I walked into a sunlit bookstore in Brooklyn that had a large skylight which filled the main room with sunshine. I was just browsing, not sure of what I was looking for. It was 2009, I was living in New York, working at Bain & Company and suffering from unrequited love. I was being pulled in many directions, and wanted to turn off the stream of thoughts that plagued my mind. Scanning the bookshelves, my eyes rested on Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield. I opened this little book, started reading, and discovered a path to turning off my mind. This is what I was looking for. This is how I would find my way back to peace.
I walked back to the apartment, sat on the floor, and followed the instructions to focus on my breath. In and out. In and out. Thoughts and feelings attacked. Anxiety, sadness, anger. I gave them space to be acknowledged. I observed them passing by. I named them. Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety… Sadness, sadness, sadness… And I let them go. I continued this practice for forty-five minutes on that first day. At the end of it I felt a little bit freer, a little bit lighter.
My breath led me home to my inner self. By following my breath, observing my thoughts and feelings as they arose, giving them space to exist and be felt, then letting them go, I found my way back to peace. This is the core of mindfulness meditation.
The Ups and Downs of Mindfulness
With mindfulness, I became aware of subconscious habits and learned how to work with them without acting on them, even while feeling deep emotion. I learned how to live in the present moment as fully as I could. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But over time, I found that I was no longer as deeply devastated by negative events as I had been in the past, and that I bounced back to my normal state quickly, moving forward despite feeling intense emotion.
But even with mindfulness, even after becoming balanced, after finding myself, I’ve lost myself again many, many times. This is part of the practice of our lives. I felt centered and balanced in one moment, and a few weeks later something would happen that threw me off, and I would have to start over again. But once you’ve found yourself, once you’ve sensed that inner nobility, power, peace and wisdom within, you can always return to her. Your practice is always there waiting for you to show up. Just rest in silence, go inward, explore, accept and release.
I try to do a 20-30 minute silent mindfulness meditation every morning before I get out of bed, along with a 30-minute guided meditation at night before I go to bed. On my best days, I do both. On most days, I do the silent meditation in the mornings, but fall asleep before doing my night routine. On my worst days, I rebel against all routine and lay in bed catching up on social media. But the point is to catch yourself when you can, and bring yourself back to your practice without judging yourself too harshly.
For the silent meditation, I set my timer for 30 minutes. The first 10 minutes are really about quieting the mind, and focusing on the breath. When the mind wanders as it inevitably does, catch it and bring its focus back to the breath over and over again until it settles. The next 10-20 minutes brings the inner work of accessing the feelings held in the subconscious, acknowledging them, then releasing them. We access the emotions by starting with the physical tension in the body, then investigating the emotions tied to that tension, then the thoughts that gave rise to that emotion. Accept them all, then release. I continue doing this until my timer goes off.
At night, I use guided meditations from Kelly Howell of brainsync.com that use music, instructions and binaural beats to help unload the stresses of the day and reconnect with the self. She has dozens of superb guided meditations available on multiple platforms, and I recommend streaming them on Apple Music rather than purchasing them individually. The meditation I use most right now is called “Oneness,” but I also love “Inner Peace” and “Awakening Kundalini.”
Meditation has had a transformative effect on my life, as it has for so many other people. Ray Dalio, Founder and Co-Chairman of Bridgewater Associates – the largest hedge fund in the world – is a major proponent of transcendental meditation. Tina Turner says mindfulness meditation saved her life. If the most successful people in the world find meditation essential to their quality of life, we should take heed, no? The more we connect with our inner selves, the greater our ability to attract and manifest the lives we want. What are you waiting for?