I started a meditation practice during my teens. It wasn’t (initially) a way to connect with my mind. It was a novel opportunity. Then I learned how powerful meditation can be.
I was going to school in Germany, and the opportunity to take a field trip to a monastery came up. The student trip was billed as a meditation retreat. I thought, “Wow! A real LIVE monastery with monks and all!” The surface level excitement drove me to take the field trip to a place where a bunch of doods in robes chanted and had beautiful, ornate, jewel-covered statuary. The monks followed a strict routine of mass, contemplation, and service-work. “Who does that?” I remember thinking. “Isn’t that a boring life?” I expected to show up, chill out, and get some good pictures, that was it.
Little did I know just how much the trip would change my life.
I went, and I got sick. I mean, puking my guts out sick. Any time I closed my eyes, drew attention to my mind, I had a cacaphony of images rush in. Dizzying influx of mental information. My first day of contemplative meditation led to fits of vomiting throughout the night, and a general malaise for the rest of the trip. It felt like my insides were coming out. It seemed like if I tried to get off the dizzying thought train, my physical body went off the rails. I didn’t understand. The other students weren’t having the same reaction. Was it the food? No one else got sick. Was it the intention? I showed up with a superficial appreciation for the powerful technique. What about what everyone else was doing? My classmates were reaching a zen-like state of chill, and I was getting sick.
While I was self-conscious about my physical experience, something really moved my spirit. I felt a call. When I left the monastery, I vowed to keep at the meditation practice (even if my body went puke wild). I was so intrigued at the experience I had with my mind that I resolved to keep at it. I wanted to reach that zen-like state that I saw others achieve, that the monks created in their routine of mass, contemplation, and service-work.
That was twenty years ago.
I’ve since started studying Ayurveda, the divine teachings from Vedic culture, aka the way to looks at individuals as individuals. We are different combinations of humors, energies, materials. Ayurveda also teaches the mind is a sensory organ, a part of the body-physical experience that acts as a sort of extension of the central nervous system. I’ve learned that spiritual practices have effects based on the individual person, not the expectation of what would happen. Information goes in. Brain gets input. Body acts. It’s just like your ears, eyes, skin, mouth and nose—think of all the things those organs do! Now cc: your mind.
The lingering memory of the experience of the experience at the monastery, plus the information from Ayurveda (which freed me from the comparison and empowered me with the consideration that I reacted in a different way to the practice, not bad and not good), started to shift my thinking to recognize that my mind was capable of creating physical reactions. It’s an experiment. How do you react to practices? I learned that the mind expels toxins just as real and tangible as toxic thoughts. (Yeah, I’m no stranger to negative thinking. I can think of a lot that needed to purge.)
I kept at the meditation practice, although it admittedly wavered in strength and duration over the years. My practice depended on my motivation, my ability to sit still, and my ability to show up despite so many perceived reasons not to (show up). I thought of the monks often, those men who dedicated their lives to showing up, contemplation, and service work.
There was one day not too long ago (and keep in mind that it’s been nearly twenty years of meditation PRACTICE) that I was sitting at my desk in my home office and an odd feeling descending in my mind. Not in my brain, not in my body, not in my physical space, not in my “being,” but in my mind. It was a feeling in the filter, as if I had put on rose-colored glasses. Things felt different, like I was receiving them (in my mind) in a way that was new and novel. That’s actually what made me realize the shift—I looked up from my desk, noticed Post-its stuck on the file cabinet immediately next to me, the evening light coming in the window, the disarray of papers and craft supplies. I looked at them and I felt calm in the way that I received the image of them. The sight of that stuff usually triggered mental to-do lists, and inner critique about having stuff everywhere, and resignation that it was the end of the day and not the beginning.
I finally had a moment of zen. I experienced that chill state.
Just as soon as it came, it left. It was at that moment I felt validated, that my long-term meditation practice really got me out of my mind enough to create real change in it. Remove some baseline negative patterning. Allow the incessant thoughts to not superimpose themselves on everything I saw.
I’ve learned that clearing your mind needs to happen before you actually feel your mind. Use it in a way that you train your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and touch. I never thought it would take me twenty years to arrive to a state of zen.