How I Taught Myself to Meditate

Before shit hit the fan, meditation was something I had only vaguely attempted at the end of a yoga class. In those seated post-savasana moments my mind would wander, usually judging the postures I had or hadn’t nailed, or reciting my to-do list for the day. It wasn’t exactly inner peace.

But one night, during the final semester of my degree, when my long-term, once wonderful relationship was breaking down, my body had become riddled with stress. 

All I craved was to feel peaceful again in my body, no matter what was happening around me. Somehow I knew the only way was to sit in stillness until I could overcome the relentless, destructive activity of my mind.

It was late at night and I was alone at home, dropping into reality. The tension in my relationship had become unbearable, I felt suffocated from the self-inflicted pressure of final assignments and the day’s caffeine-induced adrenalin had me wired.

I’d become disconnected from family and friends as I’d become increasingly anxious. Can I perform my best? Will I get the grades I want? Can I leave this place? Where will I go? Who will I be? Will I be ok?

I dimmed the lights and sat cross-legged with my back against the sofa. As my focus became a blur of colours from the rug in front of me I began to turn inward and become more aware of my body. My jaw was clenched and my frown reached all the way around my eyes. My ribcage had barely moved all day from shallowness of breath. I started to soften throughout my body and gently expanded and steadied my breath.

Focusing on the breath to slow mental chatter was something yoga teachers had encouraged during a challenging posture. But I’d never fully explored the power of the breath until I was away from my mat, sat quietly at home and in a pretty fragile state. 

With deeper breathing my heart rate began to steady and the tightness in my throat began to release. I’d already become a little calmer. My thoughts persisted, but it was like I’d stepped outside of them and was observing their activity. They swung like a pendulum, reflecting on the past, worrying about the future. But conscious breathing stole their momentum and eventually I was no longer aware of my breath. There was just stillness.

I had drifted into what felt like a white space behind closed eyes. It was like gazing into an expansive peaceful wall of light. It was in this moment I first experienced mental silence: a suspension of the mind, a fleeting moment of no thought. It was simultaneously peaceful and electrifying and probably lasted no more than a few seconds before my mind jolted me into, “Whoa! That’s what it feels like to meditate!”

It was a high like I’d never felt before, the greatest sense of aliveness I’d ever experienced. As soon as I had lost it, I wanted to feel it again, but the harder I tried to re-enter that space, the more it eluded me.

Something, somewhere told me to ‘effort-less’. But then I became caught up in the effort of not efforting and it all got way too complicated. But when I brought my attention back to breath I was brought back to calmness. When I released any desire to effort and any desire to effort-less, my gaze relaxed behind my lids, my breathing was no longer conscious and I slipped into silence again.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Even today, more than two years later, my meditation experience is different each day. Sometimes I’ll move into a space of no thought soon after closing my eyes, other times 15 minutes will pass before I realise all I’ve done is think think think.

I might go for days, even weeks without meditating, particularly if it seems the good old Universe is working my way. But all I know is this: the commitment to sit in stillness for twenty or so minutes each day (even if much of it is spent in thought) is enough to make me less reactive, more creative, more connected, and above all, more at peace; no matter what.

My Suggestions for a Daily Meditation Practice

Try to meditate in the morning (before checking your phone), it will set a better day in motion

Start with 5 or 10 minutes per day and build up to 20 or 30 minutes for a more nourishing practice

Create a space where your lower back and pelvis are supported

Wrap a blanket around your shoulders to keep warm and feel settled

If you sense the need to move, don’t block it. It’s ok to not be perfectly still all the time, just recognise when it becomes fidgeting

Don’t beat yourself up if you spent the whole time in thought; you committed to some ‘you time’ and created some stillness in your day

Persevere when starting or re-starting a meditation practice, even if you don’t sense the benefits, be patient and you’ll experience a rewarding breakthrough

Try to meditate each day, even when life feels breezy: you’ll excel in the good times and cope better in the tough times

Image: James Joel

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