We all want peace.
When people explain why they are interested in meditation, inner peace is one of the most common reasons that they share. Whether it is the day after the election, a stressful exam week, or just a chaotic time in our lives, we often come to learn meditation expecting it to be an immediate dose of peace.
I was the same way.
My parents have been meditation instructors all my life. When I was small, I would watch people from different backgrounds and walks of life come to our house to learn how to meditate. In addition to individual sessions, there would be weekly group meditations at our home and even group meditations before our holiday parties. As a kid, I would be mesmerized as I watched these adults close their eyes and sit in silence. I would daydream about what it must feel like to meditate, imagining that they were all experiencing this amazing state of bliss.
I didn’t start meditating until I was 17-years-old, but I remember very idealistically envisioning how it was going to solve every problem that I had. I thought that once I learned how to meditate, I could close my eyes and immediately enter into the “Zen Zone” where all my problems would go away. The Zen Zone was going to be this surreal space in which I would barely think, I would get all the answers I need, and above all, I would immediately feel 100% calm.
The reality? It was anything but.
My first meditation lasted about fifty minutes and from the moment I closed my eyes, I was flooded with thoughts and worries. My mind began to wander: I started creating a to-do list of tasks I needed to complete, I developed a sudden craving for chocolate, and I became acutely aware of this mental radio of catchy songs that was playing in the background (unable to figure out how to turn it off).
It was definitely not what I expected.
As I opened my eyes, I was thoroughly disappointed by the lack of Zen I had felt during the meditation.
There was no Zen Zone. There was no instant calm.
However, when I observed carefully right after, there was something else that I was feeling, a subtle sense that something had shifted within me. Some people describe it as lightness or clarity; others say it feels like your mind is a messy file cabinet that finally got organized.
It was that brief taste of relief and relaxation that prompted me to keep going. In spite of not feeling successful right off the bat, I stuck with it for some time, understanding that though it was not what I had initially expected, there was still something meaningful I could gain and learn through the process of meditation.
Within the first few months of meditating, I was disillusioned by the daydream of the instant Zen Zone that I was expecting to find. However, I began to discover something better instead.
When I would sit to meditate, I began to feel brief moments of peace. At first, it was only a few seconds out of a thirty-minute meditation. But as time went on and my interest deepened, this pocket of peace naturally began to expand to become longer and more intense.
Through consistent practice and small internal changes, I began to uncover these pockets of peace that came despite the millions of thoughts I had floating around. Meditating became less about achieving thoughtlessness and more about falling into that pocket, that brief feeling of contentment, even when surrounded by my thoughts.
In many ways, it became an exercise in overcoming what I thought meditation was supposed to give me and instead allowing myself to receive whatever it was actually giving me. It was only when I stepped back, began to relax, and stopped trying so hard to reach the Zen Zone that I could finally slip into a pocket of peace and feel it expand.
And in this process alone, you become better equipped to finding and connecting to that peace from within, no matter what the circumstance. After all, if I can learn how to experience even a brief moment of peace amongst the chaos of my own mind, how can the chaos of the world outside disturb me?
When we think of meditation, many of us have images of complete silence, of these beautiful panoramic, Instagram-worthy views of the ocean, the mountains, or the forest, and being surrounded by a completely calm environment.
But meditation is not about finding peace when it’s easy, it’s about preparing us to find peace even when it’s hard.
It is able to prepare you for that moment when you miss your flight in a foreign country and have to sleep in the airport at 2am; when you’ve just been told bad news and are crying in the back of your car; when you’re surrounded by a tornado of bizarre circumstances, thoughts and feelings, and feel like there’s nothing you can do. That’s when meditation is there for you. That is when the weeks of meditating, of trying to expand those few seconds of peace each time, matter. It is in these times that we begin to realize how valuable that pocket really is and to explore the extent to which they can go.
Looking back, in many ways I first came into meditation expecting to dive into some sort of Zen Zone, thinking it would be exactly what I had always wanted. However, it was only after I lost these preconceived notions that I was able to receive and perceive a peace that I never even knew I desperately needed.
About the Why Meditate? Series
I began to meditate over three years ago in June of 2013 and have been teaching heartfulness meditation ever since July of 2015. For over three years, I’ve had people ask me about how I meditate, why I meditate, and above all, how meditation has helped me. So I am starting the Why Meditate? Series, a series of blogs hoping to give an introspective and versatile taste of the many answers to that very question.
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