It has been 26 years since I’ve started meditating at the age of 19. What an incredible journey it was! I practiced several different types of meditation, both on my own and in monasteries under a teacher’s guidance. In these several blogs, I would like to share my experiences, the problems I encountered, the solutions, and real (sometimes surprising) benefits of my practice.
At 19 I was miserable, lonely and depressed. That time in Kazakhstan the main treatment for that was heavy drinking or smoking marijuana, and it wasn’t for me. Any real mental treatment or help was only for violently insane or someone who has already attempted suicide. So I read somewhere that meditation can help.
I took a local course on Transcendental Meditation; it was very new and fashionable thing in Almaty. I was given a mantra and practiced religiously 20 min in the morning, 20 min in the evening. I noticed first changes in about 2 months. Something happened which would usually send me to a depressed state, but this time, it didn’t!
Gradually, I was gaining some new emotional stability and resilience to stress and pressure. Must say, in the beginning, I never got my busy mind to stop or even slow down. Just kept going with the mantra, sometimes parallel to thinking process, despite any apparent signs of success.
I believe that this is something crucial to remember for the beginner – you won’t see any signs of improvement for a while, changes are very gradual and subtle, almost unnoticeable, kind of like undercurrent beneath you waking mind. Many people abandon meditation practice because they expect thought process to stop immediately, or some immediate dramatic results. It takes time.
Your brain needs to rewire itself; new pathways need to be formed, new, previously unused areas, activated. Scientific research has shown that regular meditation changes brain activity dramatically, but as with any learning or any changes, it needs time and effort.
This first result inspired me to keep doing it, in my spare time I would bring my meditation sittings to an hour, which kind of became almost a norm for many years to come – an hour a day, usually in the evening. I also tried to meditate on the bus, during especially boring lecture, during lunch time. Even short meditation during the day seemed to freshen my mind.
My concentration and memory improved dramatically. To pass an exam in the uni, I would just read a textbook once and remember what I read with perfect clarity. I graduated with flying colors pretty much studying only just before exams.
I was still prone to low-level depression and a general feeling of sadness, but I learned to deal with it, not allowing it to through me into a non-functional state. In my early-mid 20s, I had to go through some difficult times: my husband’s alcoholism (which lead him to an early demise), my father’s violent paranoia, the collapse of USSR, economic crisis and extreme poverty. There were times I didn’t have a chance to meditate, or only had 10 min a day, or was in too much pain to be alone with my mind, but eventually, I would come back to do it again.
Even with breaks, I think that emotional stability acquired through meditation helped me immensely during these times. It was like I had some inner ground, inner strength not to plunge into self-pity and keep going, keep changing and adapting with troubled times.
During first few years of practice I didn’t have any unusual or mystical experiences, no visions or earth-shattering insights; just kept doing it like a daily routine, kind of a mental shower. By that time, I knew that the absence of any immediate results is not an indicator, plus there was an intuitive knowledge that this is not the end, that more is to come…