Meditation is my jam. I do it every morning, and have consistently for a couple years.
With that said, if someone asked me if I was any good at it, I would confidently answer, No. My mind is like a freight train with seemingly unstoppable momentum. When I'm meditating, it usually feels like I miss the mark more than I hit it.
But when I hit that mark, it's like I dive into another world. A world that's always been there, but I just didn't know how to access it. I still don't. Except sometimes.... sometimes I find my way in.
The main benefit I've noticed, and the reason I've stuck with it as long as I have, is the noticeable effects it has my my stress and anxiety levels.
I'm the type to think myself into a frenzy. I'll create a whirlwind of anxiety and magnify the stresses in my life, all with the power of my untamed mind.
Since life is better when you're not enduring a never-ending storm of anxiety, I meditate, and it helps.
You know when your iPhone is running slow, kicking you out of apps, and acting glitchy, so you double tap the home screen, shut down a bunch of apps, then reopen the one you are trying to use?
That's how I see meditation. Clearing out the junk you don't need so you can focus with calm, laser like precision on whatever it is you're doing.
Now, despite my loyalty to meditation, I know very little about it and the philosophies surrounding it.
So when my wife, Maria, told me about this meditation class at the Botanical Gardens here in Fort Worth, Tx, I jumped at it.
We were both pumped, and I was extremely curious about what we'd learn.
The class, and the meditations the teacher guided us through, were everything I hoped they would be.
The First Meditation
Ten of us sat quietly waiting for class to start. The teachers chair had a side table with a flower, a couple books, and a photo of what looked to be a Buddhist monk.
Behind the teachers chair was a window which revealed a water fall and a stone wall crawling with vines.
I was feeling more relaxed already.
When the teacher entered, everyone stood up and folder their hands in front of them. Maria and I were late to the draw since we didn't anticipate this. We later learned that this is a Buddhist tradition, and is a way of paying respect to the teachings, not the teacher.
We opened the class with a meditation.
He suggested we establish a virtuous intent, keep it close to our heart, and meditate on it. I felt like I was scrambling to come up with one, and defaulted to the mission of my business. To progress and evolve, and help others do the same.
The teacher had us focus on our breath during this meditation, and he used a cue that I found particularly helpful.
"Bring your mind and breath closer together."
My mind and breath felt like they were miles apart during this first meditation, but this cue gave me a great objective that would serve me better later on.
He made sure we understood that when we are focusing on our breath, observing the air going all the way in and out, our mind may wander off. When it does, just bring it back to the breath without worrying about it.
When our mind gets crazy, the breath is our anchor. Which led us into the talk.
Just like the breath serves as the anchor during meditation, it can also serve as the anchor when our life is seemingly crashing down around us.
When we get an email with some bad news, we get rejected for a promotion, or our kid doesn't look like they're going to graduate college, our mind tends to get caught in that.
The teacher posed a question: "Is the problem out there? Or is the problem the way you feel about what's happening out there?"
When we remove our focus from the 'problem' and place it back on the breath, we can see that the problem is usually how we feel about it, more so than the situation itself.
We have certain expectations, and when they aren't met, we suffer. While suffering is the nature of life, most suffering is self imposed and unnecessary. It has more to do with the way we identify with the problem. Focusing on the breath during times of distress help us to see this.
The Death Meditation
The idea of death both motivates and frightens me.
The notion that I might die today strips away fears and limits like nothing else. Even if I don't die today, my death is imminent, and it is soon.
Because death is such a guarantee, I think about it daily. It's my primary source of motivation. I promise you won't waste a moment on trivial bullshit once you wrap your mind around the fact you're going to die, and it might be today.
When the teacher brought up the death meditation, I was pumped. The thought of it just felt powerful.
While we didn't actually do a death meditation (but we will, and I can't wait), he taught us some of the philosophy around it.
"Humans like to think everything is fixed. I'm fixed, this is my life, my house, my job, my car, and it's all fixed.
This is where a lot of the fear of death comes from. The thought of leaving behind everything that's 'yours', and heading into the unknown.
Instead, think of yourself as a traveler. You're just passing through. Your car, house, belongings... they aren't really yours. You're just using them. For now."
This hit me in directly in the center of my forehead.
What an amazing way to lighten up, stop being so serious, and focus on enjoying the experience.
To drive the point home, he used an analogy.
"You ever check into a nice hotel, with marble and nice curtains? The people in the lobby say "how are you, sir, or ma'am. They make you feel important.
You enjoy the experience, but you understand it's temporary. You have a great time, but eventually you've got to check out.
While there may be some feelings of disappointment that the stay is over, it's something you've accepted because you knew you're just passing through. "
Om, Ah, Hum- The Final Meditation
We ended the class with another 20-30 minute meditation. (Honestly, I have no idea how long each meditation was. Time doesn't seem to exist during a good meditation.)
We started off the same way. Bringing our mind and breath closer together until they become fused as one.
I felt like I had a head start this time, and my mind and breath were only inches apart.
Within a few minutes (maybe?), my mind and breath were completely indistinguishable. I was able to fully observe my inhalation and exhalation without my thoughts deviating.
Halfway through, we were told to introduce a silent mantra.
A mantra is a desire. Something we want to accomplish during the meditation.
In this case, we used Om, Ah, and Hum.
Om- Enlightened body. Think this during your inhalation.
Ah- Enlightened speech. Think this during the pause between inhalation and exhalation.
Hum- Enlightened mind. Think this on your exhalation.
I almost fell asleep during the mantra portion of the meditation, but pulled myself back before I started doing that awkward head nod that people do when they fall asleep sitting up.
I managed to maintain the same level of relaxation, but heighten my focus on the mantras. I ended up going deeper into meditation than I ever have before.
I became unaware that I was in a room of people, and felt nothing.
I was completely engulfed in my breath and began to experience slight hallucinations.
I saw swirling colors and geometrical shapes forming, dismantling, and forming new shapes. This lasted for a few minutes (again, who knows) before the teacher told us to loosen our focus and open our eyes when we were ready.
I opened my eyes, wiggled my fingers and toes, and took a look around. I felt peaceful at a level I never have before.
We wrapped up with the teacher asking if anyone had questions. I'm never going to waste an opportunity to ask questions, so I fired away.
I asked a how the karma-focused after-life philosophies were revealed to the Buddhas.
This prolonged the class for another 20 minutes (sorry everyone) and the teacher gave a wonderful answer (trust me when I say this will require its own blog post).
After the class the teacher answered several more of my questions, and delved even further into the philosophies surrounding today's class.
Before heading off to the gardens to take photos, Maria and I browsed through the books being sold in the back.
Maria picked one that caught her eye, and we took it to the teacher to pay.
He told us to take it. A gift from him. Then he encouraged us to come back for the next class.
Meditation and it's surrounding philosophies may appear to be 'woo-woo' (fluffy and fake) from the outside looking in, but getting in there and practicing it allows you to appreciate how practical it is.
This class was an amazing opportunity to learn about the Buddhist philosophies while getting our hands dirty with meditation, which creates a great environment for self exploration and personal growth.
We will certainly be back.