This is a two-section post on meditation; in the first section I take a look at why I meditate and how it has helped me personally over the years, and in the second I offer some tips and advice on meditation and how you can start your own practice – if you so wish 🙂
I’ve come to dread that nauseatingly familiar surge of emotions. It’s one that’s caused by a million different thoughts, all vying for my attention while they try to funnel themselves through one tiny hole in my head. It overwhelms me and it brings about a dull ache in my chest – one that I now identify as anxiety. It’s the feeling that my thoughts are about to swallow me alive and spit out the unchewable bits. The thoughts, blinding and negative as always, multiply like a virus and the only thing left is for them to consume me.
Before, I would have let them. Now, I meditate.
Why I Meditate
I’ve had an on and off relationship with meditation since my early twenties. A particularly stressful time in my life led me to read Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now back in 2006.
I had spent the majority of my teens and early twenties being ‘all up in my head.’ In his book, Eckhart talks about people who worry about what may happen and stress over what has been and gone – that was me. I was that person, and I didn’t even realise it was harming me. I spent most my life feeling overwhelmed about what the future may hold and worrying over things I’d done or said or felt. I was the blueprint to neuroticism and anxiety.
Reading Eckhart’s book changed my life. He says that we need to be fully present, in the here and now, as that’s all that matters. Tomorrow? May not even come. Yesterday? Well, it’s been and gone, so it cannot harm us. I had never thought of it like that, so his teachings were a revelation to me.
Once I realised that he took most of his ideas from Buddhism, I started to read around the subject even more and that’s when I first discovered meditation.
Am I Doing It Properly?
The thing that put me off meditation initially – and I know it puts a lot of first-timers off – was the fear of doing it wrong. I believed that the idea of it was to get rid of all your thoughts, which seemed impossible to me, but I tried and became frustrated when I couldn’t empty my mind of all those ruminations. I would look at little Buddha statues with their peaceful smiles and wonder why I wasn’t able to achieve that enlightened state of zen. I wanted to be floating above all of my worries so that I could wave at them (or give them the finger).
But I tried; I read up on different techniques and started with one that requires you to focus on the light of a candle. My favourite way of meditating, though, was by putting all of my focus on my breath – the rise and fall of my chest, the feeling of the air going in and out of my nostrils, the sounds it all made. Over time, and the more I practised, I found myself feeling more and more peaceful and in control of my emotions.
Travel and Meditation
When my ex and I started travelling in 2014, we began meditating. I had lamented the benefits of the practice to him over the years we’d been together, but as I had also fallen out of the habit by this point, we hadn’t managed to ever try it as a couple. That was until we hit the road.
Travelling full-time while working on your freelance business may seem like the much better alternative to slogging away in an office every day (and in many ways it definitely is), but it does throw up its own challenges. For one, you’re without a permanent home, which can be disorientating at times. And there are a lot of other stresses to get through – the logistics of getting from A to B, finding a place to stay, money worries etc.
We started using Headspace – a guided meditation phone app – and practised every morning on the floor of whatever hotel room we found ourselves in. We both felt that not only did it make us feel calmer, but it also aided our focus – we were able to concentrate on our work far more after we’d meditated. This meant we got everything done quicker, and it gave us more time for sight-seeing.
It also brought us closer together as a couple. There’s something incredible bonding about taking part in some form of spiritual practice with your loved one.
During this time, I also started to read more books on Buddhism. I found myself drawn to the work of Thích Nhất Hạnh – a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. While we were in Thailand, I read his book, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation, which gave me more insights into the religion and how meditation is an integral part of it. With this new knowledge, exploring Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia took on a new, deeper meaning – one that was meditative within itself.
When my relationship fell apart last year, I turned to meditation. I had a million and one thoughts rushing through my head at the same time, and they were drowning out whatever I was really feeling about the whole situation. Insecurities and self-doubt crept in, and I found myself losing control of how I felt about what had happened.
I started meditating twice, every single day – first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In the morning, I did a simple mindfulness meditation practice without guidance, which helped me clear my head and start the day with a clean slate. And in the evening, I turned to YouTube and The Chopra Centre’s guided meditations to help with whatever emotions I wad feeling at the time (you’ll find some of the ones I used in the resources section further down in this post).
YouTube is full of great videos, and I found there was a video to suit every need – I specifically used ones for forgiveness, letting go, and gratitude.
Over time, I felt myself getting stronger; I cannot say this was just down to the meditations, as I was also doing a lot of other healing work, such as reading spiritual or self-help books, practising gratitude and keeping a journal. However, meditation helped me keep my emotions in check, and it also helped me to have a deeper look at what I needed at any given moment in time.
It was a long process, but eventually I found myself being less swayed by emotions and thoughts. I felt stoic, calm, and peaceful. Without realising it, I had healed, and along with the healing came a new understanding of the situation I’d been in. I realised what my truth was, and no one was able to take it away from me. For that, I definitely have meditation to thank.
Never Going To Give You Up
I still practise meditation every single day, and it’s one self-care habit that I’ll never stop now. Why? Well, first of all, it’s a great way to clear my mind before the day starts. It makes me feel powerful somehow, as it teaches me how to stop my thoughts and feelings from controlling me. I’m the driving force behind everything I think and feel, and ultimately I have the choice of whether to react to the bad stuff that happens. I now, on the whole, choose not to.
So every morning, I take out my yoga mat, place it on the floor, get myself comfortable and meditate – sometimes through a guided audio file, sometimes alone.
In the second section of this post, I give you some tips and advice on how to incorporate meditation into your daily life. I’m not an expert, nor will I go into the Buddhist teachings behind the practice (this doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice for you if you don’t want it to be), but I do know from first-hand experience that it can be an incredibly powerful tool that’s at your disposal 24/7 – one that’s certainly worth a try.
My Tips for First-Timers
Why should I meditate?
It’s good for your health. Numerous studies have shown how it can help lower your blood pressure, lessen chronic pain, reduce anxiety and fight depression. This makes sense to me – you’d be amazed at how much damage negative thinking can do to your health.
It is also known to reduce stress, make us more compassionate, and boost self-acceptance.
I absolutely love this infographic, which sums up the benefits as well as the misconceptions that surround meditation.
As you’ll see from my own story, meditation has helped me immeasurably over the years. It helps me to manage my emotions. It doesn’t mean I stop feeling negative emotions, but it does mean I’m able to listen to what my thoughts are trying to tell me instead of getting caught up in them (or even worse, acting on them).
How on earth do I clear my head of all thoughts?
First of all, you don’t need to – meditation does not demand that you clear your head of all thoughts. The mind thinks involuntarily, so it’s impossible to expect all your thoughts to just stop because you’re meditating.
Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace (the app I mentioned above), describes meditation in the best possible way. He says you should imagine yourself sat on a bench, watching traffic go by. The traffic represents your thoughts; while you meditate, you simply watch the cars pass by without judgment or without trying to cross the road and get tangled up in them. You observe the thoughts and, hopefully, let them go as they pass.
How do I get started?
You can meditate anytime and anywhere – yes, you can even do standing/walking meditations. To begin with, though, I’d recommend you set aside ten minutes in your day – preferably in the morning – to do your practice, and build it up from there. Make yourself comfortable – whether on a chair, or on the floor, and make sure there are no distractions. Put your phone on silent, and if there’s anyone else home ask them to not disturb you for the time you intend to meditate for.
What do I need?
I’d recommend guided meditations to start with, as you won’t have to worry about technique. If you’re serious about maintaining a practice, I’d also recommend that you select a nice spot in your home where you intend to meditate every day. You may want to add some things to make it special; you could burn incense, for example.
Why is meditation great for travellers?
Well, for one, you can meditate anytime and anywhere.
We all know that travel can throw you into less than desirable situations from time-to-time and that it’s essential to be able to go with the flow as much as possible – meditation can definitely help with this as it lessens worry and anxiety. It also helps you to focus on the present a lot more, meaning that you’ll be able to enjoy all the great experiences that you have to the fullest.
It’s also proven to be great for your health; while on the road, it’s just as important (if not even more so) to look after yourself. I for one feel that meditation is a great way of grounding myself, wherever I may be in the world. It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind while you’re on the road (especially if you’re moving from place to place on a regular basis); meditation can help you to maintain an inner balance. Trust me, your body and mind will thank you for it.
The Chopra Centre has a whole page full of great guided meditations to get started with – some examples include a gratitude meditation and an emotional peace meditation.
If you are looking for something that has a lot of visualisations in it, The Honest Guys’ YouTube channel is a good place to look – they have loads and loads of guided meditations. Some of them are a bit too ‘out there’ for me, but I found many of them were also very helpful. Experiment and find what works for you.
This is a great article on mindfulness meditation from the Huffington Post, which tells you how to overcome some of the obstacles that may hinder your practice.
If you’re looking for a great phone app for meditation, I recommend Headspace, which is what I used while travelling. The first ten days are free, but after that, if you continue to use the service, you’ll need to pay a subscription fee.
There’s a good roundup of more apps and sites here.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed over the last seven months or so is establishing my own morning rituals, which help me to start the day right. Some of the things I do include meditation, yoga, writing ten things I’m grateful for, journaling, and reading inspirational stories of people who have thrived through adversity. This article gives some more examples of great things you can do for yourself in order to start the day in a positive and empowering way.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my post on doing a DIY yoga retreat in Ubud, Bali.