“Why don’t you try Meditation? I started six months ago and it has changed my life so much."
These were the exact words my sister said to me gently, in the car, while we were waiting for our mom to finish buying her groceries. That was back in February 2014.
I did not know back then that this conversation would be a major turning point in my life. It was the same advice my mom had been giving me for so many years, yet I had never taken it into serious consideration.
My sister went back to Singapore and it was business as usual.
However that very Monday, after having my dinner, I decided to give thirty minutes of my life away to my inner self. To this day, I do not know why I decided to do what I did that night but I am forever grateful to my mom, my sister and all my teachers who have made me who I am today.
Gently closing my bedroom door, I came up with the bright idea that maybe using earplugs might help. I was more excited about using the earplugs than the meditation in itself. I made myself comfortable, resting my back against the bed in a seated position. Inserting the earplugs so as to remove further distraction, I switched off the bed lights next to where I was sitting. "Another bright idea of mine," I told myself. Off I was with my eyes closed. Everything was pitch black.
As the squashed foam earplugs regained their shape, the sound of the room slowly faded, replaced by the sound of my breathing. From my earlier attempts meditating once or twice before in my life, as a young child, during a stint as a novice for a few days, I knew that you had to focus on a specific object amongst the others present in your surroundings. I had also learnt this in theory from my mother, who had started her own personal dhamma (laws of nature) journey many years ago.
Personally, I found the sound of my own breathing the most outstanding phenomenon in that moment, so I focused my concentration on that. After concentrating on the sound of my breath for about three breaths, I said to myself, "This concentration stuff is easy - I can do this!” and then went back to my breathing.
A second later, another thought arose, “If I do this in my current position, I bet I could sit for hours." Feeling satisfied with my achievement, I pressed on, focusing on the sound of the breath. A few seconds passed by with me thinking how good my first meditation was going, how easy and relaxing it was and how I needed to tell my mom how easy it was so that she would be impressed with my achievement.
Suddenly, my focus picked up on one thought, "Wait a minute, my focus on the sound of my breath is gone.” Then, another thought arose, “If I am following my thoughts, then I am not focusing on my breath anymore.” I started noticing many more thoughts arising and passing away. That was when I realized that the focus on my breath had long left me since my third breath. “So much for that great feeling... Hold on - that’s another two more thoughts." However there was one useful thought that arose out of all of these non-stop thoughts.
“If you are a beginner, try to make an effort to breathe stronger and deeper as this helps to keep your mind from wandering off."
I had heard this advice on an MP3 audio I had started listening to, on my way to work that very morning. The speaker happened to become my lifelong teacher eventually, but that is another story.
I took one deep breath, followed by another and then another, breathing deeper and stronger than normal to place my focus on my breathing. I noticed this helped me a lot as making an effort to breathe this way indeed gave me no chance to pull my focus away. (This is useful only for a few minutes as the body will get tired of breathing this way as it is not the normal manner of breathing. It also helps to support you when you have difficulty focusing.)
I noticed my concentration had improved and I was able to catch a few thoughts out of the many that arose compared to the many I did not even notice until I was flowing with them already.
This was when I realized that focusing on my mind was similar to driving to work during peak hour. My eyes would wander to every single object that caught my attention, be it a nice car, a dodgy car, people walking on the street, etc.
Each and every one of these objects represented a thought that arose in the mind trying to grab the mind's attention.
“This is not going to be easy,” another thought arose.
I opened my eyes to check the time and realized that I was only ten minutes into my meditation and my consciousness had been bombarded with an army of thoughts.
“Every single phenomenon arises and passes away, this is the Law of Nature."
Another thought that caught my attention, another line that stuck in my head from the same audio that I listened to earlier in the morning.
So I closed my eyes again, this time not rushing to focus or worrying about losing my focus on my breath, instead taking a step back and becoming an audience to my mind: a watcher.
Of course, as this was my first time doing this, it was not long before interesting thoughts, etc. pulled me away but every time I regained my focus. I tried to watch and observe on the most prominent phenomenon, be it a breath, an urge to scratch my arm, a thought, and the pins and needles that started to develop in my legs or anything else that stood out in the chaos in my mind.
Slowly and gently, I noticed there were lesser phenomena arising, and at the same time, the phenomena that had arisen had passed away. I started to notice the soft gentle flow of air in and out through my nostrils. This was by far the best phenomenon I experienced that night. The soft, gentle movement touching my nostril felt as though there was an invisible line drawn by the flow and with it, I felt quietness and stillness while my focus was on the breath and on the breath alone. I was living in the ‘present’ moment.
“Where have all my thoughts gone?” Of course this was a thought, a new phenomenon arising that managed to slip past my concentration on my breath while I was enjoying the bliss of the 'Present' moment.
Yes, ‘The Present Moment’, as easy as it sounds we tend to drift away from it on a daily basis.
I figured this was enough for one night and opened my eyes. I felt energized and recharged. Everything was bright and clear. Maybe this was because I rested for twenty minutes with my eyes closed or maybe because there were less thoughts and I was temporarily living in the Present moment for a change.
Ever since that night, I have been a traveller, not outwardly but inwardly, watching my mind.
The journey has been extraordinary and I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in meditation to go for it. There are only benefits waiting for you if you truly make a commitment to it.
Discovering your inner self is so much more interesting compared to any other experience on the outside and yet it is a subject we tend to overlook.
Similar to life, in meditation there are no good or bad experiences but merely just experiences to learn from, to unconver and most importantly to evolve.
Beneath the daily mental phenomenon of thoughts that lure you to participate in the mental states and qualities such as Wants, Needs, Desires, Worries, Stress, Anxiety, Anger, Sadness, Jealousy, etc., there is the deeper you, the peaceful you…the ‘Real You’, waiting to be realized.
Best of luck on your great journey!
Greg Lwin practices in the teachings of dhamma and vipassana meditation while working full time in Perth, Western Australia. When he is not meditating, he is either writing or reading about consciousness, spirituality, ancient mythology, religions and cultures. He is also the author of a fantasy horror book, “The Samsaric”, to be published in September 2015.