Meditations for the Mind That Won't Shut Up
I remember being in India five years ago. I was traveling from place to place and volunteering as I went but I was also exploring my own spiritual journey. More than anything, I just wanted to let go. I was tired of all the baggage I'd been carrying around in my mind. I wanted it gone.
Hindsight would belatedly inform me that the lessons we most need to learn don't just go away because we've had enough of them.
I was staying in beautiful McLeod Ganj and I'd attended a few meditation sessions that hadn't seemed to even begin to quieten the chatter in my head. I swear I caught my thoughts laughing at me. "She thinks she can make us go away! How funny! Talk louder, everyone. Talk LOUDER".
During my stay I decided to go along to a meditation morning in the quiet of the mountains. McLeod Ganj is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and is populated by a great many peaceful Tibetans. Its like a starter kit to getting your zen on. Except my zen was as elusive as ever.
Along with a group of other enlightenment seekers, I found myself sitting on the floor of a beautiful light drenched space with incense burning and good chi flowing. I just knew that something wonderful was about to happen, that during this morning of exploration and contemplation there would be a shift in my mind.
We were guided through our meditation by a very serene teacher who seemed to exude effortless calm. He was the kind of guy you looked at and thought "I'll have what he's having".
There, in that most tranquil of places, I closed my eyes, sat in lotus position (or my lopsided version of) and kept my spine straight so the prana could flow. I waited for the magic to happen.
After half an hour I snapped my eyes open. Apparently everyone else was seemingly able to drop into a clear mind whilst I was sitting there thinking about lunch and wondering why meditation sessions had to be so damn early.
I was in the zenniest of zen places and I felt no closer to any kind of inner awareness. I was hungry and I wanted a nap.
It would take me many more months (a few years in fact) to realise that my peace of mind would be achieved in a different way.
I'd go on to train as a yoga teacher and run my own classes. I would teach in London and Cyprus and I would try as hard as I could to find that place in my mind where my thoughts would fall away, leaving me with a blanket of soothing calm.
It wasn't until I began truly embracing my creativity that I realised that the actual process of creating was my meditation. When I was taking photos or writing poetic pieces, my mind felt free.
Each creation afforded me a sense of peace. Each offering led to an easier breath.
I'd become so fixated on what I thought was the 'right' way to meditate that I'd forgotten how much easier the flow was when I simply trusted myself to find my own way. Once I understood that there was more than one path I found more ways to ease my mind:
Creativity can take any form that works for the individual. Writing, photography, painting, sketching, pottery, baking, crochet, jewellery making, coloring, gardening - the list is plentiful.
I'm a big believer in experimental creative play - overanalyzing stifles creativity and robs it of its joy. Any artistic pursuit that keeps the mind focused and present whilst also releasing anxiety and stress is a winner.
Contrary to what the name suggests there is no water involved in a gong bath. Offered by some yoga studios as a form of sound therapy it's a beautiful relaxation practice where waves of gentle gongs wash over the mind.
After a few minutes of very gentle asana and prananyama each person lays on their yoga mat in savasana and the gongs are played for approximately 45 minutes.
Because the brain cannot easily identify and follow the sounds of the gongs, it stops trying to process the information and instead slips into a state of surrender. From this point it is easier to fall into a more meditative state.
Another amazing experience I had was at a yoga workshop in London. After some restorative asana our teacher guided us into a Circular Om. Chanting Om is fairly standard in many yoga classes but this was the first time I'd experienced it in a circular form.
The first Om is started by everyone at the same time, but instead of everyone beginning the next Om in unison (which is the usual way), each individual commences their next Om whenever they are ready.
The result is a chorus of Om's that all start and finish at separate times yet somehow manage to blend together in total harmony. During this experience I truly felt a true meditative release and it moved me to tears.
Flowing through set sequences in practices such as yoga or tai chi are absorbing in themselves, but I believe all movement can be meditative. Walking, running and dancing are just a few examples of repetitive movement that can take us into the 'zone'.
There's a line I love from the wonderful movie The Peaceful Warrior: "Sometimes you have to lose your mind before you come to your senses". Movement can take us out of our mind and help engage our senses in a way that can be elusive through stillness.
There is more than one way to live this life, more than one way to dance, to dream or to discover. It stands to reason that there would also be more than one way to meditate.
Trusting my own intuition has been instrumental in clearing the weeds from my spiritual path. I also know that I need to keep checking back in with my inner guide - what works for me today may not hold the same value in a few years, perhaps even months.
The journey continues.