My first experience with mediation was in my 20s. I had recently begun attending a spiritually-based recovery program for my food and body issues, but I no longer connected to the Christian faith in which I was raised. So I searched for another way to forge a spiritual connection while not linking it to religion, which led me to start practicing meditation. I was told that praying was talking to God, while meditation was listening for the answers. Lord knows I do enough talking, so practicing sitting still and listening sounded like a worthwhile endeavor. And at that point, I was willing to try anything to calm the anxious and often negative cacophony of voices in my head.
Listening for the answers
A Google search on meditation instruction in my area led me to a local Shambhala center that offered meditation classes and workshops, free community sittings twice a week, and meditation instruction. Shambhala is a secular practice that has its roots in Tibetan Buddhism. Shambhala’s history is lengthy and fascinating. In a nutshell, a Buddhist meditation master from Tibet brought Shambhala to the U.S. in the 1970s as a way to make Buddhist teachings and philosophies more palatable to the people of the West, namely Americans.
I fell in love with the beauty of the ritual and the kindness of the people at the Shambhala center and began attending open sittings whenever I could. And as luck would have it the Shambhala Mountain Center, whose 600 acres is home to the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, one of North America’s largest structures of Buddhist architecture, is less than an hour’s drive from my home in Northern Colorado. Connecting with SMC led to frequent day visits to meditate in the Stupa and then at least one retreat a year for quite some time.
Grounding in to a new lifestyle
Meditation had quietly become a part of my daily routine and lifestyle. My then-husband and I created a meditation area in the house with candles and other items of importance to us, and we’d meditate together once or twice a day. It became not only my own journey to spiritual connection and a calmer mind, but also a way for me and my husband to connect more deeply.
On top of the spiritual growth and marital boost I experienced, meditation has many other physical and emotional benefits. Researchers have long since known that meditation increases grey matter in the brain and slows the decline of our cognitive function. It also helps us focus on the present moment, increases creativity and patience, and reduces negative emotions. It grounded me like nothing else I’d ever experienced. I felt a peace and contentment in my life for the first time since I was a young child.
Walking away from self-reflection
And whoo boy, did I get to put that whole “increasing patience” and “reducing negative emotions” to the test when I went through an unexpected and very painful divorce a few years after I’d started on my meditation journey. I’d like to tell you I doubled down on self-care and maintained a meditation practice, but I most certainly did not. In fact, I did quite the opposite. I leaned into anything and everything that would take me out of the present moment and numb my heartache. Since meditation had become such a large piece of my marriage, there was absolutely no way I could continue the routine of sitting at our alter and connecting to a Higher Power with whom I was now furious. The last thing I wanted to do was sit still and listen for the answers.
Coming back home
I avoided meditation for a good five years before I was even willing to entertain the idea of trying again. But I needed to make it mine again, and I desperately wanted to redefine and recreate a spiritual life. I felt untethered to anything greater than myself, and I longed to feel that peace and contentment again. By this time, I was re-married and had a baby, and I was ready to re-find that side of me. I once heard someone describe meditation as coming home. And when I finally did settle back on the cushion to reclaim my meditation practice, it did indeed feel like I was coming home – to myself.
Making it work today
These days, my meditation is often at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee before the rest of the house wakes up. Or I’ll meditate at my work desk before diving into that morning’s emails. There aren’t candles or alters or anything fancy. It’s just 10 or 15 minutes where I can sink down into myself (or rise up), depending on the day.
And I once thought using guided meditations was a form of cheating. Now I almost exclusively use guided meditations through an app. When I first started meditating again I used Headspace, which is excellent for teaching meditation basics. I moved on to the Calm app when I wanted less instruction, but still some guidance. I still use Calm when I just want some soothing sounds to guide my breath. Most recently, I’ve been using Insight Timer. This offers a plethora of free meditations in any style you can dream of. I really like binaural beats meditations. They use sound waves to slow your brain to the activity state that naturally occurs in deep meditation.
Meditation for the future
The main thing I’ve learned from my 20+ years of meditating is that no day will feel the same. And it’s very possible (and probably necessary) for it to change over time. After all, I’m not the same as I was last week or last year, so why should my meditation be? The only thing I hope remains is that I stay curious so I can continue to listen for the answers.