An adaptation of my first assignment for meditation teacher training. Disclaimer: this is very much an account of the key benefits that I have personally experienced as a result of meditating, and not a comprehensive description of all the potential benefits one might experience through a regular practice!
I began meditating in 2014, whilst I was living in a pokey roach-infested flat in Finsbury Park, London. I lived there with my two best friends from university, fulfilling a dream we had created together at Cardiff University that we would go and sample what our capital city had to offer to three young, excited women. Despite its pokey-ness we all loved this flat, it was the starting-out-in-London dream; actually affordable (just), less than a 5 minute walk to the tube station (the Victoria line no less, for those that know), close to a generous expanse of green space in the form of Finsbury Park, and with a great pub close by (the Faltering Fullback, swoon).
My meditation started with the Headspace app, a brilliant and well-guided introduction to mindfulness meditation that was easy to fit into my life, and quickly debunked many of the myths I held about meditation. Little attention was given on the correct sitting posture and there was no mention of the need to ‘clear your mind’, and I quickly realised the fallacy of emptying the mind or stopping your thoughts was just that.
For the next five years this was largely the basis of my traditional meditation practice. I was working in prisons in North London at the time, and though I loved my job working with people who wanted to address their drug and alcohol misuse, one of the things I really struggled with was not bringing the emotions of my day back into my evenings and weekends. I would almost always hear stories and have conversations that left me feeling bereft. Stories of how people had been let down, abused, or had self-medicated to the point where they sometimes had little hope and greatly diminished self-esteem. But, all of them had the strength left, somehow, to want for change and to want for better for them and their families, even though the road to sobriety from addiction is long and exhausting, and for some a lifelong journey.
On some days I would feel guilty as I left the prison, knowing that had my own upbringing or life events been slightly different and less fortunate, I could easily have traded places with any one of the men or women who I came to like and respect.
In this context was born the first noticeable benefit of meditation for me; sitting on my bed after work (or on the tube if I was heading straight out somewhere) and taking ten minutes to allow my mind to settle and focus after my day meant I was able to bring more of myself, my attention and my energy into my own personal time. Alongside this, I noticed a general increase in appreciation for…well pretty much everything. I started to notice more things in the world – small but beautiful things which had always been there but had previously been invisible as my own internal monologue of thoughts took centre-stage.
In 2015 I added a regular yoga practice into the mix – a moving meditation (when I chose to view it as such) that made me feel physically strong, empowered and kicked off a journey towards increasing self-acceptance and self-love. This journey has not been a linear one but all told, I move further down the path I have chosen to take each year.
I stayed with Headspace until 2019, and for the latter two years combined it with an increasing practice of unguided meditations, particularly in bed at night or in the morning. At night, I would (and mostly still do) take five minutes to breathe intentionally, relax my body bit by bit until it feels heavy on the mattress, and mentally say thanks for a couple of the things that have featured in my day. For me, it helps to smooth the process of falling asleep, acting as a marker to turn down the volume on the ‘thinking’ mind, and enabling my sleep to be less disrupted and feel more replenishing when I wake up the next morning.
Then in 2019, after conversations with a good friend from school and my (now) mother-in-law, I took a course in Transcendental Meditation (TM). Through this 4-day course I was blessed not only to learn the technique alongside my mother, but also to meet a very dear friend in my meditation teacher. It would be fair to say that the benefits I derived from TM were more instantaneous and hard-hitting for me than from the mindfulness practice.
At first, even the novel feeling of ‘dropping down’ (as I have come to describe it informally) sparked a great curiosity and satisfaction in seeing the capacity for altered states of consciousness without the ingestion of any substance!
But most evidently, it was the increase in energy and focus that really captured my interest. After meditating in those early days I would feel a surge of clean energy that was both focused and relaxed at the same time, and allowed me to practically get a lot done with minimal effort. Things I might have avoided doing after a long day at work such as washing and tidying didn’t feel like an effort. I was ‘in’ the activities a lot more rather than being distracted by a wandering mind, and so time seemed to stretch as I was able to pack more into each day without feeling rushed or worn down.
As I have continued to practice TM, the surge in energy is more maintained and so less noticeable, but I know by the amount that I do and the energy I have for it, that it is an undercurrent running through my day-to-day life.
Alongside this and having built more gradually, is an intrinsic feeling that I am connected to the rest of nature; that the consciousness that flows within me, also flows within other humans, animals and plants and that I am a part of nature and of the world rather than an observer of it. I notice for example, that where once I would squash a small spider I was scared of in a bit of tissue, I now have to release them and their bigger counterparts out into the garden. I see this realisation as a benefit, because not only has it enhanced my spirituality and fostered a genuine wonder and appreciation for the complexity and diversity of this world, but it has given my life more meaning.
It has changed my feelings about life, and death; an increased feeling that ‘things are the way they are meant to be’ in life, and that as I age and eventually leave my body in death I will go on to other things, released into the world in a new way.
Throw into the mix an increasingly effortless ability to let things go which I don’t have control of, and therefore a much higher tolerance for stressful or traditionally ‘irritating’ situations (loud noises, things going wrong, unexpected delays etc), and the impacts of meditation on my life are hard to overstate.
It is in this knowledge that I am embarking on meditation teacher training, with the British School of Meditation – I start today! The driver for this was not actually a desire to start teaching meditation, but more an academic pursuit designed to enhance my own understanding of meditation to support my ever-developing practice.
Because the cool thing about meditation is that it is ever changing, because we are ever changing.
If at some point I decide to teach meditation, then the course will have been a pivotal milestone on that road, but I go into next week with an open and curious mind, excited to meet others who are also excited about meditation and its possibilities, and as always with a hunger for discovering something new about consciousness and the thing that makes us all… well, us.