They say you should always take your own advice. Practice what you preach.
Confession: I didn’t.
I ‘lost’ my meditation practice summer last year.
For years I’d been meditating before bed, and I’d take about an hour to wind down. At ten or ten thirty, I’d put the book away, turn off the TV, turn off the computer, switch the phone off – unplug, to simply sit with myself, on my meditation pillow wrapped in a meditation shawl, for twenty minutes or half an hour, followed by some journalling. It was perhaps my favourite time of day – the turning inwards in the evening. But it got too hard. As I mentioned before, my health problems increased once again in 2013, and I found myself in a mess with a whole list of bizarre, scary and debilitating symptoms with no one to turn to for help. (Later that year I got a diagnosis, after well over six years of suffering: it turns out to be Lyme disease). Sitting on my meditation pillow became torture – it was too scary to turn inwards, for fear of what I might encounter, or more accurately: what I did encounter.
Escape sounded a lot better. Any escape would do.
So, in the futile pursuit of relief, I kept the computer or TV on late into the night for distraction, or went to the gym and quite literally exercised till I collapsed (which didn’t take much as I had stopped sleeping almost entirely. But still: don’t be stupid. Don’t do this.) In another attempt to please keep hell at bay I went on a retreat in Thailand, where I relearnt what I already knew: when things get tough, or in any situation really, your resilience comes from within. It comes from being centered in yourself, and from the joy and inspiration that lives there. Always. You just have to tap into it (but sometimes you have to go through some scary, yukky, intense things to get there). Nevertheless, I still wasn’t ready to meditate by myself when I returned from Thailand – I was too uneasy and anxious and scattered and was suffering too much.
Something changed a couple of weeks ago. I felt a yearning to get back to my practice. I had to. But I didn’t quite know how. So what I did is sign up for an e-course: Susannah Conway’s ‘The Sacred Alone’, which guides you gently into creating a daily checking in with yourself through meditation and journalling. Oh. Best decision I’ve made this year. It was exactly what I needed – someone who would go there with me, even if only virtually. Bliss. My practice is back.
Meditation is how I shift from worry, fear, pushing myself too hard, or any of the other unhelpful states I may find myself in, to a place of flow and magic and thrill.
I find out there is always enough.
I find out I don’t need to get anywhere.
I am already there.
Interestingly, once my perception shifts, it replenishes my energy. Instantaneously. And I know that if I live and work from this place of ease and flow, everything will be OK. Enough with the pushing and shoving and trying too hard. (Not always easy).
When I first started meditating I took an 8-week mindfulness course. I loved the idea of meditation, but I found out that actually doing it is difficult. And boring. The difficulty and boredom are a crucial step. Sometimes it is all there is. But in the long run it pays off.
In terms of academic work I believe having a meditation practice does two important things: firstly, it is mind training. You learn to focus on what you choose to focus on. This skill is invaluable when you are in the business of doing challenging mental work. It also teaches you to let go and relax when you choose, which is helpful in a profession where the boundaries between work and private life are foggy at best, and switching off is notoriously difficult.
Secondly, it helps you stay connected with your inspiration and creativity. It helps you wash off the criticism and all the small and larger failures along the way. It makes you resilient. You will find out: you have an inner compass and it is accurate. All you need to do is check in with it.
This week, why not give meditation a go and meditate with me? Set your timer for 5, 10, or 20 minutes and focus on your breathing, or listen to a guided meditation online. (There are 4 full-length guided meditations in my HappyPhD Course). And sit. Sit with me. It will be wonderful.
I’ll be talking about my meditation practice this week on twitter – so follow me there if you want to join me. Let me know how it goes.