9 Lessons from 9 Months of Meditation

“Liberation can be gained only by practice, never by mere discussion.” — S.N. Goenka.

Over the past 9 months I have been practising mindful meditation, committing to two very simple practises. The first being daily mindful journaling — I write one full A4 page every morning, it doesn’t matter what I write, so long as I finish the page. Secondly, I also attend a weekly group meditation session. Without trying too hard, my life has seemingly taken an incredible upturn.

Always the time and the place.

My thoughts no longer restrict me…

Through continued practise I came to realise that my thoughts and ‘me’ are not the same thing, so the thoughts I have (no matter how regular) do not have to define who I am. By separating the idea of ‘me’ from my thoughts, I am then able to use my mind as a muscle or a tool to solve problems, in the same way I would any other part of my body. So for example, I am now more able to recognise and then let go of unhelpful thoughts, particularly negative and restrictive ones, and hone in on positive ideas and solutions. I rarely find myself stuck in a situation, or hesitating to solve a problem.

…so I do what I want.

Meditation gradually erodes the significance of the ‘ego’. This is a hugely liberating process as it has gradually changed my goal posts. I minimise my focus on the things that just don’t matter in life. For the things I do aim for, I don’t waste time worrying about there being a ‘right time’ or how I might look to others. I see life as one long experiment, with new lessons to be learned with almost every experience.

What are you chasing?

I am more organised…

Writing a journal every morning is great for flushing out all the hazy and confusing thoughts that can clutter my mind, all out onto a page. Sometimes this flush can also include some good ideas with real potential, and sometimes it can highlight genuine concerns in my life that need addressing. This prompted me for the first time in my life to start keeping a separate planner. By living out of a diary I am now fully in control of my life, it’s a very satisfying and reassuring feeling. Now I am much more efficient at managing my life, setting my own agenda and course of direction.

…at being a better person…

I have come to the understanding that I enjoy doing good things, and the more of these I do the better I feel. Subsequently, my life has completely taken a new positive direction. I started volunteering for one charity, opportunities then cropped up for more charity work and now I have a job and direction within the sector, committing my energy and skills to things I am passionate about. What’s this got to do with meditation? Because by being conscious of what feels good, I can simplify my decisions by looking at what skills and resources I have and dedicate them to helping myself and others find happiness.

…which is great for everyone.

Meditation opens the door to taking time to physically explore your own happiness. I am happiest when everyone around me is happiest. Therefore it becomes a good investment of my time to help the people around me be happy. I also get the immediate rewards of recognition and thanks, which of course make me feel really good. The key take away from this is that the things that make me happy are usually very similar to the things that make other people happy and this makes spreading happiness very easy. Over time, doing good and sharing positive experiences has become habitual.

Plenty of happiness to go round

I live creatively…

Through keeping the journal, I have discovered real enjoyment and fulfilment in writing. I have the ability to sit down and tap into my conscious thoughts without regard for what it may read like or who may read it. I now find myself creatively experimenting with poetry, essays and stories, submitting my ideas to competitions and enjoy documenting my discoveries on my blog. I can then apply that method of creativity to pretty much any creative endeavour, whether its art, music or craft. I take my time and enjoy every moment knowing that I will learn from whatever the finished product is.

…and dream of a better world.

You may think that meditation and politics wouldn’t go hand in hand, however through mindful meditation I have developed a strong moral code, which has notably improved my environment and my attitude to life. I believe that individual beliefs should be reflective of life experiences as well as factual evidence and learning. Through working past the obstacles and problems of my life, I see what could be done to help other people solve their problems. It didn’t take long before I realised that everything is political in some way, and the ‘good work’ is never done.

Keep it simple

I’ve learned to cultivate happiness

‘Metta’ meditation is one practice which we sometimes do in our group sessions to mindfully stir up feelings of positive feelings, love and well-being. During the exercise we envisage projecting those good wishes onto those we know and love. It works in a similar way to prayer, like a form of mental conditioning. It may sound bizarre but has had an extremely positive affect on my relationships. You should try it. That’s just one example of how the practise ends up changing the way you engage with others day-to-day. I have found myself being much more appreciative of the world around me. It now only takes me a moment to escape from my thoughts and acknowledge how comfortable a scarf is, or how beautiful a smile is, for instance. All these things, when you practise paying attention to them, can make you feel good and enhance your happiness.

…and I want to share it with you.

The human experience is a shared one. Like many other obvious sometimes forgotten lessons in life, we are reminded of this and practice appreciating it. By learning to value what I have, and the relationships I have, I am always keen to share my learnings with others, in the belief that whoever is hearing will benefit from it in some way.

Google where to find your closest meditation group and go check it out, you will only learn these lessons by practising! I attend a Bodhicharya class, they have groups all over the world. You can find your closest one here.

All photographs by the marvellously talented Paul Deaville.