Silence is not an absence but a presence,” – Anne D. LeClaire
I have been practicing yoga since I was 16. Often meditation was in the moments of silence at the beginning and end of the class. Sometimes we would chant “Aum” together and I would often wonder why we did this. My Catholic upbringing made me feel that I was disregarding my faith by participating in activities like meditation. As I learned more, I realized that the practice is universal and for many faiths, a way of connecting with God. “Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God,” – Diana Robinson.
There is an expectation that meditation looks like sitting cross-legged and in silence for an extended period of time. In fact, there are many forms of meditative practice. As a practicing artist, painting, drawing and sculpting are a meditative practice for me. Doing these activities can help me achieve a sense of “flow” as if all time and space slips away. I am able to “tune into” my true self and simply be in the moment. This truly is the essence of meditation.
Last summer, I traveled to Thailand for a weeklong yoga retreat. My first week was spent traveling around the country to busy cities experiencing the sights, sounds and culture of Thailand. The second week, I traveled to the island of Koh Phangnan by flight, ferry, shady boat ride and a small hike to the Bamboo Huts where I would stay. I arrived stressed and dishevelled not knowing that I would leave transformed. The following week was a process of letting go and taking on new perspectives.
For the next week, I practiced yoga and meditation twice a day immersed in the island jungle. With the symphony of the jungle as my soundtrack, warm wind blowing through, the occasional buzzing mosquito, and sticky, humid, heat; it seemed like the perfect location to meditate. I quickly learned that the state of one’s mind mattered more than the location. At first, meditation was painful and difficult. I had what my instructor called “monkey brain;” my thoughts were jumping from one place to another, my legs were constantly falling asleep, and all I could focus on was on the urge to move. We learned how to use breath, mantras and other tools to help focus our thoughts. Slowly throughout the week, I found I was able to meditate for longer periods of time.
The peak of my experience took place on my birthday. We woke up early to hike to the highest point on the island and witness the sunrise. I chose to spend the morning in silent meditation. Walking the path was a metaphor of my experience with meditation. It was quite dark so we couldn’t see where we were going, there were strange sounds, wild dogs following us and the climb to the top tested my fear of heights. In silence, instead of expressing my fear to the people with me, I had to reassure myself of my strength to overcome my fears. At the lookout point, we sat in silent meditation awaiting the sunrise.
The sunrise was surprisingly disappointing. It was overcast and the sky remained a dull, yellow-gray colour for the rest of the morning. However, this didn’t matter because as I sat on the edge of the world, I felt something awaken deep in my center. An overwhelming sense of gratitude washed over me in that moment, bringing me to tears. As I turned one year older, I had made a true transformation. Leaving fear and self-doubt behind me, I discovered the sanctuary of peace inside me.
A week later, I returned to the busy city. I wanted to find ways to continue using meditation as a tool to manage anxiety and stress, get better sleep and make time for myself. Sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation to meditate at the end of a long day. However, when I do, it always benefits the rest of my life. I’m able to handle stress better, focus on my relationships with others and become present in each moment.
Meditation is a process. Sometimes I feel like I am “not good” at it. So, what is a good meditator? The one who meditates,” – Allan Lokos. The fact is that every meditation requires a “beginner’s mind,” ready to learn and be open to the experience as if it was the first time. I have used my experience of meditation to inspire my artwork, and in turn my artwork motivates deeper meditation.