start by short runs and build up my stamina and length of time running slowly in order to avoid injury. It could be painful to start with and hard work. But with perseverance, I could do it. So it is the same with meditation. Take small steps, gradually build up stamina to sit for more than ten minutes at a time and believe in myself, have faith and perseverance in the practice and allow the journey to be the goal.
The media in their ignorance, give us an image of people sitting cross legged with their feet soles facing up perched on their thighs. I’ve never been able to sit in the ‘lotus position’ – I’ve never been fit enough to run a marathon either (although I have done 2 half marathons for which I’m very proud of myself). Because I can’t sit in the lotus position does not mean that I am not a good meditator. In fact, I mostly sit on a meditation stool with my knees bent and my lower legs wrapped either side of me. I can no longer sit cross legged and there have been times when my back has been bad so I’ve had to sit on a chair or have some support or even have meditated lying down. But however we meditate – that is fine! There really is no right or wrong way, we adapt to our body shape, age and fitness level and find the easiest and best way for us to sit upright, back straight and relax our jaw and sit still be it on a cushion, a meditation stool, or straight-backed chair. However we do it, it is just our way.
Meditation gives us some space to work with our amazing minds. These minds of ours know we are thinking – how can we know that? It’s amazing! Meditation is a way of observing our habits and ways of relating to the world. We discover and learn who we are and why and how we have become who we are. It can lead to deep feelings of peace which usually arise when we go on a retreat but can also take us by surprise in our daily practice and just bubble up. But in the daily hub and bustle of our lives, even ten minutes meditating each day can help us to ‘check in’ with ourselves, slow ourselves down a bit, invite a bit more sanity in to our lives, give us time to breathe and relax with how things are – okay yes it can seem like escapism but escapism is good – life is too speedy, too noisy, too confusing – we need to escape to the place inside of us where we can clear our minds and hearts. Meditation creates a perspective and space to see things a bit more clearly. It helps us develop compassion and understanding of other people as we start to realise that we are all the same – we are all struggling, we all want happiness, we all want suffering to end. A short daily meditation practice can actually change our lives in a very positive way. It is really worth the ‘training’ to get to that realisation – but we all have to discover this for ourselves.
So my journey is continuing with daily practice and the benefits are realised in my daily life almost every single day. I am stronger, calmer, less judgemental, less reactive and more able to slow down and allow my inner self to guide the direction of my life. I am more open and can therefore enjoy life more so my life is more fulfilling. My life is much simpler, with less grasping after things and I feel blessed as I have everything I need – a home, family, food on the table, enough money to survive. What more does anyone need? I am very fortunate.
The teachings of Buddhism, especially when meditation becomes a regular part of our lives and when applied to our lives can help us to unwind ourselves, make friends with ourselves, help us to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously and give us a stability and grounding that enables us to deal more effectively and with more courage those situations in our life that tend to destabilise us. But we need to have faith and resilience and not give up at the first hurdle. Discipline and perseverance are key. We have to remember how many times it took Edison to discover how to create the light bulb – if we can develop that kind of patience and perseverance with ourselves, not seeing ourselves as failures but as being worthy and fundamentally good, then eventually we will see very real and tangible benefits from practicing meditation every day.
So why not join our introduction to meditation workshop and discover in depth how you too can benefit from learning how to meditate and apply the simple Buddhist truths to your own life.
Written by Christine