About a year ago today I graduated from a 3 day Transcendental Meditation course. It was only 2 hours each day but it was 3 days straight so pretty involved for something I thought just involved shutting your mind off. It turns out meditation isn't so easy.
The first time I really had an inkling about what meditation was about was in college when I studied abroad in India. As part of the curriculum, we spent a weekend living at an Aurobindo Ashram. It was the kind of place where all 10 of us girls on the program lived in a single room, and you were supposed to eat in silence and walk around the grounds not making too much of a fuss about anything. The people that lived there permanently wore all white all the time. I never really bought into the whole thing but the complex was beautiful and along the Ganges river, which is a holy waterway in Hindu culture. Every morning there was an optional meditation session at 5am so I went to check it out. Sitting in silence for an hour while the sun rose and the heat of the Indian day crept in, I noticed something. I started seeing things on the back of my eyelids and then I felt like I was sinking deep into myself, like I was falling in my brain. It was a really strange phenomenon.
Therefore, when I had the opportunity to do this meditation course I took it. I figured that there are studies that show it is helpful with stress.
I can't give away all the secrets of TM practice, but essentially what TM consists of is meditating twice a day, every day, for 20 minute stretches. You can sit anywhere you want as long as your head isn't resting against anything (I think otherwise you might fall asleep). You are supposed to have a little food in your stomach (so it isn't grumbling away while you are trying to focus!). You are also supposed to give yourself a few minutes to kind of "warm up" and "cool down". And the most important part is you receive a mantra that you are basically supposed to say to yourself while you are meditating (in your head, not outloud). I think the idea is that if you are fixated on a mantra then your mind can't go off to all the places it normally goes off to.
I was pretty good for a few days. Devote, in fact. But soon I was on a business trip to India and my schedule completely shifted and I couldn't keep it up. When I returned I got a "tune up" to get me back into it, which was helpful, but I still didn't really commit.
A few months later I thought I could benefit from meditating but I couldn't commit 40 minutes a day. For 40 minutes a day, I figured I could go to the gym. So I cut down to a 10-15 minute session on an as needed basis.
Though I never really became absorbed in the practice, what I do appreciate about my time learning how to do meditation is that it feels like a tool I now have in my back pocket. I am a generally anxious person and I can feel when I wake up sometimes that it is going to be a rough day if I don't at least try and meditate first.
Certainly meditation is gaining more steam in the "western world" as something legitimate, almost an exercise in and of itself. And I honestly believe that to be true. It is exercise for your mind. And while you can get some of those benefits while actually exercising, I think you probably get more meditating, or combining the two.
I keep wondering why it has been such an immense struggle to keep up with a regular meditation routine when all it would take is sleeping 20 minutes less a day, and I realize it comes back to mindfulness. Mindfulness as a general concept is difficult for humans to grasp, at least in this day and age. We are so fixated on the next thing - the next step in our day, our week, our year, the conversation we had last night, etc. It is so hard to just - be. And meditation forces you to and least try and do that. Just be, without thought, without worry, without concern. Just existing.
Here's to hoping that with this reflection and the anniversary of my learning, I will get back into a rhythm of meditating. And you should try it to, even if it is another type of meditation - something is better than nothing! I use a meditation timer app to help me focus - it lets you set times for a warm up, the meditation session itself, and a cool down. Just another 21st century tech blitz meeting a centuries old practice.