I have been mostly silent these past few months about my ongoing journey into my meditation practice, largely to allow myself space and time to process how that journey has evolved. Recent conversations have encouraged me to begin publicly unpacking that evolution in this space as it seems to be a topic of interest to a number of my readers. But before I move forward I want to say a few words on ‘moving forward’.
Human beings are subject to pattern formation. We build and maintain habits, take great comfort in familiarity, and constantly find ourselves caught in the same cycles, whether helpful or harmful to our lives. Meditation has long been regarded as a means of breaking the often destructive mental patterns we have a tendency to form. Certain types of mediation, such as the vipassana technique I recently studied in Thailand, also teach us that everything in this universe, everything, from thoughts to sensations to emotions to the people we interact with every day, is in a constant state of change. Likewise, our motivations for seeking self-care, self-awareness or any mode of healing are in a constant state of change as well.
I recently reflected on how my journey – or rather, journeys – of healing and self-discovery have changed over time. My first real attempts at trying to right the perceived wrongs in my mind and heart began in my early twenties. Fresh out of college and thrust into the first year of a recession with no serious job prospects in sight, I decided to fill my time with unpacking the recurring challenges I was facing, both emotionally and mentally (I didn’t realise at the time how interlinked these two phenomena were). At the time, my journey was about finding love, finding meaning, finding the right path, finding my calling, and finding a community I could call home.
Over time, this journey took the form of interpreting my low self-esteem and self-confidence by digging into my “daddy issues” while tackling fierce, overwhelming challenges with jealousy, trust and depression. Later, the journey took on added elements of searching for middle ground between my swings from high to low states, understanding forgiveness, decreasing dependency on vices, and weening myself off the need for validation from other people in order to be happy. It was about finding the right medication, the right therapist, the right clinical approach.
The journey was, for a long time, just as much about becoming as it was about ceasing to be this, that or the other. It was less about adapting or accepting my reality as it was about enduring, changing or escaping it. The journey was also much less about living in the present than it was about reconciling the past and trying to carve out a healthier future for myself and my hypothetical future family. It was less about my self than it was about other people, how I relate to them and how I understand their actions and words.
The journey was trying, often desperately, to feel as happy on the inside as I always seemed to appear to others on the outside (apart from my romantic partners, who always saw me at my worst, at my most self-deprecating, at my most egoistic.) The journey was about saying I’m sorry, far more than it was about saying thank you.
As I moved into my mid-to-late-twenties, my journey took on a far more spiritual dimension. I found ways to connect with the Universe in ways that I never attempted. I grew more serious about my yoga practice, tried different types of meditation, attended gatherings and Burns to learn about how spirituality could be a part of my modern life without the shackles of dogma and religiosity. I connected with enlightened individuals, remained open to spirit guides and twin flames in whatever form they took, and above all, I tried as hard as I could to operate from a field of gratitude.
In the following years living and working in Uganda, I fluctuated from the top of the world to a pit of despair and back again, relying on gratitude as my salvation. As long as I was grateful for what I have been given, with so many around me blessed with so much less, I was convinced I could lift myself out of any hardship or low point. I found love that could be lavishly enjoyed without a shred of jealousy or feeling of inadequacy; I spoke to my father for the first time in seven years and made peace with the perceived damage inflicted by the role he played in my upbringing; I met with a new therapist who helped me reframe the incessant debate raging in my mind and offered invaluable fresh perspectives (and didn’t try prescribing me medication like every therapist in New York); I found work that I truly believed in and that allowed me to link the trauma of a shared past with the hope of a better future for the women and children with whom my organisation worked.
And yet, challenges arose, triggers increased in strength and intensity, city life overwhelmed, and gratitude was not enough to quell the storm rising within. Anxiety, depression, and a dwindling tolerance for ignorance caused me to hole up within myself, withdrawing from friends and my partner, withdrawing from the world around me. Once again, a new approach was needed.
Ten months ago today, I packed up the house my partner and I shared in Kampala, took whatever I could carry in my multi-sized family of three REI packs, and within a few days I was flying away from Uganda, away from Africa, for the last time in any certain future. I met and visited family and friends across Europe and North America and have documented the toll that transition and subsequent visits took on me, as beautiful as those reunions may have been. Impatience, anger, and a refusal to accept reality for what it is all held sway over my thoughts and actions.
It was a reminder that, once again, my journey had changed.
When I landed in Southeast Asia seven months ago this week, I was stepping into a world of new possibilities. There was an ancient wisdom to this place, a shift away from the externalisation of salvation towards the potential for liberation to be achieved within. Through extensive readings, ongoing conversations with monks, and my introduction to the vipassana meditation technique, I have revolutionised my internal journey, elevating it to a level I have never before experienced. And to treat this journey as I treated any previous one would negate its unique nature, its unique lessons, and the unique approaches required to make the most of it.
In other words, my 22 year-old self wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do with the journey I’m on at the moment, so why approach it with the same mindset? Different journeys, different Self, different approach.
As Gautama Buddha spoke with his last breath, “All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.” Each of us are on our own path, each of us have our own challenges and struggles, each of us have our own interpretations of how our past, present and future weave together to form some sense of identity that we call the Self. As I sit and write this from our new home base of Chiang Mai, I recognise the process as one of catharsis from a solid few days of irritability, sadness, emptiness…another transition, another firestorm of emotion. I turn to meditation to centre myself in the present moment, knowing this too shall pass, but I also fully embrace the opportunity to identify and learn from the shifts in my respective journeys.
Even as impatience, anger, and a refusal to accept the present moment continue to serve as the antagonists in this particular chapter in my story, I recognise, with immense gratitude, that I am no longer victim to the agonies of self-deprecation, of jealousy and mistrust, of feeling unloved, of manipulating loved ones, of holding hatred in my heart for those who harmed me in the past, or of requiring constant validation from lovers and friends. Each journey is different, unique, dynamic, and must be treated as such. Even when the weight of the world gets me down, down, down, I eagerly await the lessons within the pain, the new approaches and new ways of understanding each new challenge, and the new sense of a constantly changing Self that awaits me on the other side.