Categories
Meditation

Practicing Meditation from Scratch: How to Meditate for 30 Days in a Row

 

I’m at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. The line to get into tonight’s show is down the block. Running late, my friends Luke and Liam hold a place in line for me. Eventually, the doors open up and we walk into the venue and head straight to the bar. 

We are at The Wiltern to learn about meditation from conversation with Ripoche Minguyard, a Tibetan monk known for going on a “wandering retreat” for four and a half years mostly living without a home in the Himalayas and the flat land of India.

The energy of the room is full of excitement and anticipation, it’s as if we were here for a rock show. Buying the first round of beers for my friends, the bartender serves three micro-brew beers with orange slices. 

The three of us do a low key cheers, and jump into a conversation about mental health, pharmaceutical drugs, and psychedelics. We have a radical conversation that opens me up for the night. This event was a big night in my meditation journey. Looking back, it helped me start a daily practice for thirty days of meditation. 

At the beginning of the conversation, Ripoche leads the crowd in a brief sit-down meditation. 

When  a Tibetan Monk Makes it Easy

He asks us to find our “basic goodness” and to “relax.” As we drop into meditating, he suggested that we “just be” and advises  that we “don’t meditate.” 

He talks for a few minutes and after holding our breath for ten seconds, he says we were done. He suggests that “non-meditation” is the “best mediation.” His advice is to “just be.” 

Well, that is easy.

Up until that night, I was a newcomer to meditation. 

Starting a meditation practice on my own was a hard and lonely struggle.  

Previously, I had practiced on my own sporadically yet didn’t develop a habit. 

If you have meditated a few times to calm down before work, then you’re like me. 

I also meditated on the days before public speaking, yet I never developed the meditation habit.

If you’re someone who has felt meditation benefit your life, and still haven’t prioritized it, then I can totally relate. 

After the talk with Ripoche, I got the itch to practice. He made it sound simple. 

But it wasn’t. It was painful. 

Once I discovered certain tools that work for me, meditation became less stressful. It helped me get in touch with a part of myself that was suffering. 

I accessed a deeper consciousness, and was able to heal a lot of pain inside of my body. By meditating every day for thirty days, I kickstarted my own practice, and found a path to calm and soothe my body.

None of my friends meditated. No one in my family practices. I went blindly into it and this is what I learned. If you’ve been struggling with meditating consistently, take a look and, who knows, you might find just have fun while doing it.

How to Meditate for 30 Days in a Row: The Mindset

What helped me keep going for thirty days:

  1. I meditated first thing in the morning, I’d find a quiet spot in my garage, backyard, or bed. Getting it out of the way early started my day on the right path. Waking up early to meditate helped me to avoid getting distracted. 
  2. I was gentle on myself if I missed a morning session. It’s okay to miss a session.  I was forgiving to myself. If I missed a morning practice, I’d make time for meditation during a lunch break or at night before bed. Self-compassion is a huge part of meditation. Sometimes I would meditate in my car if I arrived early to a meeting, which forced me to get over my own fears of being judged by others for meditating.
  3. I started with guided meditations, led by a teacher. It’s hard enough finding the time to meditate, and it’s even harder to guide your own meditation. It’s easier to push play on a meditation app where someone teaches you how to practice. I recommend Waking Up, Unplug, Tara Brach’s basic meditations (free) and Jack Kornfield’s Soundcloud (free) to start your practice. Turn your phone to airplane mode, and settle into the practice.
  4. I brought a meditation journal with me and would write afterward. After each session, I would jot down any notes, ideas, or downloads from my practice. They would range from heavy thoughts from childhood suffering to more simple thoughts like my to-do list for the day. No matter what I thought, I worked to withhold judgement. Over time if I got too busy to write by hand, I would write in the notes section of my iPhone to document my thoughts/progress. It became a writing practice. I eventually turned the notes into articles that helped me share my practice with others. Sharing my own meditation stories not only helped myself to heal, it helped other people along their own path.
  5. I kept track of every minute of each session, writing out the total number of minutes in the meditation journal. This helped me feel like my practice grew, and made me feel accomplished. The tracking also helped me document it in a clinical sense. Some apps track your hours, which is also helpful in reaching your goals. And when you reach a milestone like 1,000 total minutes, you can feel proud for yourself, even if no one else is there to celebrate the achievement with you.
  6. I came from a place of desperation. Around the time of the Ripoche talk, I had been diagnosed with Complex PTSD, which is a form of ongoing childhood trauma. Meditation was like medicine and I was giving myself a drip of a healthy serum. Previously, I had tried prescription drugs, psychiatry, and therapy – yet none of those treatments helped me like meditation did. Meditation physically calmed my body down.
  7. I accepted that it was a lonely activity.  I practiced in my backyard or garage at first. I had no one to share my practice with because very few (if any) of my friends practiced. Sometimes if I had a huge breakthrough like feeling something like childhood anger resurface or grieving by remembering a sad moment like a friend’s passing. I’d sometimes record a video or audio message to document that it actually happened. Talking to someone in the video helped me to acknowledge any breakthrough, as if I was speaking to a friend. 
  8. I picked ten minutes of meditation and stuck with it. Starting to practice meditation is like working an under-utilized muscle. You have to develop the skills to meditate, and it helps to pick a number and stick with it. I initially chose ten minutes a day, and over time I increased the amount. I gradually built up my practice to doing two ten-minute sessions back to back. Or I would do two fifteen-minute meditations in a row. You can build up your tolerance to the pain or whatever comes up, and over time it gets less challenging! Ten minutes is a great number. As I mentioned before, I was gentle on myself. If I missed a morning session, I’d schedule it around lunch or even do it in my car if I arrived at a meeting early.
Discovering How Meditation Works for Your Body

Remember that not all tips work for everyone. It’s important to figure out what works for you. Life gets in the way, and if you miss a day, it’s okay. It’s not like weight training, where you need to be intense about sticking to a strict plan. 

I downloaded the meditations on my phone when possible. Text messages, email alerts, and social media apps need to be quiet if you’re going to get into a daily routine. Muting your notifications and stopping all your incoming dings and pings will help you to focus on the practice.  

My foray into meditation began at The Wiltern and over a beer with some friends. 

Over time, the growth that you will achieve can make you feel good inside. The process itself can be fun, even though it’s challenging at first.

Meditation can be a radical tool for self-discovery, self-awareness, and finding calm. It is a gateway to go deeper in your life, and enjoy yourself while doing it. 

Around the time of Ripoche’s talk, I was open to new possibilities and ready to make changes in my life. I had been arguing with my psychiatrist around her urging me to start an antidepressant for what she felt like was depression. I had recently cried during a session.

I was desperate for new more natural solutions to mental health care. 

The night during Ripoche’s talk opened up my thinking. My friends talked in-depth about how psychedelics can help people with depression. Specifically, Luke shared that psilocybin mushrooms and therapy help him deal with his depressed moods. 

Starting to meditate can open you up to new consciousness, and be a gateway to living a more open life, and even teach you to love yourself just a little bit more.

Have you, like I did, wanted to practice meditation consistently but for one reason or another it you didn’t? 

If you want to join me in a 30-day meditation journey, leave a comment below or sign-up for my email community and tell me how it’s going. Follow along for more information about the upcoming meditation 30 for 30 course.

For privacy, I changed the names of my friends, since at the time of publishing this article, psychedelics are criminalized in this country. Hopefully we can all work to decriminalize together and end the war on drugs.

Editors

Chris Angelist , Matthew VereJoel Christiansen Drew Stegmaier, Piyali (Peels) Mukherjee , Blake Reichmann , Steven Ovadia , Ali Q, Roseline Mgbodichimma, Soma Mandal, and Grant Nice.

Categories
Meditation Recovery

What is Loving-Kindness? Practicing Meditation with Jack Kornfield

 

 After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. 

I write bi-monthly articles, publishpodcasts, and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked. My second article is How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice.

I am sporting a blue hoodie that says ‘Des Moines: Hell Yeah’, unmatched striped colored socks, dark blue jeans, and a black baseball hat.

I’m in a room of over 50 strangers, my mustache, chin beard, and blue glasses starkly contrast to the crowd of mostly white, baby boomer women.

Some people rest on blankets on the wooden floor, while others sit in chairs with their feet firmly rooted to the ground. 

Legendary monk and mediation teacher Jack Kornfield sits in front of us. 

He rings a Tibetan bowl three times. 

“Good morning,” he says, his voice sweet and soothing.

If he was a Crayola crayon in a box of 64-colors, his color would be Calm. 

The room is full of unfamiliar faces, and I have never meditated in a room with this many people. My shoulders remain unmoved as I try not to make any noise above the hum of the heater purring in the background. 

Jack and his wife Trudy Goodman are hosting a Sunday Morning Sit in Santa Monica, CA. at Insight L.A. Sitting in a meditation class with Jack and Trudy is like attending a PhD-level course in meditation. 

What is loving-kindness?

Today’s meditation is loving-kindness, also called metta. 

Though the loving-kindess practice I learn to how to intentionally give and receive love.

Loving-kindness can be super-helpful if no none ever taught you to love yourself. As a child, no one showed me how to love myself. This is how it helped me.

The goal of loving-kindness meditation is to focus unconditional love for yourself, and others. You want good things to happen to other people. You are wishing well to other people and yourself, while you are in mediation. 

Metta is the ancient word for loving-kindness and is translated to mean friendliness, goodwill, fellowship, and non-violence. 

According to Jack, the loving-Kindness meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke loving-kindness and friendliness toward oneself and others.

In today’s thirty-five-minute meditation, we move positive energy towards people in our life, to ourselves, and the entire world. 

The practice is in four parts: 

  1. Give love to a friend whom I have an easy relationship with. 
  2. Give love to myself. 
  3. Give love to my community and the rest of the world. 
  4. Give love to a person whom I have a difficult relationship with 

Giving loving-kindness to a friend

Jack speaks at a volume just above a whisper. After a few minutes of sitting together, Jack begins the loving-kindness meditation:

Picture someone with whom you have a loving relationship. As you picture them, then begin softly inside, repeating simple phrases of well wishing and kindness.

I think of my cousin Kathy, someone whom I love. 

Jack asks us to think about this person and reflect on them, giving them loving-kindness and well wishing. 

I feel positive heat surfacing up in my body. From inside my core, the warm energy is pushing itself out to arms, legs, and then feet and hands. 

With a gentle monotone voice, Jack repeats the words again:

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

May you be safe and protected.

May you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

I sit, thinking of my cousin. As Jack says the phrases of well wishing, I send love to my cousin Kathy, whom I love. I have an easy sense of care for her. In sync with Jack, I say in my head:

Kathy, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Kathy, may you be safe and protected.

Kathy, may you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

Kathy, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Kathy lives on the other side of the country, and I am sending her love from my body. There is a rush of energy warming me.

As a kid, I would meet up with Kathy’s family, going swimming in my Aunt and Uncle’s backyard pool. 

Envisioning Kathy in my mind, I care about her. I imagine Kathy in her house, eating at her kitchen table, and then going on a brisk walk outside with her dog. It’s winter and she is wearing a cold weather jacket. She sees her breath in the wind. Her dog loves running around outside. I send well wishes to Kathy and her dog.

There is a tingly sensation coming from inside my body. 

Giving love to myself

Jack continues speaking and asks us to move onto ourselves. He wants us to give ourselves well wishing. 

 Spoonfeeding me a sorely needed healthy serum of love, my eyes are more relaxed.

Instead of looking outside for validation from others for love, I am looking inwards at my own body. It’s not easy. 

Inside my mind, with Jack’s voice as my guide, I repeat his words:

May I be filled with loving-kindness.

May I be safe and protected.

May I be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

May I be filled with loving-kindness.

As I give love to myself, the left shoulder gets stiff, while my left hip is throbbing. My body’s left side is where I keep the majority of my physical stress. I send love to my body as I imagine loving myself. I struggle with the pain, which feels like trapped negative emotions from my childhood.  

Through the practice, I learn to take care of myself. I learn to soothe myself. I learn to love myself. 

In retrospect, I see that loving myself helped me to become aware of my body. Finding physical self-awareness comes in the form of love. 

Giving loving-kindness to my community and the rest of the world

Jack requests that we practice loving-kindness for the world. 

He asks us to think about our neighbors, the people sitting next to us, and the members of our community. He says:

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

May you be safe and protected.

May you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

May you be filled with loving-kindness.

Scanning my life, I’m sending love to a college friend Edward, who passed away in his twenties. He is no longer on Earth, yet I feel his spirit. 

I say to myself:

Edward may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Edward may you be safe and protected.

Edward may you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

Edward may you be filled with loving-kindness.

I envision Edward and I seeing a concert together when we lived in Nashville. We are dancing in a sea of people at the Exit/In bar. He’s grooving in the front row with me, shaking side to side.

We then pick up BBQ sandwiches at Hog Heaven, a local divey BBQ shack. It’s next to a dive bar where we would drink Natural Light beers, play pool on an uneven pool table, while the jukebox blares Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones.

In a dream-like state, I hear his voice in my head for the first time in decades. 

An old nickname from him, “Sugar Boy,” rings in my ear. It’s like Edward is over my shoulder talking. “Sugar Boy.” I hear it again. 

I tear-up, thinking about his spirit. I have not properly grieved for Edward since his physical passing (Later I realize this!). 

Warm energy rushes into my body. I love the memory him. 

Giving loving-kindness to a person you have a difficult relationship with

Jack asks us to give love and well wishing to someone with whom we have a difficult relationship. I think of my relatives with whom I have not always kept in close contact. 

Scanning my relatives, I bring love to my Aunt Dolly, Uncle Jerry, Uncle Seamus, and cousins who I have not seen in many years. I send love to my entire extended family during the practice. Our relationship is always delicate, and I give them love.

Alongside Jack, I say to myself:

Aunt Dolly, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

Uncle Jerry, may you be safe and protected.

Uncle Seamus, may you be well, healed, and strong in body and mind.

Mary Ellen, may you be filled with loving-kindness.

As the meditation continues, Jack’s voice goes silent. He suggests that we sit with our feelings in silence. 

Mentally, I am underwater. For a few moments, it’s like I cannot breathe. I am exhausted.

I miss my extended family, and haven’t kept in very good touch with them through the years. I am filled with deep emotion, I would like to quit the meditation. 

I love my family.

I fight to not open my eyes. 

It’s overwhelming to think about loving all these people. 

I hear a ring from Tibetan Bowl. Jack asks us to open our eyes. The meditation is over. 

I stretch my body out. My left shoulder is tight. My left hip is stressed. The love that I give helps to heal my stressed body. 

Through today’s practice, I expand my capacity to love others. I expand my capacity to love myself. As a child, I did not learn to love myself. 

The practice can shift your thinking into helping other people. The practice is a gentle way of looking at the world. 

I learn to hold onto these feelings of love. 

Self-love is a practice. 

Loving one’s self takes discipline, and it never dawned on me to practice it. 

Loving-kindness is an antidote to the trauma, stress, and suffering,  it calms the body down. 

Loving-kindness helps you find new neural pathways that connect your brain. While it opens open up new ways to live a more whole life. 

Loving-kindness can be super-helpful because no one taught you how to love yourself.

You see how much loving-kindness has helped me. You can try Jack Kornfield’s Loving-kindness meditation live from InsightLA or his Loving-kindness recording online

Big thanks to my editors: Drew Stegmaier, Piyali (Peels) Mukherjee, Elisa Doucette, Nanya Sudhir, Joel Christiansen, and Kavir Kaycee.

Links:

Jack Kornfield’s Loving-kindness meditation at InsightLA

Insight LA

Jack Kornfield

Trudy Goodman

Categories
CPTSD Meditation Recovery

Meditation is a Practice of Self-Care – How Backyard Meditation Brings Me Healing

After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays.

I write bi-monthly articles, publish , and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is . My second article is .

In my backyard, I sit upright on a gray deck chair. My bare feet are squarely grounded on the Earth. I feel small blades of dry grass in between my toes. I am settled, wearing blue jeans, a black ball cap, and a t-shirt that says Des Moines: Hell Yeah. I remove my blue glasses and place them on the circular glass side table. I faintly hear speeding cars racing to work on the freeway in the background. The early morning sun sprinkles its rays while I relax under the shade of a purple flowered jacaranda tree. My hair, mustache and goatee are un-showered and unkempt. I prepare to close my eyes. My backyard is a sanctuary for my practice. Wearing ear buds, I push play on my iPhone to begin my morning meditation. I am ready for my daily ritual of thirty minutes of meditation. Today’s choice is Waking Up by Sam Harris.

The next thing I know, I drop into a memory during the practice. I sob uncontrollably. A moment from my life comes to mind: I am on stage giving a business talk to a packed audience. This is a familiar space, a place where I led marketing workshops throughout the past five years. I am due to host an event there in a few weeks. Tears stream down my cheeks while I am on stage. I hope someone from the crowd comes up to hug me. I am sad. No one helps me. From the stage, I see an old friend Lisa in the crowd. I have been through so much with this friend. I feel a deep connection with her. I want someone to comfort me, and no one helps. I continue to cry, while my body is frightened. I think “We’ve all been through so much together, and I need a hug.” 

After my Complex PTSD diagnosis, meditation became a regular ritual. During the first five months of my recovery, I meditated over 2,500 minutes, which is over two whole days of my life. Meditation became a mini-hibernation to rejuvenate my body. The meditation slows down my breathing and heart-rate. I stopped taking a mood-stabilizing drug called Lamictal. I now feel intense and painful triggers throughout my body that the drug suppressed. On the surface, the drug comforted the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It helped me to manage my pain. I spent years in denial and ignored the root causes of my problems. Like the crew members moving deck chairs on the Titanic as the iceberg approached the ship, I discovered that I too was in denial about my reality. In my backyard, I learned that mindful meditation is a gateway to a new reality. Meditation opens the depths of my mind and it changes my life for the better. I learn to take care of my pain and suffering. Meditation becomes a spiritual healing practice. 

Meditation is a practice of self-care

Back in the meditation session, I lose control of my emotions. I am panicking. My body is sore. The left side of my body is tight. My left shoulder is triggered, while my left hip feels stressed. Even my left toes, ankle, and knee are tense. Taking deep breaths, I gain control. I feel badness and goodness in my body. I am scared of the past that I have not dealt with. Meanwhile, the future feels unpredictable. I am exhausted. I learn to love myself. I soothe my tight shoulder. I repeat to myself in my head, “It’s okay. I am safe.” Awakening from meditation, I struggle to breath. Tears run down my cheeks. My nose is congested from the sobbing. However, my left side body is more relaxed. I recognize that my left hip, shoulder, elbow, and knee need to be loved. I look after my sore body. 

I am healing. 

During the backyard meditation, my 6:00am sessions bring up many flashbacks. The grassy lawn becomes a sacred place for me to be alone. The decades of suppressed triggers resurface throughout my body, from my shoulder to cheek to hip to foot. I need to heal emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. During my initial recovery period, my backyard is a sanctuary. The early morning routine sets my day on a path to recovery. I treat meditation like a job. I meditate on the bus to work. Wearing my sunglasses to cover my closed eyes, I hope that no one looks at me strangely. During my lunch break, I practice in my coworking space’s dark meditation room. Before bed, I practice to ease into a deeper sleep. It is a lonely journey, yet I am determined to heal. Additionally, I attend two therapy appointments per week. Therapy helps to ease some of the burden. 

Meditation creates space to heal

I often get flashbacks to past life events and flashforwards to future events. These feelings are common with people healing from C-PTSD. I am scared and paralyzed by past events, and anxious about future potentialities. The meditation provides a safe environment for my fight or flight tendencies. I learn to focus on the present. I process the flashbacks in the moment. “I think to myself, “Wow, I can heal pain from decades ago.” Meditation is a practice of self-love. Many of these memories come from deep within the practice, sometimes twenty or thirty minutes into a session. 

The memories are visual snapshots into the deeper recesses of my mind. From different backyard meditation sessions, I conjure up vivid childhood memories like this one: 

My family has a ritual of picking up fast food at the drive-throughs of Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco John’s, and McDonald’s in Des Moines, IA. My Dad and I are in the McDonald’s drive-through to pick-up our dinner. I love Chicken McNuggets and I can’t wait to eat them. We return home and I dip a McNugget in my favorite barbecue sauce, and take a bite. I spit out the McNugget, it tastes gross. Looking at the McNugget, it is red and raw inside. The food is disgusting. My Dad, trying to save my dinner, puts the McNuggets in the toaster oven to continue cooking them. He gets frustrated with me and pressures me to eat the McNuggets. I spit them out again. He yells. We then drive back to McDonald’s to return them. I still do not want to eat the McNuggets. I stopped eating McNuggets that day and still haven’t had one since. 

Meditation brings radical change

On some days after a thirty minute session, I am strung out on my feelings. I sweat out the trauma. It feels like stuff is stuck in my body, as if I am breaking a fever. Gross, nasty, and icky are some of these memories from my childhood coming through. Basic emotions and feelings coming out of me. Sweating out the toxins, I want to be normal. Unsure of what normal even looks like, I am alone, and there is no one to speak with. Guilt, shame, and frustration set in. My body hurts. Physically, mentally, emotionally, I am exhausting myself. Closing my eyes, while focusing on the breath brings me comfort. However, it doesn’t always bring self-love. During one session, I recall my Dad’s trauma. This makes me feel like some of my pain is not mine, but other people’s in my family. It is intergenerational trauma, and my parents passed it down to me. I am not living in the moment during these meditations. I am stuck in between the past and the future. During one session I flashback to a few years ago:

I am in conversation with my Dad. He opens up about giving his own Dad CPR after a heart attack. Reflecting on the men in my life, I recognize my Dad has trauma from his childhood, trauma that he rarely speaks about. My Dad tells me that he gave his Dad mouth to mouth resuscitation in the family business office. I wonder if my Dad lives with guilt over his Dad dying months later. My Grandfather’s health was never the same. My Dad is dealing with the trauma of his own Dad dying. My Dad may be a high functioning person, but he is hurt. 

Trauma recovery brings spirituality

One some days, I feel like a new person after practicing thirty minutes of meditation. My backyard is a spiritual place. It is a safe environment for me to explore my life. I never realized it before, but I’m a trauma survivor. Doctors diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and other normal-ish symptoms around mental health, but never trauma. During these meditation sessions, my body feels gross. My shirt has beads of sweat on it. However, I learned the practice of self-care through this healing journey. 

During one session, I envision telling different friends and family members about the C-PTSD. I have this vision many times, and each time I am ashamed of telling loved ones about my diagnosis. I feel judged. I flash ahead:

Tears fall down my cheeks. I am sad. Whether it is my Dad, friends from college, or childhood friends- I am heartbroken. Sharing with them my diagnosis makes me upset. During one session, I tell a college friend whom I haven’t spoken to in years, and by the end of the session I am crying. During another session, I share my C-PTSD diagnosis with a childhood friend who I haven’t seen in decades, and I sob. During another session, I tell my Dad, and I’m balling my eyes out. I am ashamed. This is all in my head, I meditated these shamed feelings out of my body. 

I treat recovery like it is a job. I full-court press myself to get better, determined to try every last option to find a solution. Since college, I have seen psychiatrists, tried group therapy, gone to one-on-one therapy, and tried cognitive therapy. In my head, I am close to the finish line. This is a twenty-year journey in the making. Mindfulness is a gateway to a new reality. It gives me power. My backyard practice heals leftover feelings of helplessness. It opens up my mind to depths that I need to reach. I discover a radical recovery device that changes my life for the better. 

Through the backyard meditation sessions, I open my mind to a higher consciousness. A steady diet of meditation helps me to rediscover myself. It opens the door to more self-exploration, feeding my soul. I learn the skills of self-care in a new way. Meditation proves to be a gateway to exploring other ancient healing modalities. Whether it is practicing a calm mind with the Dalai Lama, or breathwork to process stress, pain, and trauma, sound healing to help soothe my body – meditation opens the door to expand my consciousness. 

Links:

Waking Up Meditation, by Sam Harris

Editors:Vandan Jhaveri, Abu Amin, Lyle McKeany, Steven Ovadia, Joel Christiansen, Oliver Palmer, and Drew Stegmaier.

Categories
Meditation Recovery Uncategorized

The Dalai Lama’s Guide to Finding a Calm Mind – How Meditation Balances My Emotions

After decades of filling prescriptions of antidepressant, mood stabilizing, and antipsychotic drugs, I finally rejected conventional psychiatric wisdom. Using ancient methods, I went against doctors’ orders to heal. Through these methods, I treated the root cause, not merely the symptoms. I charted my journey in a series of essays. 

I write bi-monthly articles, publishpodcasts, and host workshops on healing, recovery, and the root causes of pain. Sign up for two stories per month, that’s it. I charted my journey and this first article is Complex PTSD: When Your Therapist Thinks You May Be F*cked. My second article is How Breathwork Helps Process Stress, Pain, and Trauma: Why I Practice.

How group meditation balances my emotions

I am twelve minutes late to a five-hour Cultivating Emotional Balance (CEB) workshop. I am anything but balanced. Walking briskly down the sidewalk, I burst open the doors of the Insight LA meditation studio. I remove my shoes and ask the receptionist if I’m too late to join the class. In a whisper, she advises me that I can still register. Using my credit card, I watch her process the transaction, which feels like it is taking forever. I skim over the literature about the event. Today’s workshop is inspired by a 2000 meeting in India, between The Dalai Lama, leading Western behavioral scientists, and Buddhist monks to create a “new map of our emotions for a calm mind.” I grab the card, sign-in, and thank the woman behind the counter. I walk into a large meditation room that sits around fifty people. 

Eve Eckman is my teacher today. She introduces herself to the group as an emotion researcher and trainer. I am determined to find a calm mind with Eve and The Dalai Lama’s wisdom. Wall to wall, people sit quietly in chairs. I’m nervous about being late. Luckily none of the other students in the room seem to notice. Sliding around in my socks on the wooden floor, I grab a yoga blanket from a stack against the wall. I find an open seat in between two empty chairs. Everyone looks like a stranger. There is something calming and reassuring about not knowing anyone in this room. I do not envision ever seeing this group of people again, which makes me feel like I can be honest and raw in a more authentic way today.

Sitting down, I let out a quiet sigh of relief. I’m finally here. Eve explains that her goal today is to teach the Dalai Lama’s secular (non-religious) approach to bring awareness to our emotional behaviors, experiences, and triggers. As I get comfortable in my chair, I try to relax. Head to toe, I am tense. Earlier in the year, a social worker diagnosed me with a form of childhood trauma, Complex PTSD. After years of running the gauntlet of antidepressant, mood-stabilizing, and anti-anxiety drugs, I discovered the root cause of decades of pain: childhood trauma. I recently stopped taking a mood stabilizing drug, Lamictal, because I have decided to go against traditional health advice to heal my trauma through ancient methods. I am in this workshop to integrate the wisdom of modern psychology, mindful meditation, and emotional research. 

Finding a calm mind with meditation

Eve leads us in a meditation. She asks us to find calmness in our breath. I am stressed and I avoid making any sounds. I have never meditated with such a large group of strangers. Not wanting to annoy anyone, I silently sit, trying to keep my legs still. My main goal is not to disturb the people next to me. The room is dead quiet. I’m worried about bothering the practice of my seat neighbors. I am calm, yet I am anxious. I’m not able to relax until the very end of the meditation.

Towards the conclusion of the forty-minute practice, an image of Muhammad Ali appears in my mind. Ali’s face shows up in my brain as if clouds in the sky are opening up. His vision in my head surprises me. I have had previous mystical experiences on psychedelic drugs, and this moment feels like one of them. I am in another world. No longer in my own body, I am connected with this image of Muhammad Ali. I am in a state of consciousness where mentally, I am no longer in the room. Sitting with the image for the final few minutes, I am lost in deep meditation. I am no longer stressed about showing up late. I temporarily forget where I am sitting. For these moments, I am no longer recovering from trauma. I am alive.

Eve rings a copper Tibetan bowl to conclude the meditation. I open my eyes with wonder. Looking around the room. I think to myself, “Did anyone else conjure up an image of Muhammad Ali?” Everyone in the room starts to bring movement back into their bodies. I am relaxed. The meditation slowed down the stresses I brought into the room. With my Ali still on my mind, I ponder his life, reflecting on his career as a civil rights champion, professional heavyweight boxer, and Olympic gold medalist.

I think to myself, “Wow, what a heavy experience to have in this group.” I am nervous to tell anyone else about this mystical experience. In my quest to treat my trauma, I would prefer to avoid any negative labels. Having past diagnoses of depression and anxiety, the last thing I need is someone judging me based on this vision. People may call me crazy. 

What the hell is happening?

After we meditate, Eve guides us through an exercise to map the triggers on our body. She hands out worksheets with images of a human body and a face. She asks us to label all the triggers in our bodies. I am tasked to draw out anywhere in my body where I feel stress, unhealthy emotions, and pain. I am ready to get to work. I draw lines and circles on the worksheet, as seen below.

As I write on the worksheet, I am learning that my body is a trigger factory. Analyzing my triggers visually shows me how f*cked up my body feels. I draw small circles and lines on my left temple and cheek, as I feel tension there. I tag my left hip, knee, shin, and ankle as points of stress. I mark my left shoulder, neck, forearm with lines and circles. I label my tailbone with a small circle. Visualizing my pain helps to make me feel less tense. In my decades of talk therapy, I rarely spoke about my physical pain. In this session, I am leaning into the physical. It’s a relief to name the stress, and where it lives in my body. Often, I focus on the emotional side of my feelings, while ignoring the physicality of it all. I note that my left side contains more stress than my right side. As I write these triggers out, it is helping me. Outlining these triggers makes me feel a little bit more seen. After years of therapy sessions, I am sinking my teeth into something more meaningful. I feel heard in a new way from this exercise. 

Why journaling after meditation balances my emotions

After we diagram our triggers, Eve explains that the workshop gives us space for our emotions. She tells the group that today’s session is about confidentiality and trust. Everything we discuss stays in the room. The anonymity of healing in this anonymous group is helpful for me. I am safer sharing personal details about my mental health with non-judgemental strangers, than with people who I know more deeply. I do not plan to see any of these people in the room again. These people are not my family, friends, or co-workers. Due to the anonymous feeling, I do not feel judgement. It is a relief to spend this afternoon checking out from my routine. This workshop is a much needed escape. 

Eve shares that she wants to help recognize destructive emotions that harm the world, and turn them into constructive emotions. That sounds like an impossible task, yet here I am. When I meditate, I go deep into the recesses of my mind. During this workshop, I learn how important journaling is for me, especially after long periods of meditation. In a meditative space, I make time for myself. I detach from the world and find peace. In this state of mind, I conjure up a lot of memories, images, and ideas. Writing out these ideas helps me to communicate my thoughts. It’s different than traditional therapy, where I talk through my problems with someone else. When I journal after meditation, I am forced to focus on myself and how I feel. Today I acknowledge the root causes of my pain. My goal is to end the cycles of trauma in my body. 

After journaling for a few sessions, Eve drops many nuggets of information about emotions. 

  • Emotions are supposed to last a total of ninety seconds. 
  • Any trigger lasting more than ninety seconds is rumination. 
  • Ruminating is when one emotion becomes an entire cycle. 

This blows my mind.

During one writing session, I journal about a traumatic episode from my childhood. I write about a memory that comes up with my Dad yelling at my brother. I associate the diagrammed triggers in my left shoulder with pain from this memory. As a kid, my older brother lost his wallet at the mall, and my Dad yelled at him over it. I recognize that I may have stored the stress from that incident in my left shoulder. 

I write:

“My left shoulder felt anger for my Dad, for how he treated my older brother. Screaming, yelling, and belittling him. I couldn’t hear my Mom’s voice, yet I imagined her blessing this outburst. I cried inside. I witnessed it.

Now my elbow is feeling like it is convulsing, perhaps it is healing and taking control. My brother had lost his wallet. I heard this yelling through the bathroom, listening to my father’s anger through the door. My brother had gone to Valley West Mall with his friend Todd. He was probably in 8th grade. I am thinking about it in a whole new way. I’m going to shake hands with this fear, by being compassionate to the two boys who felt that angry episode.” 

Reflecting on the event, I assess my inner child feelings. 

I journal:

“I hide under covers. Wincing. Shoulder pain. Every word. Familiar feeling in defeat and despair. I immediately suppressed these feelings. My family acted acting like it never happened. Witnessing my brother’s pain hurts. I felt shame for not sticking up for him.”

The power of anonymous group healing

Again, I am heard. Eve splits us into dyads, and we work with a partner on the diagramming. Having a complete stranger in this trusting environment gives me relief. I am free to open up, knowing that I will never see this person again. I share personal details about my life without hesitation. There is a safe feeling in my body. He is more of a witness than a friend. I tell this sixty-year-old looking white man about my childhood trauma story, and it feels cathartic. He also tells me about his journal entry, and I listen.

We do a few more writing sessions when I see a friendly face in the crowd. My friend Kat is also in attendance. I am surprised to see her. I debate if I want to say hello or not. Part of me wants to keep the anonymity. I wonder if she does not recognize me. I have grown a thick goatee and mustache since I saw saw her. At the end of the workshop, Eve leads a final discussion. She asks the crowd if we have any questions or comments., Even though I’m nervous, I raise my hand. I share with the group that I conjured up the image of a 1960’s civil rights icon as I meditated. I hide the detail that Muhammad Ali was who came to mind. Not wanting to be judged by this group, I do not share the specific vision about Ali. 

 

Afterward, I approach Kat to say hello. We grab a burrito together at the Mexican restaurant close by the studio. It’s now 6pm and I am in a much different headspace after today. I eat a chip with salsa. I share with Kat the vision of Ali. She is excited for me. She explains that I was channeling and that it is totally normal. I’m not even certain what channeling means, yet it is comforting to hear. She offers to send me a video on channeling later that night. Having not told too many people about my Complex PTSD diagnoses, I open up to Kat about how I feel. She is supportive, which is refreshing. I feel less judged and think that maybe I will be better once my recovery is complete.

During the following weeks, I intentionally thinking about Muhammad Ali while I meditate. I also re-watch the Oscar nominated documentary When We Were Kings. The film chronicles an epic boxing match, The Rumble in the Jungle, between Ali and George Foreman from 1974. Ali is the challenger to the undefeated heavyweight champion Foreman. Ali comes in as a massive underdog. Ali deploys a rope-a-dope technique in which he plays the majority of the fight staying on the ropes. Finally Ali waits for Foreman to fatigue, and came out swinging in a later round, knocking out Foreman. Ali shocked the world by knocking him down.

I have spent much life on the boxing ropes in different traditional Western-based therapies. Like Muhammad Ali, I’ve survived many blows. Yet, I never fully healed. I absorbed a lot of metaphorical blows to the head, chest, and gut in my life. Doctors prescribed me numerous types of antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and even an antipsychotic drug, which made me fall asleep at work. Ancient medicine is my missing link to feeling fully healthy. My goal is to recover by knocking out my opponent with a flurry of punches. I deployed the rope-a-dope in my healing.  Like Ali, I waited until a later round in life to deliver the knockout blow. I am an underdog, and have only myself to prove. 

Links:

Insight LA meditation studio

CEB: Cultivating Emotional Balance

His Holiness the Dalai Lama 

Many thanks to Blake Reichmann, Noah Maier, Sara Campbell, Joel Christiansen, Kyla Scanlon, Asad Badruddin, and Drew Stegmaier in helping with the editing.