Meditation and Restlessness
By Farzana Rahman
A Growing Awareness of Meditation
Growing up, my only knowledge of meditation was what I had seen on TV or film. Mr Miagi in Karate Kid or David Carradine in Kung Fu. Of course these two iconic figures showed that meditation had serious health benefits. It's just that it wasn’t something that I had ever seen in real life.
My first real encounter with meditation was a few years ago at the Buddhist Centre in East London. I was curious to see if the much heralded effects of meditation on stress, worry and general health were true. I was skeptical but curious made my way across London on a wet Tuesday evening in November.
The Buddhist centre was lovely. Open, spacious and filled with friendly serene types. I had expected a handful of people but the place was packed. It was oddly reassuring to realise that I wasn’t the only person looking for stillness and a sense of peace. People looked like they were trudging in straight from work, wearing winter coats and carrying large rucksacks and umbrellas.
Often times in a city you feel anonymous – a nameless face in a crowd of people staring down at their phones. It struck me that coming to a session like this left you feeling open and vulnerable. Most people weren’t on their phones. The people who sat in the waiting area just sat there and, well, waited.
When it was finally time to start the meditation practice, the group was separated and led into two different rooms based on previous experiences with meditation.
The Meditation Technique
The session lasted for about 90 minutes. The first step consisted of a guided meditation that focused on breathing and visualisation techniques.
The next step was a five-step Buddhist meditation called metta bhavana. This is a traditional meditation based on loving kindness.
Experiences During Meditation
I flitted between feeling relaxed, restless and at times bored. I was also convinced that I wasn’t quite doing it right. I had understood that meditation was a lifelong process and that I was unlikely to find the secret to inner peace in an hour.
Nevertheless, I had kind of hoped I would.
Different Types of Meditation Tools and Techniques
I spent the next couple of years dabbling in different types of meditation. As well as trying more sessions at the Buddhist centre.
I took up yoga which at its essence is a moving meditation focused on the breath. I used Headspace, a hugely popular app made up of bite-sized mindfulness sessions. I went to Sufi gatherings rooted in Islamic mysticism where group meditation was practiced. I tried online guided meditations and yoga nidra (yogic sleep) programs.
Meditation and Acceptance
Although each technique was slightly different, most had enormous overlap. All were techniques to overcoming the chattering of the mind. All aimed to connect us to an underlying stillness.
I realised that although different types of meditation vary somewhat, the uniting underlying is acceptance.
Acceptance is the key to being truly present. To not fret about the future or keep replaying the past. To be truly in the moment and accept the moment for what it is. To not fight the thoughts or feelings but to merely observe them.
Meditation and the Restless Mind
There are times in my life where I feel in a constant state of flux and restlessness. Sometimes it feels as though my mind is racing at breakneck speed, darting from thought to thought. Experiencing wave after wave of different emotion but still feeling restless.
All of these schools of meditation teach the idea that we are more than the sum of our thoughts and emotions. That our true self lies in the soul. The soul is consciousness and presence. Separate from time and space but connected to all life around us.
I find this concept incredibly reassuring. Every emotion, whether good or bad, is just temporary. We will spend our days flowing between anger, love, stress, happiness, anxiety and sadness. Difficult times are more manageable when we realise that no matter how bad we might feel, this feeling is just temporary.
This too shall pass.