Before and after: Tracking the benefits of meditation over eight years of journaling

Life isn’t a scientific experiment, but as this meditation teacher found, journaling is a great way to see how things are changing

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Rory Kinsella meditating in Chile

I’ve recently been re-reading the journal I’ve kept for the last eight years. It starts about two years before I learned to meditate and has continued for six years since. 

It’s been fascinating to see how my perception of myself and things that have happened has changed over the years. There’s a marked difference in how I am before and after. 

When anyone learns to meditate it can be difficult to track progress because we don’t live our lives like scientific experiments. We’re not able to control all the variables and make meditation the only thing that changes. But, as I tell my meditation students, keeping a journal is a great way to see get some sort of an idea.

The first entry is in late 2012 when I was at the beginning of what I call my early midlife crisis. I’d started to realise that some of my behaviours and ways of thinking were no longer sustainable, but didn’t yet know how to change them. But I had at least started journaling which was bringing things into my awareness – and awareness is the first step of any change. 

When I was reading the journal, I was shocked at how hard I was on myself. In every area of my life I was ripping into myself for things I’d done wrong or should have known or should have done better or differently. There was lots of use of the word “should”.

At work, I’d be worrying about my performance and how I was doing different aspects of my job. When something went wrong I’d take it personally. If there were disagreements, I’d set people up in my head as my enemy or nemesis and build up rivalries over things that were no more than differences of perspective or opinion.

In my social life, I was drinking and partying pretty hard and I’d berate myself for the states I got into. I’d add guilt to my already frail hungover states, which didn’t help at all. 

And I’d often get pointlessly paranoid. I’d take an offhand comment someone made on a night out and turn it into a big thing in my head and start doubting key parts of my identity. 

But after I learned to meditate, most of this drama falls out of the journal almost completely. My way of viewing things before had been self-absorbed and fragile. My egocentric way of seeing things meant that my sense of wellbeing was at the mercy of external events and what people thought of me. Any criticism or outward failure would hit me hard.

But afterwards I became more inner directed in terms of my fulfilment. Life still went on with its ups and downs, its successes and failures, but I didn’t take things so personally. 

At work I adopted a new motto: “There’s no failure, only feedback of information.” If things went wrong I wasn’t necessarily to blame and I also didn’t have to apportion fault to anyone else – including my former enemies. I was much more able to take the position that everyone was acting from good intensions and that unforeseen things sometimes happen. No one can predict the future.

The Vedic perspective: Widening the lens

From the Vedic perspective, I would describe it as my perception having widened. Rather than being closely focussed on myself, the small me, my ego and my role in things, I was much more able to see the bigger picture. I was able to widen the lens and take in more context, to see the wider lay of the land. 

Rather than being lost in my own rivalries, my personal triumphs and failures, I was more able to see things in their proper context and not get worked up by them. I was able to achieve a much more level sense of wellbeing, rather than being on an ego-driven rollercoaster.

My behaviours also changed – not overnight but gradually. If I didn’t want to drink on a night out, I’d be confident enough to stick to my guns, even if my friends were twisting my arm.

I drank less as I had fewer sorrows to drown. I treated people better in relationships. And the language of the journal completely changes. 

There’s much less of the language of necessity, where I’d say I “should” be doing this or I “must” do that. It changed to the language of possibility – I “can” do this, I “can” do that. Then to the language of choice – I “want” to do this, I “don’t want” to do that. I “choose” to do this.

And I stopped trying to control everything, which is always a futile effort. Life started to flow a lot more easily. 

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