London Meditation Centre student Meghan recently shared her experiences about how learning to meditate on her blog extremelyunconventional.com. She’s kindly allowed us to repost it below.
In June of 2015, I had a serendipitous encounter that led to me meeting one of the most influential people in my adult life, Michael Miller. After several years of globe trotting, soul searching, partying (possibly a little too hard) and general soul confusion, I found myself in the waiting room of Evolve Yoga studio in South Kensington, London.
Bending over to put my shoes back on after a job interview, as I stood up, I noticed Michael next to me, also bending over to put his shoes back on. We stood up at the same time and politely nodded at each other in acknowledgment. Unlike the other people in the reception, neither of us was dressed for yoga. We both stepped towards the door at the same time and awkwardly had to pause to step back. Michael held the door for me and I walked outside. Nodding towards my heels, Michael asked me what I was doing at the studio. I explained that I was there for an interview. I looked at his suit and he smiled and offered me his hand saying, “I’m Michael, one of the founders of the London Meditation Centre. I teach meditation courses here every month.”
We ended up walking down the street together and Michael told me how The London Meditation Centre was growing and him and his partner Jillian were looking for someone to help them manage things. When we got to the tube he gave me his card and invited me to meet him and Jillian for coffee later that week.
A few days later I found myself sitting in on one of Michael and Jillian’s free talks about meditation. Although I’d been practicing yoga for about 10 years by this point, I had never had much interest in meditation. It was something I didn’t know much about and I thought it involved sitting on the floor for long periods of time chanting and otherwise not talking. My love for yoga had, up until that point, been primarily for the physical practice of it, the discipline, the strength it gave me, but not so much for the philosophy or meditative part of the practice. Whenever I attended slower yoga classes with poses being held for long periods of time and with lots of breathing exercises I was always slightly bored and wanted a faster more intense physical practice. So, the idea of meditation had never really interested me much.
Listening to Jillian describe how meditation is healing for the brain really fascinated me. I never realised or considered that the brain needs the same kind of care that our bodies do. I know this sounds silly but I just assumed diet, sleep and exercise were the best things one could do for their mental well-being. I was of course wrong. Though all of those aforementioned things are also important, meditation is actually an essential tool for the mind that everyone in the world should practice. Every day.
Jillian explained how your mind accumulates and collects all the clutter from your life on a daily basis – pain, anger, stress, grief, anxiousness and the general hecticness of daily life. Over time, these things start to really accumulate and can become the catalyst to all kinds of disorders and diseases – chronic stress, lack of sleep, anxiety, depression, and much worse. When negative emotions aren’t dealt with over long periods of time, they will start to manifest into physical problems. In the same way you know that if you never exercise, you will grow weak and possibly flabby, fat and unfit, if you leave all of your daily crap to accumulate into your mind, there will likely one day be negative repercussions.
The example she gave that really resonated with me was that when you cut yourself, your body knows how to instinctively heal itself. You wash and bandage your cut, and then, in time, your wound closes up and heals itself. The brain also knows how to heal itself, but you have to give it a little help – and this is where meditation comes in. She explained how ancient people knew this, and that meditation has actually been around for thousands of years. But modern people, especially in the Western world, are completely disconnected from their own minds and souls. It’s a cultural epidemic – people can’t sit still with themselves anymore and we live in a world where stress and competition are everywhere. And when stress manifests physically, Western medicine is so quick to diagnose and prescribe drugs to numb or lessen the symptoms, or we simply self-medicate. Bad day, let’s have 6 drinks after work to forget, really tired in the morning, need 3 cups of coffee to even get out the door to work; really stressed, working long hours, and chain smoking. Don’t know how to switch off from a crazy day without having several drinks after work. Can’t sleep without sleeping pills or a joint. Feeling stressed out so need endless amounts of sugar to feel better. Can’t focus so let’s try some pills to help study and focus. So much stress, day in and day out, is like a poison to your body and your mind, especially when handled poorly and it will ultimately manifest physically in one way or another. Be it the stockbroker who has a heart attack at 40, the CEO with stomach ulcers, the anxious mother having panic attacks, the teenager with body dysmorphia or the 10-year old who’s been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication to dull his senses.
What people actually need is a healthy way to process the daily stressors in their lives, to clear out the clutter each day before it starts to build up and affect the rest of your life.
Jillian pointed out how (most healthy) children are wonderful to watch play and interact with one another. Children are full of energy and curiosity and are fearless about trying new things. They possess the ability to express themselves freely, they ask questions about everything and they don’t fully understand the complexities of many grown-up emotions. Yet by the time we’re adults, we’ve accumulated so much crap in our minds that we are fearful, less confident, anxious, worried, tired and depressed – it holds us back.
Jillian went on to talk about her former career as a high flying exec in the publishing world. She was good at her job and very successful, but she was incredibly stressed all the time. Michael too had previously had a very stressful job and it was meditation that ultimately brought them together at a retreat in India and led to their subsequent founding of the London Meditation Centre together.
When Jillian was done speaking, I knew that meditation was what something I absolutely had to learn. Four days later, I was sitting in on a 4-day course with Michael and Jillian.
When I first met Michael, I had just moved back to London after several years of travelling, and in addition to looking for a job (in a city that is particularly cruel to be in when you’re unemployed), I had just had my heart broken from what I can honestly say was one of the cruelest heart breaks I’ve experienced in my adult life. I was really struggling with the intensity of my pain and I felt incredibly hurt and lost. I remember going for a run one day (one of my favourite things to do) and a lump formed in my throat as I fought back tears of frustration. I bent over to catch my breath and I just started crying. I will never forget how after a few minutes I looked up at the sky and yelled “I don’t want to feel like this anymore”. It was a breaking point for me. And you could call it a coincidence that the next day was the day I met Michael, but I don’t believe in coincidences 🙂
A few days after completing my course in Vedic Meditation, I already noticed lots of little changes. I was suddenly getting along a lot better with my mother (we have always been very argumentative with one another). When I would start to feel a dip in my energy in the afternoon, I’d always take the time to meditate for 15 minutes and immediately get a surge of energy to carry me through the rest of the day. Things that used to really stress me out or annoy me suddenly weren’t such big things. And I really noticed how many people around me were stressed out and seriously needed to learn how to meditate! I suddenly didn’t need 3 glasses of wine each evening just to get through a meal or social situation. In fact, I realised that quite often I didn’t actually need any wine at all. I obviously still love wine, but I started to realise how fun it is to also be sober when I see my friends and it doesn’t always have to be at a bar. We can go for walks and have brunch with coffee instead of mimosas and do yoga together and watch films and read books and take pictures and go on trips that aren’t focused around clubs and parties. And possibly the most immediately significant breakthrough after learning to meditate was that after about a week, I realised I wasn’t heart broken anymore. I had a moment where it hit me and it occured to me that I hadn’t thought about it in several days. After months of mulling it over in my mind 24/7 this was actually quite huge for me. I considered what had happened and I realised I actually felt sorry for the person who had hurt me.
After the first day of the course, after my first time ever meditating (guided by Jillian), I remember that I went home that night and slept soundly through the night. Prior to the course I had been taking sleeping pills and tossing and turning all night, replaying my heart break over and over again in my mind, crying into my pillow. I remember distinctly how after the 3rd day of the course it was a beautiful spring day and on the tube home I realised I’d actually rather walk. I got off about 5 stops early and I walked through Green Park. I was completely mesmerised by my surroundings. I found myself taking pictures of flowers and birds and I even felt myself smile. I felt calm and serene – possibly for the first time ever. I literally stopped to smell the roses.
From the very first time I meditated, I noticed a huge shift in myself. That was almost 3 years ago now and I can honestly say that meditation is one of the best things I have ever learned how to do. It is the best tool in my box of life survival skills. Since finishing my meditation course, I have meditated every day. There have of course been times I’ve missed a meditation here or there, but it is absolutely part of my daily routine now. If I miss a meditation I ensure that I do a long one the next morning or that evening. I only wish I had learned how to meditate sooner! When friend’s come to me now with traumas and problems I just wish they could sit down and meditate. I can only hope that by sharing my experience, I can help people to better understand meditation and want to learn themselves.