Meditation is a term I’ve been familiar with for as long as I can remember. I studied in a school with deep roots in vedic heritage, and our morning assembly had ten minutes dedicated for students to meditate. I didn’t really enjoy it back then, even indulging in the odd diss.
Fast forward 15 years, to the present.
Every year, I undertake a pilgrimage to the Sabarimala temple in mid December. It is a tradition where men in my family do a form of fasting for 42 days starting mid November (known as viratham in Tamil). A few days before I started the viratham this time, I met a friend of mine from childhood after a long time. He had moved back to India after spending five years in America. We chose a fine dine restaurant for lunch.
“How long would it normally take for the food to arrive here? About 15 minutes?”, he asked me casually as we entered the restaurant. “Yeah, shouldn’t take longer than that. Why though?”, I asked in return. “I usually meditate before taking my lunch, so was wondering if that would be a good window”, he said. I quickly hid the surprise from my face, but was burning with curiosity inside. Here’s someone who was going to give me a live demo for meditating that day.
We went and sat at a cozy table inside. Immediately after placing the order, he excused himself, closed his eyes and began inhaling and exhaling deeply. The restaurant was filling up fast and was bustling with activity. I kept looking around nervously, wondering what the people in the adjacent tables would be thinking about us. Weirdos, for sure. The soup and starters were served in under 10 minutes and I decided to help myself. You either have piping hot soup or no soup at all. Soon after, his phone started to ring. It continued for one whole minute and he didn’t move a muscle. I realised he was in some sort of a trance, not remotely affected by the din of the restaurant. It was an impressive demonstration. He was done in 17 minutes (yes I kept track), and started swallowing the food on the table like nothing happened. I thought I’ll give it some time.
While we were in the car on the way back, I asked him about it. “Why meditation? No wait, that’s too broad. Let me put it this way. If you have to convince me to start meditating, how would you do it?”
“What are you seeking to achieve by meditating?” he asked me in return. “What is missing in your life that you want a solution for?”
I thought long and hard. I had never considered meditation as a solution to my problems. To be honest, I didn’t think anything was wrong with my life until that point.
He went on, “While in grad school, I was under a lot of stress. I was bordering depression. That’s when I got introduced to this. I have been doing it for four years now and life hasn’t been better. What’s more, I haven’t fallen seriously ill even once in these four years.”
“Okay, but what is the experience like? What happens when you’re doing it?” I asked.
“As you do it, you will slowly understand that everything is internal. You gain access to your mind like never before. It opens the door to certain levels of consciousness previously unexplored. There are many schools of thought around this, but it basically boils down to focusing on your breathing”, he said. “But you have to keep at it. Looking at it as a solution to a problem may give you the required motivation. You could do it as an explorative activity too”. He suggested a few courses as starting points for the process and I said I’ll give it a shot.
I went back home that evening and started preparing for the viratham. I wanted to test my resolve this time, so decided to add a few more things to my list of no-dos this year. Stop consuming digital content, playing video games and going out to socialise. Reduce the time spent in infinitely scrolling through social media apps. This will end up freeing a lot of space in my day. Read books and start working out diligently. Most importantly, create a window to meditate first thing in the morning, every day. I did some basic reading on the subject and resolved to try it out on my own at home first. If it doesn’t work out, I can always sign up for a course.
I started small, by setting a five minute timer. I would wake up, sit cross legged and breathe in and out for five minutes first thing in the morning. The initial days were hard, much like any new activity. I had to fight the urge to open my eyes and look at the phone or my watch. One of the days I was interrupted by my maid, after which I decided to wake up earlier to prevent distractions. I shut the windows to reduce the sound from construction activities across the road. I wasn’t sure if I should let my thoughts wander or block them. Focus was an expensive commodity. But I decided to trust the process and keep at it.
It takes 21 days to build a habit. Results will follow. They eventually do.
I soon started noticing a few things. Firstly, I wasn’t feeling tired or sleepy during the day. My mood was more stable; I wasn’t displaying emotional spikes. Somehow, I felt my mind was functioning at a better pace. Most importantly, I was able to notice and acknowledge these changes in me.
As I began to gain more control, I started increasing the timing. I could close my eyes and focus on my breathing for 15 minutes without feeling too restless. With the eyes closed, I realised that there was no consumption of new content. My mind kept whirring around a finite set of thoughts and soon hit a dead end. It briefly reached what I wish to call the flow state, or a trip. It is a period when you lose track of what’s around you. Sustaining this flow state for the entire duration was the challenge. Sometimes, trivial things like the pressure cooker whistle going off snapped me out of it. On the other hand, doing it by the beach with the sound of the waves helped me stay in it longer.
It is now over four months since I started the process and it has been so far so good. Doing it first thing in the morning helps me declutter and organise the mind. It has made me less impulsive, thereby enabling me take better decisions. Even if rest of my day doesn’t go according to plan, I feel like I’ve already accomplished something by waking up early and doing this.
There is a popular proverb in Tamil: “Katrathu Kaiman Alavu Kallathathu Ulagalavu”, which translates to “What you know is as big as the size of sand in your palm, what you do not know is as big as the size of the universe”. Four months is a very short time and I feel like I’m taking baby steps in the spiritual path. The deeper I go, the more I realise there is to learn. This has only made the journey more exciting.