Generation Mindful: Six Young Meditators and Their Stories

CC-BY Akhlispurnomo

On my first day of grad school, each student had to give a short “about me” presentation in front of the whole group (a bit daunting for sure).

We got about five minutes to tell our new classmates three things that shaped us most. People spoke about favorite aunties, special grandpas, backpacking adventures, the birth of their children, the death of a loved one, getting hired, getting fired, and other life-changing events.

A good number of my peers mentioned meditation in these brief talks. As a meditator myself, I was inspired and, frankly, surprised to see this trend in such a progressive and international crowd.

Below are a few mini-interviews with my classmates that paint a portrait of diverse young people around the globe finding meaning in mediation.


Viktor Olsson, Sweden

What was your earliest experience with meditation?

Meditation is something I have known about since I was young, especially through movies and relatives that lived abroad. But my first actual experience was in my classroom in 8th grade, where my teacher had us all practice meditation as part of understanding what we were reading about at the moment. I can’t recall what we were reading about, but I remember the meditation part. She lit a candle, turned off the lights, and told us to focus all thoughts and energy on the flame.

In your own words, what is meditation?

Meditation is when I stop the world around me by clearing my head and focusing all my energy into breathing and forget what awaits or troubles me. It is a moment where I treat my brain and myself with a break.

What does your meditation practice look like (where, when, which tradition(s), how often?)

My meditation practice is a tool I use in times of need. When I have trouble sleeping, I light a candle and focus on the flame to clear my head. Sometimes before an exam in high school, I would close my eyes and focus inwards to start writing the exam with a clear head. To me, breathing and being able to focus on just one simple thing with all my energy is what meditation is about. I’m an irregular user of meditation, as it is all based on me in times of need. On a more everyday basis, I get a meditation-like state by diving all into a computer game with beautiful worlds or a cup of Oolong tea accompanied with Chinese traditional music. In more recent years, I have found yoga to be quite helpful as well, as it is something I can do even when I’m not in a stressful time. I guess meditation to me is a problem solver rather than a custom.

How has meditation impacted your life?

The impact is that it has given me high scores on exams and sleep during restless nights. I like meditation because it a situation where I’m in total control and I can relax my mind into thinking of that it is OK to take your time for things that do not really move you forward in life, rather just ease the journey.


Radina Doneva, Bulgaria

What was your earliest experience with meditation?

5 years ago, after going through a burnout period, I turned to hypnotherapy looking to address difficulty to focus my attention and process new information. During the hypnotherapeutic sessions I was able to tap into deeper levels of consciousness that impacted my experience in a positive way and sparked my curiosity. Since then, I’ve been exploring the realm of mindfulness & consciousness through meditation practice on my own (reading related books and using online resources).

In your own words, what is meditation?

For me, meditation is the practice of attentive awareness with intention.

What does your meditation practice look like (where, when, which tradition(s), how often?)

Preferably, I do the mediation practice in the afternoon or evening time in an open space — garden or terrace when possible (ideally in nature), or just sitting with my back straight on the bed or floor. I don’t follow any specific traditions and I adapt my practice according to the situation (I travel and move often). Usually, I start with focusing my attention on the breath — how it moves through my body, how it affects my heartbeat, sometimes I would do a full body scan examining various parts of my body and how they feel in the current moment, and then I would just sit & rest in conscious awareness maintaining emptiness of mind without focusing on anything in particular for as long as I can. I enjoy guided meditations too — some of my favorite ones are led by Jon Kabat-Zin, Kelly Howell, and Tara Brach. I find it somewhat easier to clear and focus my mind while moving so I also like to run outside as a form of dynamic meditation.

How has meditation impacted your life?

Practicing meditation helped improve my ability to focus and be more mindful of my experience in everyday situations — I find myself less often in reactive mode and more capable of responding consciously to whatever is happening. I also see my practice as a mental detox from informational and emotional junk that allows me to reconnect with what really matters. In more general terms, the habit of meditation enhanced my living with a sense of belonging, compassion, and appreciation.


Mathilde Dongala, France

What was your earliest experience with meditation?

At the end of 2014 when a friend introduced me to Headspace. Yet my first profound experience with meditation was in February 2015 when I followed a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in a specialized center in the French countryside.

In your own words, what is meditation?

Meditation is an exercise that teaches you how to be fully aware of yourself through the observation of your thoughts and physical sensations. This allows you to act appropriately in accordance with the world.

What does your meditation practice look like (where, when, which tradition(s), how often?)

I usually practice meditation sitting crossed-leg on a soft surface (couch, bed or mattress), always with a blanket on my shoulders. I also try to have long sleeves to be able to put my left hand in my right sleeve and the other way around. I put my iPhone timer on, with 1 extra minute on top of the time I am supposed to meditate to make sure the last arrangements about my positioning don’t eat meditation time.

Ideally I would meditate every morning and evening but my practice is shamefully irregular. I haven’t practiced seriously since November, but when I do it, it is at least 1 hour per day. 2 hours when I am on the top of my game. Usually my practice is disturbed by major life-changing events : the beginning of a relationship or moving to a new country for example. One good way for me to get back on track is to do a one-day group meditation.

How has meditation impacted your life?

I have learnt that everything changes and that embracing that change is the only way to be happy. So I try not to get too attached to things and to focus on what I can learn from them in the moment. It has also helped me be less affected by difficult situations. I try to put them on the same level as happy events by looking deep into them and drawing lessons from them. In short, meditating has brought a bit more depth and subtlety in the way I approach the world, I understand that things are very rich and complex and I need to be careful before taking action (which doesn’t prevent me from doing stupid things of course).


Shōganji Temple in Oita, Japan. Jiho-san and I after our morning meditation

Davis Levine, Canada

What was your earliest experience with meditation?

I can’t remember an exact experience with meditation when I was younger. However, growing up in a New Thought church I started attending the teen group when I was 13. I know we did some forms of meditation during those Sunday evening gatherings.

In your own words, what is meditation?

For me, meditation is simply about being in the present moment. It’s about releasing all ideas about what life is and allowing yourself just to sit and breathe.

What does your meditation practice look like (where, when, which tradition(s), how often?)

I typically try to meditate in the evenings with complete silence. I usually practice Zen Soto meditation, eyes open with a wall directly in front of you. I’ll usually sit for 15–30 minutes at a time on a cushion and pillow I have on the floor. If I really feel like I have the energy, sit for an hour. The frequency depends on what’s going on in my life. Some months I’ll meditate daily, other times it will be sporadically when I feel it’s really necessary.

How has meditation impacted your life?

Meditation has allowed me to be more grounded in the world. By grounded I mean that I’ve become more comfortable with being who I am in this exact moment. I’ve become much more aware of the stories that run through my head about doubt, fear, and negativity. I can say hello to these stories and say goodbye all in one breath.


Katie Shelly, USA

What was your earliest experience with meditation?

My aunt Carol was doing yoga and meditation way before it was cool in 1974. From a young age, I really admired this aunt. I liked how she was so different from my more straightlaced Catholic parents.

When I was about 10 years old, we went to visit Carol in California. We stayed at a charming hotel with an outdoor courtyard lined with blue tile. The courtyard had a square-shaped fountain at the center housing a few lazy orange fish. My family sat beside the fountain, the sun dancing on our faces as Carol guided us through a simple meditation. I didn’t understand what we were doing or why we were doing it, but still I liked it. Those moments felt special and fancy even though we were ostensibly doing nothing. It’s the only moment I still remember from the whole trip.

In your own words, what is meditation?

Meditation is a strength-building practice of resting, taming, and encouraging the mind.

What does your meditation practice look like (where, when, which tradition(s), how often?)

Every morning I wake up earlier than necessary. I have a drink of water, light a candle, and do a round of sun salutations. Then I sit on a folded blanket for 10 to 30 minutes. Once I’m sitting, I check the weather report inside my mind. Does my mind feel chaotic? Piercing? Dragging? Gnawing? Reveling? Depending on what the “mental weather” is that day, I will choose a fitting task for the remaining time, such as focusing on my breath, focusing on a visual, or if it feels needed, simply allowing myself to process yesterday’s events and emotions without judgement.

Illustrator Yumi Sakugawa’s instruction to sit patiently with your inner demons.

How has meditation impacted your life?

I have epiphanies on a regular basis. Creative ideas pop out of the ether. Solutions to problems come more easily. When I make mistakes, I can clearly see the mistake. When I’m struggling with an emotion, instead of spiraling or trying to numb it, I more easily make peace with it because I know that tomorrow I’ll have dedicated time to observe and understand. I don’t bury emotions or run from problems like I used to. The mind has extremely sophisticated and subconscious ways of hiding from itself and fleeing from challenges. If you want personal growth, you have to discover and dissolve those hidden processes.


Gabriela Triffiletti, Spain/Argentina

What was your earliest experience with meditation?

My earliest experience with meditation was 20 years ago. I made a friend who was studying and working very hard around the clock, yet he was still happy, focused and had tons of energy. I asked him what his secret was. The answer: transcendental meditation. I decided immediately, “I want that!”

In your own words, what is meditation?

Meditation is a tool that allows me to connect with my best self. This version of my self is trusting, calm, light, confident and wise. From there, life has unlimited possibilities.

What does your meditation practice look like (where, when, which tradition(s), how often?)

I practice meditation every day for at least 30 minutes. It’s part of my routine. I’m flexible about what time of day and what place. For the past 6 years, I have been practicing a style of mantra-based meditation that comes from the Nichiren school of Japanese Buddhism.

How has meditation impacted your life?

Meditation has had a huge impact on my life. It shapes what I am and how I perceive life and its challenges. It completely re-frames the emotional rollercoaster that is being human.