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How did you get into meditation and how has meditation impacted your life?
I was always a quiet, introspective kid who liked to spend time in nature and didn’t mind alone time, so it’s funny that my first formal meditation experiences were in a group setting as part of a class I took at a yoga studio called Spiritual Growth and Meditation.
This was when I was out of college and in my 20’s — I was feeling lost and seeking answers. Since those classes, meditation has become a daily practice for me – it would be hard to describe all of the changes I have seen from integrating the practice into my life. One of the most important ones for me though is being able to be OK with not being totally in control of my life. It’s easier for me to laugh and move on when things don’t go my way, and also easier for me to not get too attached when things are going well.
How does it feel when you are in a meditative state?
I learned about meditation through yoga. In Classical Yoga (first written text we know of is called “The Yoga Sutras” attributed to an Indian sage and author, Patanjali) there are 4 stages that describe the process of moving into meditation. I’ll name them with their Sanskrit names and describe how they show up in my personal practice a little bit:
Stage 1: Pratyahara – Turning attention inwards. This is the first stage of my practice where I actively try to re-direct my senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch) away from my surroundings. This might look like closing my eyes or focusing my eyes on a single candle flame, it might look like me finding a quiet space so there is less noise to distract me, or if no quiet space can be found, not trying to figure out or follow the sounds that are happening around me. It might also look like me noticing sensations inside of my body (breath flow, heart beat etc.) rather than outside of my skin. As an introvert, this stage usually feels like a relief, and it often relaxes me.
Stage 2: Dharana – Focused attention and concentration. This is the point in my practice where I choose one point of focus (I call it my anchor) for my mind to come back to. The anchor is like my home base. My anchor might be the flow of my breath or a mantra/repetitive phrase. Whenever I start to daydream, reminisce, or problem solve in my head, there is a part of me that is watching and realizing I’ve lost my chosen point of of focus and this part of me says “hey, come back!” This stage often feels like work, but I enjoy it.
Stage 3: Dhyana – Sustained concentration/meditation – This is the stage where I am able to keep focusing on my anchor for more than two or three breaths before another thought breaks in. Even though I’ve been practicing for years now, there are still days where it is difficult for me to get to this stage. Getting into the meditative state is always a possibility, but it’s not something I can predict and it doesn’t happen every time I practice. All I have control over is making the decision to practice, making the time to do it, settling in, and choosing an anchor. Meditation occurs to me when conditions are right. It has gotten easier to get to this state when I am doing a practice every day.
Stage 4: Samadhi – Bliss beyond description/interconnection with all that is. This is the stage of the practice that is described in texts (and by great teachers) as being aware that there is no separation between any living or non-living being in the past, present, or future. Sounds pretty far out, but I think I have experienced this once – I wrote more about it here – and the experience is something that will forever inform how I look at the world and other people. This stage is a blessing, and I do not seek it when I come to my practice. I believe that this stage will “happen to me” when I am ready for it.
What is the top 3 most valuable life advice you can give from your life experience so far?
#1 This too will pass. Everything moves in cycles.
#2 Adopt a dog. They will model how to love unconditionally.
#3 Make time for your practice. Although you cannot know how it will impact you, trust that it will.
What is your favourite quote?
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
What is something easy and simple that we can do right now to make the world a better place?
Smile at strangers.
Hold the door for someone who’s hands are full.
Small and random acts of kindness are more powerful than we know.
What would you say has been the biggest benefit from meditation?
Waking up to how I create so much of my own suffering.
Meditation has shown me how to observe my perceptions, my thoughts and my reactions to other people’s actions.
It has shown me how easy it is for me to blame other for “stressing me out” and “stealing my peace.” But, in actuality my inability to let go of the circumstance and to forgive creates my suffering.
Taking things personally, and panicking over events that will mean nothing in 10 years creates my suffering. I’d like to think it’s made me easier to live with 🙂
What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome? How did you overcome it? And what lessons did you learn from it?
I was born premature and underwent heart surgery (without anesthesia) in my first days of life. I was on oxygen for a month after my birth because my lungs were not fully developed.
I believe that this time in my life is the single biggest challenge that I’ve lived through. I do not know how I overcame it other than the grace of some very caring human beings, the intelligence of a body that fights to heal itself, and God.
The lesson of this challenge for me is that I can never take my life for granted. I am here for a reason, my life meant something then, and no matter how blue I might get, my life won’t stop meaning something.
When you think about happiness, how do you define that for yourself?
I think happiness is a moving target.
Another teacher of mine once said that contentment and happiness are different goals and to aim for contentment instead of happiness. If we constantly aim for happiness, we miss out on feelings like grief, discomfort, frustration, impatience. And while I’d rather not spend all my time with those feelings, they make me more human. I’m able to connect with other people, art, music, theatre because those feelings are real for me. Contentment is when I’m still able to be grateful for where I am now even if it’s not where I’m aiming to go.
Do you have a message for our Mindbliss Community?
“Keep up your practice. The world needs you.” ~ Love, Hannah.