So this time two weeks ago I had my final exam of third year, which means I have been sipping at the fine elixir of liberty for the last fourteen days. Unfortunately, being a Medical Student, I’m used to being on full-power all the time. Every day is simply go, go, go! I have a project due in which I’ve been working on, but aside from that, my days seem to be lying before me like a blank canvas and I almost don’t know what to do with them. So far:
I’ve read four books.
I’ve watched 2 series’ of House.
I went home to see my family… twice.
I’ve eaten too much food and spent too much money.
I’ve had plenty of catchups over plenty of cuppas.
But, as the title may suggest, I’ve also been showing myself some love.
I have always known the benefits of meditation, just chosen to ignore them. I have never felt a need to meditate because I used to pray very regularly, and thought it was sufficient. But Meditation brings with it a different quality. A random intuitive thought occurred to me about a month ago (and I never ignore intuitive thoughts) and it was that I really need to start meditating. I don’t know why it struck me. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was craving a little calm. I also realised that as time goes on, life is only going to get increasingly stressful and demanding- particularly if I’m going to become a doctor. I have always felt that the department in which I lack is in handling very stressful situations. That is where I know I need to develop both personally and professionally.
I remembered my mum talking to me about this app called ‘Headspace’ sometime last year, which takes you through the basics of meditation. So I downloaded it and decided to give it a go. The first ten days are a free trial. Each day you do what they call a ‘Take 10’, which is where you sit and listen to a recording for 10 minutes, which takes you through the motions of meditation. After each ‘Take 10’, you unlock the next recording for the next day, so it’s like a game that takes you up to higher levels as you progress. I have written below, a day by day account of my meditative experience. But this might be a lot to read so if you’re looking for a slightly quicker summary of my experience, you can scroll straight down to the ‘Gains’, section at the bottom.
So here it is fellow readers and bloggers… My 10 day experience of Meditation.
Okay so I’m doing this for the first time. Last night I watched this animation from the app that explains how it works. It suggested that you make meditation a routine part of your day and it is best to do it in the same place, at the same time. They highly recommended doing it first thing in the morning. This is great because right now, my commitments are few and far between and I don’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn for hospital. So here I am. I got my steaming coffee by my side to sip at afterwards, and I’m ready to become a sage. I press play on ‘Take 10, Day 1’. My instructor is an Australian guy called Andy with a voice like melting butter. I fancy him immediately. But no, I focus on his lush voice and what he’s saying. At first he told me to breathe, close my eyes slowly, focus on my breath, let the sounds from outside in, feel the weight of my body on the chair, then let my mind wander freely awhile before bringing the focus back to my breath, then count my breaths as the final exercise and then open my eyes. I really listen in for 10 minutes. I open my eyes at the end and feel such peace already. Thoughts ebbed and flowed naturally but merely the act of focusing on my breath caused such calm to wash over me. The effect is instant; no wonder people do this. I’m ready to take on the day.
I wake up excited to hear Andy tell me what I have to do next. I go downstairs, shower, brew a hot cup of tea and finish it off before pressing play. The problem is that today…I have a little more expectation. And we only really did the same exercise as yesterday. Perhaps it was a little less successful because I couldn’t focus so much on what he was saying. Was yesterday beginner’s luck? Perhaps. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t felt a similar sense of calm. The focus might come in peaks and troughs but the sensation of stillness is still there. I must take care to face tomorrow without expectation.
Today was a little different. I tried to reconnect with my inner fresher last night and went out (Thursday nights are genuinely dead during everyone else’s exam period, I would place it relatively low on the recommendations list right now), but somehow I ended up back in my bedroom at 5am. I expected to be a little hungover I was alright. The only thing to really throw me off was that I was beginning at 12.21pm which is hardly an appropriate time in my head. Today started with an animation, which was quite helpful so I’ll describe it on here. Essentially, when meditating, your consciousness or just ‘you’, are sitting by a roadside. Your thoughts are the various cars that go by. Every time you wander off with a thought, you are chasing a car. In meditating, you’re not attempting to grind those cars to a halt; instead just sit by the road and watch them. Without chasing. All was well until two minutes in when my allergic rhinitis kicked in and all snotty hell broke loose. I had to pause but I sort of lost my flow. All in all, day 3 was a little disjointed. I think I’m still trying to hunt down the calm from Day 1. At least I know it exists.
Perhaps this wasn’t the best time to start meditating- I seem to be consistently finding myself in different environments. I’m actually in a little hotel room today, on a short break with my family to the lakes. I’m with my sister (aged 10, cute little brat who thinks she knows everything). She’s dreadfully compliant today though and made us both cups of tea this morning so I invited her to join me. Being offspring to our sage of a mother, she already knew what Headspace was so little strain was involved in getting her to sit down and breathe with me. Last night I slept like a bear in hibernation, so I don’t know if that contributed because the exercise was much the same as the previous three days but today I felt really good. Of all the exercises, the one where I’m told to focus on where I feel my breath most in my body (bottom of chest, pit of stomach, shoulders…) really reigns in my concentration and betters the experience. My sister claims to have felt great afterwards too. We had pancakes to celebrate.
Nothing has changed. Andy’s voice still both turns me on and calms me down. I don’t know. Thoughts were a little adrift today. Why do I think so much?! It’s fine, it doesn’t matter. Today’s effect hasn’t been the best but I’m not disheartened. Like I say, this is a skill I’m learning to perfect over time with practise, much like playing an instrument. It isn’t going to fall at my feet in five days.
Today I started almost first thing in the morning. My throat feels pretty irritated right now because this hotel room has some funky temperature control where it’s either subsaharan or antarctic and last night it was too hot and too dry, so I’m not feeling great. I start early. 7.30a.m. My sister is asleep. I down a glass of cold, refreshing water and sit down to begin. Andy the voice-god told me that I needed to focus on the way my body feels today. This is in the exercise where you scan down from your head to your toes feeling your levels of comfort/discomfort. But do not judge the feeling of discomfort or tension, just let it be. I can feel the tension in my upper back and shoulders. There’s the irritation in my throat. I’ve just woken up so everything else feels pretty good, though perhaps in need of stretch. It’s interesting to take time out to notice these things. I’m looking forward to restarting my routine back in my house in Birmingham.
Another analogy. Andy babe, you and I both love our analogies. If it wasn’t going against my newfound social media dislike principles I would probably Facebook stalk you to see what you look like, how old you are and whether you’re single or not. But I don’t want to be disappointed cause right now, in my head you look like Australian Chace with the chiselled jaw from ‘House’. It was a good analogy today. You’re walking along and the sky is blue with very few white, wispy clouds. The clouds are the thoughts… They hardly bother you because the blue sky is there and you’re generally feeling pretty happy. But during the rougher periods of life, a few more clouds come along. They’re greyer. Darker. Sometimes stormy. It’s as if the blue sky has disappeared. Until you hop on a plane and rise above the horrid weather and realise that the blue sky was always there above the clouds.
The place of peace exists in your mind no matter how much adversity you might be going through.
I think that’s an incredibly important lesson for us all. As for my meditation today? My mind is on overdrive, she’s very busy after the hype of sharing this blog yesterday. It’s annoying how I can’t be present when my mind is full of thought. I end up giving in very easily to chasing the thought around. But it’s okay, like I say… It’s my seventh day. Baby steps.
Man, that felt good. No, today was really really good. The difference today was that every time my mind wandered, I physically forced myself to pull it back into the zone of awareness and yes, it was good. I wanted to carry on past my 10 minutes.
Andy keeps telling me to try and feel the underlying emotion and the general ‘mood’ of the body beneath the layer of thoughts but I can’t seem to do that. I don’t think there is any specific underlying emotion there. Other than that, I think I am comfortable with and understand the basic technique of meditating now. I know exactly what’s coming next in the ten minute sequence but having the voice-led guidance is really helpful. I’m nearing the end of my trial period now so thoughts about purchasing the app for £4.15 per month are looming. As a student, the thought of any kind of monthly payment fills me with the dread of commitment- such as rent and bills. But this is more like a gym membership… for my mind. Will this be something I do every day or will life catch up with me and I’ll neglect it? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been feeling right. I will sleep on it but my gut is saying to go for it.
My final day of the first journey. I woke up and the first thing I actually thought was ‘I cannot believe I’ve completed 10 whole days of this!’. Today was much the same as the last few days. I’ve fallen well into the routine of taking 10 minutes a day to meditate now and I feel as though I’ve started something and I’m excited to keep going. I know the drill now. Deep breaths, close eyes, focus on sounds, scan the body, let the mind wander, bring it back, count the breaths up to 10 and open the eyes again. As soon as the last one finished, I bought the app, for £74.10 a year. You could argue that I paid too much or it’s pointless but the benefit is to better you. Does a more worthy use of money exist? I am looking forward to continuing my journey with Headspace. I hope I might have convinced some others out there… if anything, to just download the app for free and try out the first ten days. What do you have to lose?
Following my short meditative experience, I thought I would very quickly share 5 learning points that addressed previous misconceptions I had.
1. You don’t need to sit on the floor with your legs crossed and hands in a pincer grip position.
I can’t even cross my legs properly. I just needed to sit on a chair with my back straight, maintaining a posture that is still but not so relaxed that I fall asleep.
2. You can scratch an itch.
Feeling stiff and uncomfortable misses the point of meditation so if my neck starts feeling itchy then I’ll scratch it and resume my position. It’s only by doing this that you can actually focus on the task.
3. It’s not about emptying your mind.
It’s near impossible not to have thoughts. The whole point is that I take this amount of time out of my day to focus on not running away with them. For the remainder of the day, we usually end up in a stream of constant thinking. The point of meditation, to begin with, is just to break away from that.
4. Ten minutes is a long time.
Funny that when we’re busy the minutes tick by so quickly but in actual fact, when you sit still and just focus on your breathing, ten minutes feels like it’s been clutched from both ends and stretched out. It’s amazing what a small change can make.
5. Blue sky is always there.
After each session, it’s helpful to reflect (I suppose writing this blog forced me to!) on how it went and how you feel. No matter how heavy the thoughts may be the calmness is always there and it is always accessible and the knowledge that we can reach that place is great. It isn’t just the ten minutes that count, but the moment of ‘damn that felt good!’, afterwards that you can try to keep with you and constantly remember throughout the day.
So there it is, people!
My journey is only just beginning and I must admit, I’m a little relieved not to have to reach for this keyboard every time I’ve completed a level. It is important to remember that meditation is a skill which is learnt through practice- same as playing a sport or learning an instrument. There are good days and bad days. Days where your mind is on overdrive and days where stillness smoothly wipes away restlessness. I will be continuing to learn this new skill and I honestly urge anyone who might have an inkling about trying this to download the app and give it a go yourself. It’s just ten minutes a day after all and you feel so good afterwards.
Until next time friends,
Love & hugs, Gowri xxxxxxxxx