Have you ever wished for a life manual? To help you understand and navigate this world? To help you live more freely? I have. It doesn’t seem to exist. And that’s ok. All is not lost! There is another option. Many before me before have discovered another way. I feel blessed to experience this alternative approach and I want to share. What is it? You have the power to create a map! Where do you start? Understand your mind. How do you begin? Meditate. Gently and gradually, meditation will lead you to greater freedom.
Although it’s hard to recall when I first heard about meditation, I vaguely remember my first session. It was about ten years ago during my teenage years. That first time, I was sitting in my room, struggling. Was I doing it right? My eyes were closed. How was I meant to remove distractions from my mind? I was attempting to follow my breath. Then it happened. I’d been trying for around 15 minutes when…a bright golden light filled my mind and a feeling of sudden, euphoric joy blossomed within. I grinned.
At the time, it felt magical. So why didn’t I pursue it further? Ignorance. I had no idea about meditation’s potential. What if f I could go back to my earlier days? I’d passionately practice regularly! Why? Compared to everything I’ve tried so far…meditation has created the greatest freedom in my life. It’s been transformational. How did this happen? Let’s rewind to 2015 when my interest was rekindled via the wonderful Meditation for beginners audiobook by Jack Kornfield.
Prompted by a growing curiosity, I started practicing occasionally. About once a week for 5-10 minutes. Sometimes, I even did 2-3 sessions (when I was feeling diligent). Still felt clueles. Was I progressing? Focusing on my breathing when my mind was a constant hurricane of thoughts seemed impossible! What was the point? Frankly, I had long breaks where I completely stopped. But I kept coming back. Why? Positive experiences and a simple realisation. A pattern was becoming gradually clear.
On days I practiced meditation, subsequent thoughts and emotions tended to be more pleasant and I experienced more freedom. The hurricane was less intense. What was going on? It was too repeatable to be mere coincidence. I was becoming hooked. I had to know more! So, I took the informative Meditation for well-being and peak performance online course which examined: the science of meditation, covered the range of benefits & provided tips on overcoming initial challenges on the path. Happily, I emerged from the course armed with the most important thing…reasons to continue meditating!
During this time in my life, I was stuck in distressing circumstances. The suffering was acute. It didn’t stop me! I continued my infrequent practice. Like a man searching for water in a desert, meditation was the oasis of freedom that sustained me through my despair. I started using the Headspace app. This brought much needed structure to my quest, I became more consistent and a bit more disciplined. With beginner instructions to lessons on cultivating patience to managing difficult emotions, it guided me towards more consciousness. It can help you too! How do you start?
A common meditation practice is following the breath. What does this involve? Practically, you move your attention/awareness/focus to your breath. Inhalation & exhalation. The rise & the fall. You observe. Repeatedly. Frequently, you count the breaths to help anchor your mind on the present. Like most people, your mind will wander. A thought (or more like a flood of thoughts) will catch your attention…until you remember you’re meant to be following the breath. This is totally natural at the beginning. Accept you lost focus. Return back to the breath. Before you know it…you’ll be preoccupied again. By random thoughts or entranced by emotion or distracted by some background noise. What do you do?
Acknowledge. Return to the breath. Repeat the process. Initially, this requires effort. Many times your mind will throw up multiple excuses. You’ll often want to stop practicing. I know I did. You’ll feel like you’re not making any progress. You are. Don’t give up! Perservere. What happens if you continue day after day? You learn. Following the breath becomes more automatic. Eventually, you won’t even need to count. The great news? The journey is just getting started!
Basic practice is now easier. Just in time for your first huge benefit. The way you experience your thoughts and even emotions starts to change! What do I mean? Your detachment increases. Ever so gradually, you notice the moment your thoughts begin to arise or when your emotions shift. It’s like watching a wave emerging from the ocean. Or witnessing the ripple on a pond. Before, it was a continual stream. You didn’t realise but you were submerged. After, you’re able to come up for air. And see the stream. Observe. Witness. This is a major step in understanding yourself!
What’s next? With more practice, it becomes possible to notice the start, middle and end of a complete thought or emotion. It’s astonishing! How does this happen? It all comes back to awareness/consciousness. Your perspective changes. You enjoy more space. Thoughts and emotions are no longer an overpowering flow. You identify less with them. Meditation creates this much needed freedom. It teaches you to watch the flow. Without your awareness being so caught up by it.
A concrete example? You’ve probably had a catchy tune stuck in your head. Or maybe someone says something negative to you? And you hear it over and over again in your mind. Perhaps it’s a past memory that you keep reliving in your head? When you’re in this loop, it all seems super real to you..but why? It’s because the majority of your awareness is invested in it! What if you could change this? Instead of being at the mercy of whatever you’re experiencing, can you be less attached and let go?
From my experience and those further on the path, the answer is a resounding yes! It is possible! Through regular practice, you can be in the witnessing space even when you’re not meditating. This is a game changer! Increasingly, I perceive the journey of thoughts, emotions, sensations almost like a flower from seed to bloom to graceful death. Everything is changing, it’s all so temporary. It’s still a bit bizzare. Honestly, it was scary at first. I got used to it. You will too. The space within gets bigger. The witness…the part of every human being that experiences all life without attachment grows stronger. It’s iincredibly liberating!
As my witness evolved, I became more detached. But there were times when I’d still get caught up in the old dynamic. This is likely to occur with especially charged occurrences. It stopped bothering me when I learned to accept it as part of the human experience! I moved on. My meditation continued to increase my freedom. It was transforming me with each session. Soon, another change occurred. I started experiencing gaps! Yes gaps…between my thoughts. They got bigger and bigger and bigger. Like someone pausing a song repeatedly. For longer and longer periods of time.
“When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”Buddha
How did this make me feel? Honestly, I was initally perplexed! Was I going crazy? Fortunately not! In a stroke of luck (around July last year), I stumbled upon The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Alan Singer. It was pure gold. For the first time, I received a clear explanation of the journey I was going through. There was an experiential theory to my practice! Thanks to this New York Times best seller, I learned that I had been using my mind incorrectly. I gained a more accurate picture of my emotions. Recieved an inkling of the energetic nature of life. I was blessed with an outline of the path ahead. The link between meditation and freedom was crystal clear!
I continued meditating. A few weeks later, I had the most miraculous revolution! The stream of thoughts stopped. Completely! Zero narration. No story. No internal monologue. What was left? Pure silence. For the first time in a long time, my mind was at peace. My life has never been the same since. I rarely experience the stream. Most of the time, my mind is beautifully still. Balanced. More ready to meet the present moment.
Sometimes thoughts arise spontaneously. I can also create them. Like opening a water tap. However, at any moment, I can consciously stop them. Like turning a water tap off. It doesn’t require force, it’s an internal shift. I just step back. Detach. Witness. The silence returns. I’m present. Why is this revolutionary? I have control over my mind! My biggest struggle before was the exhausting mental flickering between the past and the future. I don’t experience this anymore.
What does it feel like? A lot like being a kid again. With no worries about the future or the past. Present! Life is experienced in the now. You realise that the only thing that’s actually real is now. The past and future are just mental structures. Projections. Phantasms. The past cannot be changed so why worry about it? The future does not exist yet so why worry about it? Everything you’ve ever experienced in life has flowed through only one point. The present. Everything you’ll ever experience in life will only flow through one point. The present. So where’s the best place for you to be? The present.
Have you ever asked yourself these questions? Who am I? What am I? Can you ever really know yourself? Are you the thoughts you think, the emotions you feel, the actions you take, the roles you play, your past, your future? What are the answers? How are you meant to find out? Does it even matter? I believe it does. More than most know! Why? It’s easy to be misled. If you don’t explore these questions and their deepest truths for yourself, who will? You’ll rely on answers others give you. This can be extremely dangerous! It gives your power to others. Why should they have it? The power to control what you think, what you feel, what you do, what you experience. They can control your life. How do you know they truly care about your interests? How do you know they have the best answers?
You may not have noticed…but this socialisation process of being told who you are started the moment you entered this world. Firstly via your parents and family, secondly via the education system and your friends. Then your work and other relationships. Essentially via society. In our modern age, usually via news, tv, movies, social media. Some of it is useful, is all of it actually helpful? Have you ever questioned this? How do others know how you should live your life? If the answers to these questions are not the product of your own conclusion, have you really lived life on your terms? Who is creating your map, shaping your philosophy, directing your life?
“The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.”E.E. Cummings
At this point, I’ve meditated for about 100 hours. For me, meditation is a journey of awakening to greater freedom. It helps me answer these questions for myself. Experientially, I know that I’m not my mind or my emotions. Or the physical senses I experience. In fact, I’m not even my physique (though this incarnation is crucial to my existence on this plane). I’m not my relationships or my job/career or even my finances. Without these common aspects we tend to build our identity around, what’s my current understanding of who I am? I am the witness, the being who experiences these phenomena!
How does this help? Simple. The truth sets you free. Once you realise you’re not your thoughts, you can transform your mind. Where did that thought come from? How do I know it’s true? How can I think better? Which mental models am I using? Am I aware of my cognitive biases? Once you realise you’re not your emotions, you can transform your heart. Why should I feel this way? Does this response make sense? Why am I triggered by this? Why does this state tend to arise repeatedly? How do I increase my emotional intelligence?
Once you realise you’re not your physique, you can transform your vessel. Why am I eating or drinking this? What is healthy and how do I know? How does it affect me daily? Should I exercise more? What kind of physicality do I want to experience 10 years, 20 years, etc from now? Once you realise you’re not your relationships, you can transform your connections. Who are the people I surround myself with? Am I depending on others for validation? Why? How am I having a positive impact on those closest to me? What kind of people do I want around me? How should I treat people? How do I strengthen my relationships?
Once you realise you’re not your job, you can transform your vocation. Am I making the most of my potential? What are my innate talents? Do I enjoy what I do? What contribution am I making to society? How do I level up in my career? Once you realise you’re not your finances, you can transform your wealth. What am I spending money on and why? Will this really help me? What are my beliefs about money? How much do I need and for what? How am I going to create value to get it? What kind of options do I want to have? What lifestyle do I want to create?
When I was less awake, my life was never truly my own. I existed unconsciously. Doing what I was told would be good for me. Seeking validation from others. Never truly present. My mind flitted from past to future like a perpetual yo-yo. My emotions were like the weather reacting to the blowing winds of circumstance. It was bleak. Thankfully, I was tenacious and failed repeatedly! Along the way, I came across meditation and I am back in control creating my freedom. I’m back in the drivers seat where I belong!
I still stumble now and again, I hardly notice. Have you seen a baby learning to walk? They just get back up. They move forwards. I do the same. Rise and continue playing consciously with the dynamic of life. I have rediscovered the power to choose the nature of my experience with clarity. With greater discernment, I easily discern what is negative for my vision. I let it go rapidly. It’s sometimes tough but necessary! When something aligns with my vision, I invest my awareness in it boldly! I operate as a conscious creator. In each moment and with every choice, I am creating the harmonious bliss of present reality!
Where to next? My journey of transcendence is only just beginning! Word on the street is the journey keeps getting sweeter! Recently, I’ve been listening to the Ram Dass podcast which has miraculous descriptions of the path. I’m more enthused than ever! I’m going to break the veil further with streamentry. Where is this all going? From my current vantage point, towards greater freedom via meditation! It’s now obvious that the map is not the territory. As human beings, we use our mind to build our reality. This is only an approximation! Overtime, we update this map via our experiences and interacting with actuality (concrete existence).
This map is usually wrong, mine included. It requires correction. With the humility of painful experience, I’m happy to admit this. Why? So I can work on creating a superior map. For what purpose? For the ultimate experience of life! If you’re travelling a foreign land, starting at point A…wanting to get to point B, an accurate map would help. It makes the the journey more interesting and enjoyable. Life is similar to adventuring through a foreign land. The better your map, the better life you can live. That’s what this evolving journey represents!
In my opinion, meditation is one of the greatest and overlooked treasures that humanity has discovered. Many successful people I admire like Ray Dalio, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates meditate. Others do too. Why? It’s a massive step towards understanding truth, sparking joy and creating freedom! It gives you a revolutionary perspective. It gives you the power of equanimity! I used to think I was who I thought I was. Now I see it was just an identity, a thought like any other. I am free from this. And it’s wonderful!
What can it do for you? Meditation will give you more freedom! You can think without being a servant to your ego. Feel without becoming overwhelmed by emotion. You can perform without being daunted. Flow without self-conscious hindrance. You can rejoice without being ruled by passion. Connect without needing to control others. You can hustle without a scarcity mindset. I hope my experience has helped you understand more about the potential of this practice for you. With the recent digital revolution, creating a more liberated existence is possible. I suggest starting with the mini-meditation above or one of these free guided meditations by Ram Dass. You can even try one of these apps. Do you want to be freedom? The choice is yours!