Mark Radcliffe explains how meditation improved his relationship with himself
Every once in a while in life, you realize you’re stuck. You’re not evolving. You’re caught in a bad pattern. And you know you’d better do something about it quick or your life is going to be on replay for the next 30 years.
A little over a year ago, that’s exactly what happened to me. It wasn’t the first time I realized I needed to make a change and it probably won’t be the last either. But this time it was simple: I accepted the fact that I was doing bad job managing my stress.
The evidence was everywhere: I snapped easily when frustrated. I swore out loud when I bumped my knee on the table. I yelled at my computer when I got the spinning rainbow wheel for the 9th time in an hour. I got short with a stranger at the grocery store and the cabby who was taking his time.
It was getting a little ridiculous. One day, I just realized: I wouldn’t like me if I could see myself from an outside perspective. I’d probably say, “Dude, chill the fuck out.”
I grew up as a competitive athlete, which cultivated in me very little tolerance for imperfection or inefficiency. But the bigger issue was I’d been overpacking my life for a long time, trying to have a writing career, a music career, a healthy social life with time to see my family and work out on a regular basis. And I could only fit everything in if everything went according to plan.
And we all know how rarely that happens.
My decision to try meditation was not one I came to easily. I’m a man of science by nature and am not a big fan of anything vaguely New Age. At the same time, I’d already been to therapists for other issues over the years. My health was good and my stress wasn’t due to finances. What I needed was a new angle. Perhaps it was time to try something I didn’t understand.
I had met a few people over the last few years who had mentioned to me that they meditated regularly. Each time, I thought, “Well, they are incredibly mellow and centered. Maybe there’s something to this…”
After talking to four or five people I knew, I decided to give Vedic Meditation a chance (the kind most were recommending). Vedic Meditation is practiced for twenty minutes twice a day plus a 2-3 minute “emergence” period afterwards. As a stressed-out guy with a busy life and career in New York, I had no idea where I was going to find another 45 minutes a day.
Even so, I plunged right in, worried I was just drinking the New Age Kool-aid. I took a 4-day introductory immersion course with a certified meditation guru who had practiced in India. He performed many rituals with us. He also gave me my own mantra, uniquely picked to match my own unique nature. And four days later I was allegedly “meditating.”
The results were uneven at first. Some sessions felt incredibly “deep” while others felt like I was just sitting still with my eyes closed. No blissful state of quasi-sleep, no “vibrating,” no epiphanies. Nothing. But my guru encouraged me not to “judge” my meditations, but to simply accept them all as useful and worthy, trusting that each session performed a role in my life. “We don’t meditate for the feeling we get while meditating. We do it for the benefit we get in our life after we meditate,” he assured us.
Sure enough, in due time the results became clearer. Our guru urged us all to start observing changes in our behavior and writing them down in a list called “Maybe it’s meditation.” After a while, I saw my own patterns:
I was losing my cool less.
I wasn’t yelling at my computer any more.
I felt more sympathy towards others.
I made less snap-second judgments.
I was less resentful, more appreciative.
In my songwriting, I trusted my instincts more, making decisions quicker.
I was able to speak my mind more calmly, without getting as agitated.
I no longer lost it when I missed my subway to work by three seconds. I would even find a stranger to chat up sometimes.
And soon, I was doing less with my days but accomplishing more.
I started skipping certain things and stopped worrying about “missing out” on them. I was more able to stay home and read or work on my writing.
And soon, I was achieving bigger things. I left my apartment in Brooklyn and moved into my dream apartment in the West Village. I wrote the best ad campaign of my entire advertising career—the official launch campaign for New York’s Citi Bike program. My writing was now on every street corner in NYC. I started attracting amazing encounters into my life, like meeting Mayor Bloomberg who sponsored the program and Brooke Shields who happened to dress up as a Citi Bike for Halloween.
But mostly, I spent fewer nights awake in my bed, wondering if I was living my life correctly.
Instead, I was just living it more. And doing a better job of following my instincts. My guru talked about the importance of “following charm.” Whereas before, I’d feel guilty about following an instinct to wander down a certain street and stick my head into a store that caught my fancy, now I trusted it.
Meditation gave me a reservoir of calm to battle the day with. Before, I ran out of it quickly. Now, I have a lot more to spare. Each meditation was a preemptive “count to 10” before I started my day. And when I missed a few meditations? Damn right I felt it. Soon I was more irritable and more agitated. And needed to get back.
So, will meditation change your life?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But it will change you.
Image credit: Flickr/ocean_views
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