Here are a few reasons I did not want to meditate:
I had no time. It’s silly. I am not a Buddhist. I was not looking for enlightenment. I didn’t want anything religious. I didn’t think it would work. I was too tired. Paying attention to my thoughts, sounded crazy. “Check-in with how my body is feeling, seriously?” I am smart enough to figure stuff out, I don’t need to sit on a cushion and think about nothing.” It’s too boring and long.
This is not an exhaustive list, just an example of what I would say to myself when my friends, family, therapist, co-workers and dentist would suggest I try mindful meditation. It was not on my radar. I am by nature, a ‘do-er’, I like to get stuff done and I do not like asking for help. The idea that sitting and just being would help me was stupidity. So I went about my routine; I slept badly, if at all, I had terrible daily headaches and stomach aches, I cracked a few more teeth and still… still I refused to accept that how I was feeling was manifesting itself in my body as physical pain and discomfort. This lack of awareness is even more incomprehensible as I was, (and still am) a mental health professional. I have received a Masters in Applied Psychology on two continents and spent most days coaching and counselling people to prioritize their own mental health.
So when did I begin to meditate?
My family and I were offered a three year expat job in SE Asia, we thought that a change of scenery would help and the opportunity to live and travel in that part of the world was an offer we could not turn down. Living in SE Asia was extraordinary – everything was different and exciting: the language, culture, food and climate. My family were really enjoying everything that was on offer but I was increasingly anxious, tired, stressed and lonely. I couldn’t seem to enjoy anything, I micromanaged every situation and planned things to within an inch of my sanity. I took pictures of beautiful meals, exotic fruits, my smiling children on white beaches and wondered, “what the hell is wrong with me, why aren’t I enjoying this?”.
The short answer is: I was not allowing myself. The longer answer is that due to habits and patterns that I had perfected over years, I just did not know how to. I knew how to plan the “happy life”, I knew what it looked like and what I wanted but I was completely incapable of enjoying what I had created. I was never just there – on the beach, or eating amazing fish on a banana leaf… I was planning the next meal, the next task OR – my other favourite habit – critiquing other events and situations that I could have handled better.
At some point, I was given a book called, ‘Buddha’s Brain, happiness, love & wisdom’ by Rick Hanson. Reluctantly, I read it. There was a shift in my understanding of the mind, and the brain and how this very integrated system could actually be honed and trained. The mind can change the brain and vice versa but there can be almost no sustained, positive change when the mind is always in its most primitive, Fight, Fright and Freeze mode. I learned that anyone, including me, who was always stressed, anxious, tense and worried was blocking the minds natural ability to soothe, rebalance and maintain equilibrium in the brain.
One of the ways that we can learn to train and hone our brains is meditation. So my first “buy in” was the science, my second “buy in” took a bit longer.
As I was living in Asia, the home of many wise traditions, I tried out several different meditation centres and teachers. None really helped me, I would sit and try to just not think about anything stressful, I would try to relax my muscles and my posture- I tried really hard to be good at it. Oftentimes, I felt more stressed out after I meditated, however I did begin to notice how negative my ‘self-talk’ was and noticed that my head and face were extremely tense.
About seven months into my journey to learn meditation – I met a man who I thought was a Buddhist monk, turns out he was a gardener, but he had the monastic looking robes on, so maybe you can understand my mistake. I was in the gardens waiting to pick up my children from their activity and was open to a chat. After a few minutes of ‘chit-chat’ the gardener said he was just going to sit over the other side of the little wall and breathe for a few minutes before he went home for the day. “Breathe for a few minutes?” I thought.
This man said that he had been breathing/ meditating like this, everyday for as long as he could remember. When I asked him why he started to meditate, his answer was a complete revelation to me. He said, “my mother told me that I’d better like myself because sometimes you are the only person who will, and the only way to know yourself was to sit and listen.” His mother explained that if he was going on a long journey of 80 + years with somebody he would want to know them. He would want to know what made them happy, sad, angry, anxious, he would want to know how they reacted to situations, what happened when they suffered, what made them joyous and he would want to like them.So there you have it: the final “buy in”, I really wanted to like myself, to know myself, I wanted to know how to look after myself and how to be happy.
From that moment on, the time I took everyday to meditate became a time of curiosity about what was going on in my mind. Without much effort I noticed patterns and habits; sensations and emotions as they appeared in my body. When I did not feel the need to fix them or judge them, it was easier to just notice them. Not to give the impression that it was plain sailing, and I was just sitting lotus pose for 3 hours a day! Far from it, I had denied myself a lot of compassion and kindness over the years and when I became conscious of this I cried a lot and felt something akin to grief – grief for all the suffering I had caused myself. Being able to meet these strong emotions with acceptance and kindness was an incredibly empowering, humbling and poignant moment in my life. I had begun to know this person I was going to journey through life with, she was funny and kind, clever and practical and I liked her.
Meditation is now a part of my daily life and I teach it to anyone who wants to learn. One of the best gifts you can give yourself and the people that you love is, yourself. It’s not about being perfect, I still get a bit anxious and I still have to remind myself to slow-down but I can see my patterns and habits from a mile away – I can divert the path and choose how I want to respond to situations and feelings rather than be caught in the never-ending exhaustive cycle of fear and reaction.
Meditation may not be for everyone but I am yet to meet a person who would not benefit from becoming their own best friend.
Sara Copley, MA. IMCPP