As I continue my meditation practice, and especially while traveling, more insights came to me about what meditation is and is not. It can be a bit challenging to keep up a regular practice while traveling, and a key concept is to not judge yourself. Travel is glorious and disruptive at the same time, so the idea is to do the best you can to stay “grounded”, and meditation can help in this area.
I recently had a conversation with someone who said she hadn’t been able to commit to meditation, even though she thinks it’s probably pretty great, because she doubts if she can clear her mind of thoughts. I think that’s a common misconception. Maybe advanced meditators can do that, but that is definitely not my experience! Someone else I talked to said “I’ve just got to keep doing it until my mind goes!” She seemed to be trying too hard. It’s not about the mind going somewhere else, or having no thoughts at all.
Back when I was a conservative fundamentalist Christian I had a long list of things that were bad, or even evil. Meditation was one of them, because the belief was that you make your mind blank and as a result you open yourself up to evil spirits who can come in and possess you. I really believed that, which now amazes me. Back then, I embraced dogmatism rather than allow uncertainty into my life. I am happy to report that I was wrong, and if I can meditate, anyone can.
One way to experience meditation is to realize that it is basically sitting with yourself. There are different techniques, and although it is helpful to have a teacher, it is not absolutely necessary. I use a mantra based on when and where I was born. The mantra is an anchor, or you can use your breath. I focus on it, but inevitably my mind drifts to — you got it, thoughts! Then after a bit I realize I’m thinking, so back to the mantra. There’s no striving, just gentle drifting back and forth. Definitely not blankness, but occasionally there is an awareness of being somewhere else, so to speak. It’s difficult for me to describe. And I must admit that I sometimes relax so much that I nod off to sleep!
It is worth it to make a commitment, to take the time, to truly sit with yourself and to allow whatever is inside you to surface. Then you get up and go about your business. Over time, you will see a difference in your responses to life’s frustrations, and people will say, what have you done with yourself? Because you will develop a different countenance and demeanor. This huffington post article about the benefits of meditation is fascinating, and has before and after pictures.
As you practice sitting in meditation letting whatever happens inside happen, without judgment, you will gradually find yourself letting go of old mental and emotional patterns. You will find freedom from that which doesn’t serve you well, and you will find new ways of peacefully embracing life as it unfolds.