I hate discomfort.
As a society, we’ve learnt that if we’re just the slightest bit uncomfortable, we should adjust. We should switch to a different feeling pronto.
If we’re bored, we pick up our phone. If we’re stressed, we pick up a snack. If we feel an ache in our back, we pop a pill. Sitting in the boredom, stress or back-ache is just not an option. Our brain is designed to switch our energy to something better.
Meditation is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to really question this on a deeper level.
Sure, it’s all well and good that our brain wants us to feel good all the time. Who doesn’t want to feel good? But when you realise that it only takes the mildest discomfort to irritate you, you begin to see things differently. Dropping the milk on the kitchen floor shouldn’t ruin your day. Getting a text from your friend who is letting you down shouldn’t ruin your friendship for weeks. Bumping your elbow shouldn’t lead to a tirade of curses about yourself and an inanimate object that got the better of you.
If these small obstacles set you off so that you’re grumpy, frustrated and angry at the world, imagine what a big setback would do. Sure, we’ve all been there. We’ve all felt emotions build up. Maybe they’ll subside after 5 minutes or maybe they’ll hang around all day or all week. The truth is none of us want to be controlled by our thoughts and emotions.
So how can we change?
For the longest time, I thought this was normal. For most of my life, if something didn’t go my way, I felt like the world had dealt me a shit card. I was a victim. If things started to go badly, my thoughts and emotions were my worst enemy.
Meditation has completely changed this for me.
In the beginning, I struggled. I felt that discomfort. I felt aching in my back after a few minutes and felt annoyed. I felt an itch on my nose and felt an insatiable need to scratch it. I tried to clear my mind but instead had a million thoughts rush through my head. They had no right to be there.
I felt angry that I wasn’t cut out for this meditation thing. I couldn’t stop my posture from slouching. I couldn’t stop the constant itching, aches and pains. I couldn’t stop my mind from chasing every thought.
For years, I dipped in and out of meditation. For the longest time I thought it was meant to be a place where you completely clear your mind of thoughts. So of course, it’s only natural that every time a thought came in, I would get annoyed with myself and I’d eventually quit.
It took me a lot of frustrating years to realise this was all wrong. It wasn’t until I decided to commit to meditation every day that things began to change. With my commitment, I decided to let go of any expectation. I did not try to control my thoughts. If I sat for 10 minutes and didn’t get a moment’s peace, so be it.
During this time I learnt two of the most valuable lessons of my life.
- You do not have to interact with your thoughts.
After a while, of sitting with your thoughts, you realise that the more you interact with them, the more they grow. You begin to see that thought-filled moments are chaos. When you follow your thoughts, you’re robbing yourself of what could otherwise be a truly peaceful moment. This is true in meditation and it is true in life.
And so, I learnt with each new thought, that it was not something to be frustrated by. Instead, every thought became an opportunity to choose the mindset that I want. I could choose to let my thoughts drift in and out. I could choose not to engage the thought which said “work is going to be tough today. You’ve got that horrible phone call to make”. I decide to let that thought drift on by. I remind myself that it is not real. It’s a future moment that hadn’t happened. I focus on this moment instead. I breathe. I bring myself back. The more I do this, the easier it gets.
The real practice is in these moments when you first realise your thoughts are drifting to something else. It’s in the way you respond to this. It’s in the way you treat yourself after. This is where you gain great compassion, insight and patience. As soon as I started to grow these values in my meditation practice, I saw these values showing up in my daily life in a huge way.
2. Staying in the moment dissolves stress.
I suffered with stress at work my whole adult life. I always thought it was my workload. I thought it was my own fault. I take on too much and then I get taken advantage of. It was a vicious cycle of over-working and relentless dedication to pleasing others.
Through meditation I realised that it was not the workload but the way I treated it. I realised that every stressful thought I had was something that hadn’t happened yet. Usually something from the ever-increasing To Do list. Ultimately, my stress was based on a future thing that didn’t exist. So I worked on staying present instead. I focused on living in the current moment as best I could.
If you can stay present, you don’t experience that stress. If you get stressed by something, you have to deal with it twice. Once whilst you’re tormenting yourself over it and second when the actual moment comes. I find the torment we put ourselves through is usually the worst part and we actually have the power not to experience this part. We simply need to let it go and stay in the present.
I know, easier said than done. But if you practice this in meditation, you learn that you get better at it in real life. You catch yourself getting stressed by the pile of paperwork on your desk. You stop. You breathe. You pick up the first task and you stay present whilst you complete it mindfully. When you’re done, you can pick up the next task. Life becomes so much simpler when you stay present for each thing you do.
I think that the really extraordinary part of a meditation journey is when you unknowingly change within your daily life. You catch a worry or frustration pop into your head and you choose to let it go. You begin to experience every moment of your life differently.
I’d heard all of this before and my reaction was usually “yeah, yeah, yeah, but…”. I always had an excuse for not believing it was really possible. “yeah, maybe if I had less on my plate I could feel that way too”. Well, I want to tell you that the excuses you make aren’t true. You can feel calm even in a stressful working environment. It takes practice staying in the moment but it is completely possible.
I cannot fully explain the feeling that this freedom gives you. After 18 years of incredible stress on my mind and body, I did not consider it possible to change. When I suddenly found that I was calm in moments that would have stressed me in the past, I realised the true power in my meditation practice. I feel like a completely different person.
I smile to myself. I hope beyond hope that I can help others find this place too. The moment is a good place to be.