I recently watched a Ted Talk by Light Watkins (worth a watch – see here) in which he says that meditation has a huge image problem, and I’m inclined to agree. He primarily speaks of people’s beliefs around why they can’t meditate and the myths that need to be busted (that’s another blog!).
But over the new year, whilst taking part in a five-day meditation retreat, I began to realise that I was also perhaps a little guilty of painting meditation as something less than it really is…
Usually when speaking about the potential benefits of meditation, I simply reel off a list – reduce anxiety, calm the mind, aid sleeplessness – it’s not to say that these aren’t important and fantastic benefits of meditation, they definitely are; but I believe that this can somehow miss the point.
It’s when these types of conditions improve that we open the door up to a whole new way of being. By improving the mind in these ways, the energy previously used up on anxious thought, rumination and irrelevant likes or dislikes is now free to sweep through our bodies and minds and unleash the passion, creativity and joy that has sometimes been hiding on us. As Light Watkins says in his talk, it’s often in the most subtle of ways that we first see these changes, but in having more mental and emotional capacity we tend to experience our lives in a much more full and positive way. It’s not about being happy all the time, but we can respond much more effectively and creatively to the ups and the downs that we encounter in our lives.
I myself have used meditation very much as a management tool over the last twelve months, following the death of my mom. As anyone who has lost someone close to them knows, it permeates every area of your life. There is the obvious initial emotional turmoil, but as Sheryl Sandberg says in Option B (again – highly recommend this book) a loss impacts your self-confidence, your work capacity, hope for the future, physical health… and more. Losing my mom has tested my emotional capacities the most and again and again I’ve turned to meditation to help me to ‘manage’ some of those difficult emotions – to find a way to sit with the feelings and to notice where I’m holding them in my body.
For that I am grateful and I count myself lucky to have access to teachers, books and talks where people share their insights and wisdom on life, living and dying.
But over new year I was slowly shown once again the potential that the mind has when it is gently and consistently attended to, as we do when in meditation. The space created allowed me not only to hold my own range of (mostly difficult) emotions but also to see the glimmers of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Despite the sorrow at the end of the first full year without her, I was inspired to make new connections with friends and to find new and usually ridiculous things to laugh at. The pleasure in a simple cup of tea was revealed! Since then as I’ve continued with my practice I have found new ways to connect with the spirit of my mom and the memories that i thought I had lost have resurfaced. I realise that life may be different, but not over, and not without an ongoing connection to my mom.
It’s taken over a year to come to that feeling. Although I still feel huge sadness, this opening up to new possibilities and new ways of being has been incredibly special, and a big reminder that meditation can open up the mind and heart in ways that are difficult to describe, but exciting and rewarding to experience.
In Buddhism they speak of moving from the ‘reactive mind’ to the ‘creative mind’ – a mind that is adaptable, peaceful and one that can help us get to where we want to be, with greater ease. For me, meditation is one of the paths that can help us find our way to this expanded state.