Hello Stillness, Nice To Meet You

My formal introduction to the word meditation happened during my third year in college when I enrolled in a course entitled Mind, Body Medicine. The course was a requirement for my Health Science major and, in hindsight, a fortunate obligation. I was in my early twenties, on the brink of adulthood – somewhere between reckless, insecure teen and responsible, “in-control” adult. Everything in this world was possible, where you know the rules to success and you agreeably play the game. But where trepidation and inhibition keep you bound to perpetual self-doubt. And yes, smoking lots of pot and drinking beer through funnels seemed to be the most effective way to cope.

That first Mind, Body Medicine class was the spark that ignited my curiosity about the mysterious and completely fascinating connection between mind and body. I learned that meditation isn’t only for Eastern Monks who sit under bohdi trees to attain enlightenment. The proven health benefits of meditation are instead, nondiscriminatory. Not only the religious, but also the secular and/or spiritual can enjoy the physiological and mental benefits of meditation – which include decreased blood pressure, improved immune system function, and improved concentration. Meditation triggers a relaxation response so significant, that it is capable of improving long-term physical and emotional responses to stress. Knowing that stress is a contributor to all major modern killers, I had all the motivation needed to actually begin the practice of sitting still in silence.

So there I was, a young eager college kid, ready to practice meditation. How hard could sitting still and breathing be? I was quick to answer my own naivety. After only a few attempts at enforcing discipline and trying to quiet the mind, I felt more frantic than peaceful. No distractions left my mind far from quiet. In fact, it actually went into overdrive, sounding something like this:

All that I have to do is focus on my breath – inhaling and exhaling. I wonder if I’m supposed to sit straight while I’m meditating. I really need to slouch right now because my back is seriously killing me. OK, just focus on the breath. How long have I been sitting here? I should open my eyes and look at the clock because I’m sure I’ve been sitting here for at least 10 minutes. Damn! That was seriously only 2 minutes!? Oh my god! I can’t stop thinking. OK Val, just stop! Really, how ridiculous are you that you can’t stop thinking for a single, damned minute! Maybe I should count my breaths this time; One, inhale. One, exhale…Two, inhale. Two, exhale. I seriously have to study today. Who can really do this? Why can’t I stop thinking?!? Sitting still without thinking is entirely too hard.

Demoralized, I basically gave up after my third attempt at meditation. My overly obnoxious, pointless, internal chatter drowned out any possibility of achieving stillness and left me defeated. My posture collapsed like a bridge crumbling into water. I planted my face in my hands and thought, “I failed at sitting still.” A few days of berating myself led to finally crossing meditation off of my to-do list. It was something that just “wasn’t for me.” Instead, I thought, I’ll eat healthy, keep exercising, and hope for the best.

Throughout the years, I made periodic attempts at tackling my boisterous thoughts by trying to zip them shut with meditation. With each failed attempt, I was left feeling frustrated and disillusioned, vowing to never attempt this nonsensical, dubious practice again. How can I possibly force my mind not to think? The mind thinks. That’s what it does! I can’t force my ears not to hear, or my eyes not to see. How can I possibly tell my mind to stop doing what it’s programmed to do? Well, it turns out that I wasn’t exactly following the rules of the game.

Eventually I learned that the more we try to resist thinking, the more we end up thinking. It is akin to dieting – the moment we decide to eat less is the exact moment we start to obsess about food. Instead, stop resisting and stop forcing something to happen, only then we can be present to receive whatever comes. Without expectations the mind is open and willing to be present. It is almost inevitable that thoughts will steadily enter our consciousness when we’re still. Watch them come, observe them, and then allow them to pass. It is by doing this that we become the observer of our own minds. By paying attention to ourselves we become better acquainted with what lies beneath. It’s less about trying to stop all thoughts and more about disentangling ourselves from them. Removing ourselves from the muck and just watching it all settle. Eventually the mind will start to quiet and the busyness of our thoughts begin to be replaced with silence. There are no hard-pressed rules to get there. We each have our own method of finding stillness. There is no time limit we have to follow for the magic to happen. We can scratch an itch, slouch or even lie down. The key is just being still and paying attention. It’s about patience without expectation. Letting go. The phrase itself just makes you want to let out an exhale.

And that left me wondering, “Why wasn’t this helpful information included in my Mind, body Medicine text?” Even if it had been I’m convinced that I still wouldn’t have been ready to listen. My time came years later – almost an entire decade later, to be precise. I reached a point where salvation equated to two choices: lots of pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, or perhaps….something else? Of course, there had to be something else! Thankfully I chose the latter and did what any normal woman with Internet access would do in such a monumental crisis: I Googled. Lo and behold, meditation had reintroduced itself! There it was again on my computer screen, answering the question of, “How can I stop my obsessive thinking?” It right there, along side other solutions like – psychotherapy, Xanax or moving to Italy.

After reading more way to many comments and opinions about the life-changing effects of meditation, the final decision was to welcome it back into my life. But this time, it wasn’t the science that drew me in. “It” was something much deeper. It extended far beyond the information on the Internet or the health benefits. It became about something much bigger than my physical self. When I finally started to fully listen to the whisper, I felt my inner self awaken and began to find my personal path to self-realization. Connecting to that spark of divinity that everyone has within.

Meditation became a road map to my inner self – a medium that allowed me to view and to decipher the master blueprint for my being. It is in this space of stillness and silence that our truth speaks. We just have to listen. So much insight can be revealed in those sacred moments of connection. Once I began a regular practice of meditation, this awareness became most obvious. My greatest insights have occurred while sitting still, breathing and listening. I’ve heard it been said that prayer is that act of speaking to God while meditation is the art of listening.

Yogis believe that, to find God, we have to connect with that unifying place within us. That process is called, “God-realization.” That connection is to our True Self, the Self who is eternally at peace. When we mistakenly believe that our limited, material bodies are the only components of our nature, then we continue to suffer. Failing to recognize our own divinity is often the reason for our despair. The real practice of yoga is all about self-mastery. It is the dedicated effort to reach a steady state of even-mindedness, so that we can clear a path for our God-presence to be revealed.

My time was ripe. I was ready and willing to clear my path and stop the struggle. As I sat in my cross-legged position and closed my eyes, I finally connected. There were no flashing lights or waves of tingles. I was completely aware that my outside world was moving, but I felt no sense of time. I fell blissfully still as a warm glow wrapped my body. Peace and calmness transcended and I felt my whole Self smile. And it was at that moment that everything made sense.

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