I have started and stopped meditation so many times in my life. It’s a concept that seems to get a mention in every counselling session and every self-help article there is — meditating is given as the ultimate solution to a wide variety of problems. From reducing stress, increasing self-awareness, increasing kindness, and supporting emotional health, through to actively benefitting long term memory, fighting addiction, improving sleep, and controlling blood pressure… The benefits are huge, and varied.
I was first given a guided meditation to listen to and follow along with as a result of a few sessions with a psychologist, back in 2006. I remember distinctly; my mum put on the CD in the living room and the voice that came on was my psychologist’s own. I cringed so hard. His guidance felt cheesy and really rather uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that I was 16 years old, didn’t get it/anything, didn’t really know how to ask for or receive help, and was really only at the beginning of what would be a big journey towards understanding my own anxiety and tendencies towards depression. At that point, I was really only dipping a toe in, and I had very little understanding of what meditation, of all things, was going to do for me. Needless to say, that CD didn’t get a second playing.
I picked up the idea again in earnest in 2013, when after a huge crisis and a move to Melbourne, I needed to figure out how to stop myself pitching forward into a black hole at every emotional change. I have since tried two different apps, as well as the occasional meditation class, but it is only as of recently that I have begun to feel like I am ‘getting it’. Maybe I’ve got a thicker skull than most, but finally I can say with confidence, it has been worth the persistence.
I first downloaded Calm in 2013. A simple app, it plays natural sounds (or ‘meditation-y’ music) for a set period of time. More recently the guided meditations have been all but shut down to subscription payers, and it was as that happened that I sought out something else, being unconvinced of the value of the cost. While Calm is a very nice app, the guided meditations were always quite basic and I felt that my sitting and thinking wasn’t really getting anywhere — I wasn’t sure what I was meant to be doing, and that seemed to get in the way of meditating. I wracked up whole months of continuous meditating, but I didn’t feel much progress. I also felt I could access ‘meditation mode’ when I had the app on, but it was an isolated moment in my day. The ‘lessons’ of my session didn’t seem to bleed out into my actual life.
I decided to try Headspace this year. In an effort to make a more dedicated pursuit of good health and balance, I started to follow Headspace’s Basic pack, before moving on to the Level 1, then the Creativity series. Headspace has been an incredible game-changer. I have now meditated for 51 days in a row, and it’s firmly part of my daily morning practice (but more on this soon…).
Andy Puddicombe has changed my life. At first I thought, this guy? Really? His voice is a bit funny, he’s not exactly the most ‘yogalithic’ person to listen to, the way most meditation guides tend to be… But he’s cracked it. Andy’s a genius. It’s precisely because Headspace is free of anything spiritual, anything to do with chakras or incense or veganism or anything else that you might stereotypically associate with meditation studios, that makes it so effective. Headspace is real. It applies to real, everyday instances. In 2012, Puddicombe said that to do meditation you ‘don’t need to burn any incense, and you definitely don’t have to sit on the floor.’ You don’t even have to sit. on .the. floor.
And too right. 50 days in and I officially meditate everywhere — on the bus, on the tube (not an easy feat, if you know anything about London), at work, in bed, and yeah, okay, occasionally I sit cross-legged on the floor. But it’s begun to permeate everything. 50 days in and I can feel it.
‘All you need to do is take 10 minutes a day to step back to familiarise yourself, with the present moment so that you get to experience a greater sense of focus, calm and clarity in your life.’
I really don’t know what life has in store for me, from one minute to the next. I’m lucky to live an okay life in an established city; my challenges are rarely to do with my actual survival. But I am also a person who has been working through anxiety and depression for a decade of their short life already. To ignore meditation would be a wilful act of self-sabotage.
Whether it’s my shift in attitude or the delicious feeling of having added another day to my streak that drives me, I make sure to find the time to sit down and do the work. And I don’t care which it is — in the end, I have benefitted enormously. I’m a big believer in doing what you have to do to motivate yourself to get it done. It doesn’t matter if my intentions are for the love of mindfulness or not. That’s a happy side effect, either way.
I admit it: I have since moved on to trying mantra, to kundalini in particular, to understanding a lot more about all the hippy-dippy-wishy-washy stuff I used to roll my eyes at. I happily chant ‘Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo’. I happily practice fire breathing. But even without any of that, I will keep on sitting down to my meditation practice each day, because you definitely do not need those extra things. At 50 days and counting, I have begun to embody that bigger-than-my-mind feeling, that quietening of thoughts, that ability to focus, and that expansion into the universe that so many self-help guides promised me I would feel…
I still prefer listening to the Chemical Brothers over meditation-y music, but the great thing is that I can pick and choose as I need. The principles of mindfulness have begun to form a part of me, just as I am, in everyday life. No chanting, no incense, no chakra-opening required.