Many people ask me how to meditate. My answer is always the same, for newbies and gurus alike: Just sit. And breathe.
I’ve been meditating consistently for over 20 years. It started out of necessity, life or death, actually. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that in my late teens, early twenties, I was severely depressed, on the verge of suicide daily. A psychiatrist diagnosed me with Manic Depressive Syndrome, now commonly known as Bipolar Disorder. He wanted to give me drugs. Back then, there wasn’t a hundred different types to choose from and Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil were not common household names. People didn’t sit around in coffee shops casually comparing their antidepressants as if they were talking about favorite coffee flavors. I didn’t know much about it but I knew that I didn’t want to be a muted, drugged out zombie. I wanted to LIVE, fully, awake, aware, present.
The latest study by the federal government, performed by the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2011 found that one in every ten Americans age 12 and over take antidepressants. What’s even more astounding is the rate at which this statistic has increased. They also found that from 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%. Antidepressants are the most frequently used prescription drug by persons aged 18–44 years.
Now in my forties, having never taken an antidepressant drug in my life, I’m happy to not be part of that statistic. I didn’t agree completely with my psychologist’s diagnosis or his treatment method. While I admit it did give me a huge sense of relief to finally have a reason, a justification for my depression, something that was out of my control, something outside of me that I could put the blame on and consequently take the pressure off myself, I didn’t want to hide behind it.
Previously, I had thought there was something wrong with ME, that somehow I was doing something wrong, a weakness in my will power or behavior perhaps that caused this depression. The diagnosis from a medical professional that basically said, “it’s not you, it’s your brain, you can’t help it” gave me the permission to take the blame off myself and stop beating myself up for it. It gave me a ledge to cling onto long enough to catch a breath, to stop spiraling downward into darkness, and see a glimpse of light, but I didn’t want that to become a crutch that I would lean on the rest of my life. A ledge in a spiraling tunnel of darkness, as relieving as it may be, is still in a tunnel of darkness. I didn’t want to be in that tunnel for the rest of my life no matter how comfortable that ledge was.
I wanted to be out of darkness, and in the light, in joy, where I knew I truly belonged. I knew I wasn’t my depression. That’s not who I was. Somewhere in me, trapped somewhere, in the brain, in the body, in the tunnel… I don’t know, but somewhere, deep deep down, far far away, there was a joyful soul, a joyful human being, a joyful someone.
I just didn’t know how to get to her. And I didn’t know how to get to the light. But I was determined to. It was either be a zombie on drugs for the rest of my life, do something drastic so I wouldn’t have a long rest of my life, or continue existing in the tunnel as I had been. I didn’t like any of those choices. They all meant death. Death of my soul. Death of who I knew I was somewhere deep inside, death of that little girl inside me shouting from the top of her lungs, begging for help. Real help. Lasting help. Not a pill to drown out her cries.
So I started meditating. I don’t know why. I just did. Something in me committed to sitting down every morning, for 15 minutes, without fail. My deal with myself was that I would sit. Just sit. And breathe. That was all I asked of myself. Nothing else needed to happen. I didn’t need to see ethereal visions, beams of light, Universes and stars flowing through me. I didn’t need to reach any kind of spiritual otherworldly transcendental state. I just had to sit. Every day. 15 minutes. And breathe.
For the first couple of months, it was grueling. I didn’t see galaxies or angels or light. I didn’t feel oneness, wholeness or happiness. Contrary, I felt frustrated. I felt like I was wasting time. I felt like I was doing it all wrong. I felt silly, and anxious at times, impatient to get the 15 minutes over with so I could get on with my day (as if I had such a wonderful day to get to). Sometimes I opened my eyes and looked at the clock every few minutes, sometimes every few seconds, to see how much longer I had. Sometimes I mentally went through grocery lists, to do lists and regurgitated the obligatory gratitude lists, without really feeling any gratitude. But I stuck with it. 15 minutes. Every day. No matter what. Just sit. And breathe.
And feel frustrated. Anxious. Tired. Sad. Whatever. Didn’t matter. Just sit. And breathe.
Despite my growing impatience, I kept at it. No matter what exceptionally brilliant and valid reasons my mind concocted to get me to stop meditating within those 15 minutes, I refused to listen. The commitment to the practice gave me a sense of purpose, a solid conviction within me I had not felt since I was a child. It was one thing, one real thing in this Godforsaken life that I could hold onto.
That one thing saved my life, saved me. My commitment became stronger than my impatience, and for months, I woke up every morning, my mind coming up with every excuse in the world not to sit and I sat anyway. And while sitting, it chattered incessantly about how I needed to get up… but I remained sitting anyway.
And then one day, one gloriously non-eventful but life changing day, my mind shut up. It simply gave up. I woke up and didn’t hear any of its reasons to not sit. I sat and didn’t hear any of its reasons to get up. It was quiet. It was the strangest sensation, I thought maybe I had woken up but my mind was still asleep, so I moved around quietly, not wanting to wake it up, but expecting it to wake up any second and make up for lost time by barraging me with its rapid fire of never ending thoughts and opinions.
I wasn’t exactly happy in this new silence, but more importantly, I wasn’t depressed. I actually wasn’t depressed. Something was different, new, not numb. Something was alive. Small, subtle, but alive nevertheless, pulsing, deep within.
And I sat in silence that morning, hearing for the first time the hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen, the birds chirping outside, my breath. My attention moved to my breath. In. Out. In. Out. I saw an infinity symbol and my breath became the symbol, the inhalations and exhalations one continuous figure eight loop. In, around the curve, out, around the curve, in, around the curve, out, around the curve. I became the curve, the movement, the symbol. I became the breath itself.
I don’t know how long I sat that morning but when I opened my eyes, the world seemed different. I seemed different. Not happier. Just lighter. Like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Not all the weight. But some. Enough.
I continued to sit every morning. 15 minutes. Sometimes more. Never less. Sometimes my mind’s chatter came back but it never stuck around long. It knew better. It knew my soul had committed and it knew it was a waste of time to even try convincing the soul otherwise. But I give it kudos for trying, nevertheless. Pretty damn persistent, that mind of mine.
I don’t know what the scientific reasoning is for my mind finally silencing, but the way I see it, the mind (some call it the ego) is an attention hound. It’s like a child who jumps in front of your face everyday striving for your attention. If you don’t give it any, if you just let it be long enough, eventually it gets tired, it sees the futility. It gives up. Goes somewhere else. Before that, and as long as you feed it, it will do whatever is in its power to keep your attention on it, to believe it, to agree with it, listen to it, validate it. Logic. Fear. Manipulation. Whatever it takes.
Fortunately for it, and unfortunately for you, its convincingly brilliant ways defy resistance. One day it will have you believing so firmly in one perspective, believing with everything in you that that perspective is correct, the one and only truth, the next it will spin you entirely around in the opposite direction with such conviction you’ll wonder how you ever believed otherwise. This is what the mind does. It convinces, cajoles, threatens, does whatever it takes to keep you too busy, too preoccupied in its perceptions, judgments and fears to see the truth, the real truth.
That you are not your mind. You are not your thoughts, beliefs, perceptions. You are not your body, your title, your income. You are not your bipolar disorder, your mental ailment, your physical handicap. You are not any label or identifier the mind can come up with to define you. All that exists because of the mind, YOUR mind, but it’s not who you really are. It’s not even remotely close to who you really are.
To find out who you really are, just sit. And breathe. 15 minutes. Every day. Cross legged, straight legged, on a chair, couch, bed, pillow propped behind your back, no pillow, doesn’t matter. Just sit. And breathe. Scratch if you have to, change positions if you’re uncomfortable. Doesn’t matter. Just sit. And breathe. If you’re sitting and breathing, you’re doing it right.
You don’t need to do anything else but commit to sitting. And breathing. Commit. Just one single commitment made in this moment, reaffirmed every day, is enough to change your life. Commit to yourself, your life, your soul, the little boy, the little girl inside you, the grown man, the grown woman you’ve become and are becoming. Commit. Just commit. Doesn’t have to be forever. Just for now. Today. Commit. Just sit. And breathe.
And I’ll meet you on the other side, behind your mind, where your true self lives. Where the beauty, joy, love, bliss and wonder of life exists. Where YOU exist, the REAL you. Can’t wait to meet you. I have a huge heartfelt unconditional love-pouring-out-of-me-
All my love,