I used to think meditation was BS.
Okay, I take that back. I thought it was a nice idea reserved for the overly spiritually-minded. Intellectuals do crosswords and hippies do mantras. I simply wasn’t interested—until I found out what meditation is not.
Our worst thoughts won’t kill us
Meditation is not an achievement but an experiment. The first time I ever meditated was during my first Vipassana. It’s a 10-day silence retreat. No writing, no reading, no eye contact and no talking. Call me extreme, but that’s where I decided to begin.
There is a lot I could say about this experience, but the end result was awesome. Many people left with a new practice for daily life—a new kind of meditation to do for an hour every morning and an hour every night. I left with the knowledge that I could spend that amount of time with myself without going crazy.
The experiment of meditation taught me that even the worst of my thoughts won’t kill me.
Our brain shouldn’t be emptied.
Meditation is not about clearing but focusing. Whenever I considered meditation, I always pictured someone sitting with their legs crossed and eyes closed clearing their mind. I always thought, “Yea, right!” My brain is a turbo kind of machine, especially when I am stressed or in some kind of transition (which kind of seems like always these days). Its job is to synthesize all the information and stimulus and guide my next move. Based on this, I figured it would be both difficult and dangerous to try to “empty” it out.
But then I went through guided meditations in my yoga class and realized that it’s not about stopping our thoughts but being an audience to them, allowing them to be and then letting them pass through. I started to think of meditation as less of a dam and more of a fountain.
Suddenly it wasn’t about not thinking, but about guiding my thoughts to someplace I wanted to be. And learning to do this over and over. This comes in especially handy when life gets crazy.
Now I spend a lot less time on the mat saying to myself, “Stop thinking about that,” and more time thinking, “Interesting how that’s coming back. All good. Now, let’s get back to that breathing thing…”
Our enemy is not change.
Meditation is not about changing but accepting. In Vipassana, the main premise is that everything is changing. You know that old adage, “The only constant is change”? It’s true. When I moved to Berlin a few years ago, I was clear that my main goal was to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. My idea was that if I could somehow learn to live like this, nothing could beat me.
I always thought that meditation was about making the mind calm and therefore making life better.
But the reality is that meditating has been teaching me to let things be what they are. When I can be an audience to things that are happening I can make better decisions in the moment instead of being reactive.
When I can breathe through pain, I become stronger when things are difficult. Meditation, as it turns out, has become a tool to tap into a calm, grounded, inner me that I never even knew existed.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Melissa Horton/ Editor: Rachel Nussbaum