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Adventures in Meditation: One year in

by Anja
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Two things helped me get through a very dark time in my life: one is Krav Maga, the other is Meditation. If I hadn’t been able to calm my mind and release the anger stuck in my chest, I probably would’ve committed suicide one day before my birthday last year. It took a lot of sweat, tears, and courage to sit down by and with myself to face my fear, anger, and shame.

It’s been a year since I started a formal meditation practice after toying with the idea for a few years. I had tried, to meditate on my own but had no idea how. The more I tried to quiet my mind the worse the noise became. I gave up in frustration after a few weeks.

Finding a community

There are few communities in my hometown. I chose the Tergar community because of meditation hours and location. As you may have read in an earlier post, I decided to go to meditation as an act of self-care. When I went to the Introduction class, I had way too much anger stuck in my chest, that turned into physical pain. Though I had read that meditation can better your life, I was skeptical that it could help me.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, photo by Tergar

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche guides the Tergar Meditation community. He is Tibetan Buddhist meditation master and has written books about meditation. He teaches it in a very accessible way anyone can understand.

Tergar is not a self-help community. Don’t expect advice on how to overcome any issues that might be bothering you. This is not what this community is about and you are expected to work on yourself. Sharing the meditation experience during each session with fellow students is encouraged.

If you want to learn more about Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s teachings, check out his YouTube channel, one of the Top 3 Buddhist Meditation channels to follow in 2018.

First steps

Tergar offers an Introduction to Meditation class once a month. It also offers free meditation sessions on Saturdays. They are open to anyone who wants to start or continue their practice.

During the introduction class, we watched a video featuring Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. In it, he explained a few simple ways to start meditating: be aware of your breath or listen to the sound. After that, it was time to do the work.

“The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.”

I didn’t know how simple it was to focus on a sound. I understood that meditating was not about clearing my mind but being present. Do you need a fancy Tibetan bowl for this? No, any sound works. The ticking of a clock, the birds, the rain or the wind outside are wonderful aids. There were moments when we had to practice as a police helicopter flew over a couple of times during a session. It is not a pleasant sound but it keeps you in the present moment in an easy way.

If you find it difficult to focus on one sound, you can always use one of the easiest tools available: your breath. Focusing on inhaling and exhaling will not only aid you in meditation, it will help you reach a state of calm.

“Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddha

Deepening the meditation practice

After the first session, I returned for a few Saturdays. After that, I stayed for The Joy of Living. This is a more in-depth nine-month meditation program created by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Anyone who’s interested in learning how to meditate from a secular point of view can attend. You can find more information here.

After a year of attending meditation sessions on a regular basis these are a few changes I’ve noticed in myself:

Less anxiety and stress

Before I started meditating, I was a bundle of anxiety and stress. My stress got so bad that I suffered from terrible back pain and had to spend two months in physiotherapy. Don’t get me started about being stuck in traffic. I had such terrible anxiety to go outside. I would do my grocery shopping online to avoid traffic… and people.

Nowadays, being stuck in traffic doesn’t stress me out anymore. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to notice things I can’t pay attention to while driving. I also feel better when going outside. Socializing with strangers doesn’t cause me as much anxiety as before.

I also wake up in a better mood than before. Things I can’t change don’t bother me as much and that is a huge plus!

Peaceful Cat embroidery

More awareness

Once I focused on the present moment while in meditation, I noticed many little things in my waking hours. I’d be stuck in traffic and see a butterfly float over cars. Or notice the faint smell of my citronella plant while washing my car. Things I’d never pay attention to before.

I also gained more awareness of my eating patterns. Before I’d grab a bite when out of boredom or stress to feel better. Now, before I stick my hands in that snack bag, I ask myself why I need to eat. I’ve also found it easier to change my snacks from potato chips to healthier alternatives, the type of shows I watch and music I listen to. You need a clean body and a clean mind to gain clarity.

“Your mind is a powerful thing. When you fill it with positive thoughts, your life will start to change.”

I’ve also become more aware of my thoughts and self-talk. How I talk to myself can make or break my day, so I focus on being nice to myself at least 51% of the day. Staying away from the news has also helped me keep my positivity up. Why worry about things I have no control over?

Better focus

When was the last time you sat down to watch your favorite show without getting distracted by your phone? For me, it had been years. I watched shows or movies while checking on social media on my phone and not paying attention to either one.

As part of my self-care routine, I needed to break my social media habit. It takes a lot of willpower to lock a phone in a drawer for an afternoon, even more, when Social Media is to activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine (I know, eww!!). Once I locked my phone up, I would sit down to watch a show or do some crafting. It was nice to immerse myself in one activity for hours and learn to enjoy them again.

If I’m falling into the Social Media rabbit hole, I unplug without stressing too much about my days offline. Afterward, I’m refreshed and have so much clarity.

More creativity

For years I worried that my creativity was running out. Trying to write a blog post was torture because I felt I had nothing meaningful to say. Once I sat in the silence for extended periods of time, my mind became clearer. The fog that had settled on my creativity finally went away.

I won’t say that now everything flows because that would be a lie, but when I get stuck I meditate for half an hour. I may not receive answers from my Higher Self right away (it might take days). When my mind is clear I’m able to listen better to what’s going on inside and the solutions show up easier than before.

Succulent

Appreciation

Focusing on the present has helped me appreciate the beauty of everyday moments. The magic of a rainbow, the fish smell of cut grass and approaching rain, for example. The introvert in me also has learned to cherish the smile and kindness of strangers.

There is one meditation we do that focuses on appreciating your hands and all they do for you. This really brings things into perspective when having a bad day.

“Trade your expectations for appreciation and your whole world changes instantly.”

After a year meditating, I’m happy to have found a sangha. A community of like-minded people from all walks of life. We support each other in our daily practice.

An important takeaway from this year is that thoughts shape reality. If they’re negative, expect negative things in your environment. If they’re positive expect awesome things along the day, no matter how big or small. Remember: thoughts become things.

“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.”

Buddha

Though I’m through with The Joy of Living, I’ll take a refresher course now and then. For now, I’m very excited to join the retreat Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche will be hosting later this month. It’s the perfect way to close this cycle that started a year ago and begins a new one.

A year later, I’ve learned to appreciate the good and the bad in life and I walk with more peace in my heart than ever before.

What about you? Do you have a meditation practice? Have you tried meditation? What is your favorite type of meditation? I would like to hear from you in the comments.

Stay weird!

anja

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