Have you ever wondered what the heck people do at the Interfaith Chapel during the meditation circle you keep seeing posters of across campus? Do they chant? Do they praise the gods? Do they dance? Is it awkward? Is it hard to meditate? Do you meet friends at the meditation circle? I am here to answer all of your questions while sharing my journey of starting a regular meditation practice.
I understand first hand the daunting experience of entering a meditation circle as a beginner. Last year was my first year at UVic and I wanted to try out the meditation circle all year. I passed by their posters while bustling into the library, while gasping for breath as I finished walking up the four flights of stairs in Ring Road Residence, and I bit my lip, repeatedly ignoring my intuition screaming at me to try meditation. Have you experienced an intelligent and loving voice inside of your head? This is the voice that comes to you in your most difficult moments, giving you a reason to go on, surging your being with passion and loving energy to contribute to the world. That voice is your intuition and we all have access to its wisdom and encouragement if we are paying attention. I ignored that voice most of first year, aside from my darker moments when I had vivid images of bloody self harm flash through my mind. My intuition stopped me from acting upon these thoughts by reminding me of my purpose: dreams that seemed so out of reach in the ugly, bitter moments of first year that now appear much more attainable in the present. I have finally started listening to my intuition and wonderful things have been happening.
I never once went to meditation circle in my first year. However, given the fact that I had longed to start meditation for years after being exposed to the mind-altering practice by my mother’s friend, I was constantly thinking about it. Throughout my anxious high school years, I would set three-minute timers to focus on my breath and immediately begin vibrating from the inside out. My feet were tapping, accompanied by my body swaying backwards and forwards, trying to escape the deafening silence, as well as the millions of catastrophes and memories that rang out from my mind. My brain reminded me of every single embarrassing thing I had ever done, every academic or social failure and everything that could go horribly wrong in the future, like never getting into university and working at Starbucks forever! I almost never made it through my three-minute timer. I obsessively checked to see if the silence was over every few seconds before silencing my phone and storming out of the room in frustration.
I always knew that meditation would be a useful tool in healing my insistent anxiety that has plagued me all of my life, but starting a practice was excruciating. For years, I thought that if I breathed into stillness and was witness to my thoughts and anxieties, I would explode. Bright flames would expand across the meditation room, encompassing everything in its path, burning meditation pillows and human beings until they were nothing but dust, including me—absolute destruction. I thought I would simply not be able to handle witnessing the fear-based reality my mind had created over a lifetime. I was partially right, but I was predominantly wrong.
The irony of it all is that explosions of fiery hell are often seen as complete annihilation, yet simultaneously, it symbolizes the beginning of all life: The Big Bang. Every single cell in our body was present during that very explosion. Every single beautiful shining star, burning sun and vibrant planet’s particles was present during that explosion that echoes throughout the universe to this day. Our human lives of heartache, love, joy, and sadness are so much like the fire that created us. The supposed end of our worlds, filled with crippling depression, tense anxiety, broken relationships and hopelessness is the beginning of an amazing journey of self-growth, whether we realize it while we’re living amongst the monsters and the shadow creatures or not. It is our birth. It’s funny that the hardest times in our lives turn out to be our greatest lessons. We have to know our deepest sorrows to appreciate our greatest joys.
I learned this lesson after going through a particularly rough first year of university. I returned home to work for the summer and started meditating for five minutes per day. I read a book I highly recommend called Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein I gained invaluable spiritual mentors and suddenly I was able to be still with my thoughts and emotions without glancing at the timer. This was amazing because I had the ability to return to my breath throughout my day. I breathed in deeply as I felt anxiety vibrating through my body all the way to the tips of my fingers and toes before settling in a foggy haze on my forehead, clouding my thoughts and judgements. I remembered to breathe and to root my feet solidly in the earth; the fog dissipated into a strange newfound sense of clarity. This was revolutionary—it was a small skill and certainly not the answer to all of my issues, but it marked significant progress. I was able to respond to all situations with a clearer and more loving perspective.
I started my second year at UVic in the fall and I immediately started attending the meditation circles once per week. It is truly a calm, inviting, and loving space to enter. All the meditation cushions are placed in a circle around a bright orange table cloth with a beautiful mandala and a candle lit to signify the Big Bang from which we all came. Henri Locke, the chaplain, does a brief introduction to meditation every session. He ensures that his introductions are different each time and he finds topics that will apply to everyone regardless of where they are on their meditation journey. Henri finishes by tapping a gong that serenely echoes throughout the room into my very bones and sends everyone into a twenty-minute sitting meditation. Your mind will wander. You may fixate on memories and responsibilities more than you would like. You may experience peaceful serenity. Anything could happen. All experiences are beautiful, divine and perfectly okay. Your mind will think about this and that. It is your job to focus on the breath when you notice yourself becoming attached to the thoughts your mind is producing. You are the observer. As Pema Chodron said, “You are the sky and everything else is just the weather.” Your thoughts and emotions are just the weather and you are the sky—powerful and unchanging.
Meditation is a powerful tool that is known to reduce stress levels significantly. Additionally, there is an amazing community in the meditation club that will welcome you. I attended the last meditation retreat at Shawnigan Lake and it was one of the most wholesome, loving experiences I have ever had. We practiced meditation first thing in the morning and before supper at night. My skin that is usually bumpy and coated in red acne cleared up almost completely from living peacefully for two days amongst the trees, the gorgeous lake and some lovely human beings. We developed a deep sense of trust for all thirty-five people. We were vulnerable and opened our hearts to those who would listen. We listened when people offered their heartfelt stories. We were grateful to develop such strong, genuine connections in merely two days. The retreat ended in thirty-five people hugging and smiling passionately, joy rising from the raw human connection we all experienced. I will not say more, but I highly encourage you to try it if you’re interested.
If you want to try meditation and you’re afraid, please try it. You will not die, I promise. It may change your life. It certainly changed mine. It’s such a seemingly simple skill that takes a lifetime to master. If you are at peace with your mind and looking at life through a loving lens, then everything else will be taken care of—your goals, your aspirations, your intentions and everything in between. I have not yet reached that level by any stretch of the imagination, but like I said, it’s our life’s work. Wherever you are at in life or in your meditation journey is perfectly divine. You are exactly where you need to be.