During my freshman year of college I became increasingly interested in the practice of meditation as a medicine to calm my anxiety. Online articles and YouTube videos continually portrayed it as the act of calming your mind and soul to receive beneficial effects such as reduced stress, improved concentration, and a greater appreciation for life – and all of these things are true. However, the deeper my psyche dove during these exhibitions of the mind the stranger my experiences started to become. I would see closed eye visuals (also known as CEVs), feel rushes of euphoria, and receive personal lessons to aid me in my day to day life. After over a year of mediating almost every day I found that I had trained myself to have greater control over my mental states. Closing my eyes and deep breathing for just five seconds could instantly bring my awareness back into these strange esoteric experiences. This skill was beneficial, but also harmful at times as I found myself accidentally meditating during classes only to lose focus of what the professor was saying.
Nevertheless, this period of my life only lasted so long before I found myself numbered with the majority of Americans – caught up in daily tasks that took all of my energy and left me feeling like I just didn’t have the time or motivation to meditate anymore. It’s always funny how difficult it becomes to do the things that are good for you like working out, eating healthy, or meditating. You would think the beneficial effects would be enough of an incentive to keep us striving to become better people, but it’s easier said than done.
After dozens of anxious days, weeks, and months lost in a sea of mediocrity, I broke down and began experiencing symptoms of depression. Sticking to a repetitive schedule of work and school left me feeling rushed, on edge, and empty. If you have never experienced depression allow me to shed some light on this most dismal of states. Imagine for a moment that a friend wants to hang out somewhere and asks where you want to go. A healthy person may feel hungry and decide to get a bite to eat. Or perhaps you are reminded of a concert happening at a local venue that you wish to attend. A depressed individual however feels like nothing would make them feel good. You don’t feel like going out, you don’t feel like being with loved ones, you don’t even feel like going home. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, will give you joy.
Depression isn’t all that uncommon. In fact most people will experience depression in their life, if only for a short time, and Americans are some of the most depressed people in the world. While many continue to medicate themselves to temporarily ease their symptoms, I knew that doing so would only make my depression worse in the long run – and that was not a risk I was willing to take. To escape this cycle of self-defeat I needed to make healthy changes to the way I was living. That meant spending more time with people, enjoying new experiences, and of course, meditating.
But getting back into the practice was still somewhat difficult. Perhaps I would stick to it for a couple days, but then laziness or apathy would kick my ass sending me back into anxiety or depression. It was around this time that I discovered an important truth that I had continually failed to realize. I was treating meditation as a medicine that I had to take on a daily basis with the eventual goal of feeling better. The truth was far more enlightening.
Meditation is not just about having a cool experience in your mind or feeling peaceful. It’s an integral part of what it means to be human. Far too often we find ourselves caught up in executing actions, doing things we need to do to get ahead and, supposedly, increase our quality of life. We work, we study, we party, we watch, we consume. However these are all actions pushing us to work harder and complete more tasks. We are part of a culture that believes doing is better than not doing. Striving is better than resting. Fighting is better than yielding. But our continuous actions build stress in the crevices of our psyche until we reach a breaking point – a moment of imaged defeat that makes us uncomfortable beyond belief and causes us to yearn for some satisfaction. If we give in and continue to gorge ourselves with damaging habits, we simply repeat the cycle.
But when we slow down and allow ourselves to simply exist without any further obligations, we realize that life is a gift meant to be spent enjoying the details, exploring our creativity, and building relationships. This is true meditation. Not another action we must accomplish to medicate ourselves momentarily before jumping headfirst back into the tumultuous responsibilities of our day, but a lifestyle with only one rule – slow down. Breathe. Be in the moment. Embrace your anxiety and learn to understand what is causing it.
Of course I still work, study, and consume, but the difference lies in how I balance these activities. At times I may just sit there doing nothing for over an hour. It’s amazing the ideas your mind can create when you give it the space to explore. Emotions become tangible. Concepts become bricks with which you can build new worldviews. Creative capacities soar as you become aware of each and every detail in the world around you. This is what it means to be alive, and I can’t imagine a more depressing tragedy than to pretend it isn’t there.