My Adventures in Meditating on the London Underground

Recently, I started working full-time in an office environment, after 12 years of being in Academia. It’s taking my body some time to adjust to the longer hours – the early morning, 45 minute commute, the long stretches of time sitting in front of a screen, and the exhausting return home during rush hour when I’m lucky if I can find a spot in the tube to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder with other weary passengers, who can’t wait to get home, plop onto their sofas and watch Netflix in a state of zombie-like zen (for those of us with kids to put to bed, this end-of-day ecstasy doesn’t come for another couple hours).

During my time on the tube, I’ve tried listening to music and reading books (yes, even standing up, with one hand clasped around a pole for dear life, and the other expertly holding the book and turning its pages with a flick of my thumb). As a person who’s recently stumbled onto, for lack of a better word, “meditation”, not by reading about it or watching YouTube videos, but quite accidentally and on my own, I decided one day to attempt it while crammed into the tube like a suffocating sardine.

Up until this point, I had only meditated while lying down. It was just simpler to tell people I wanted to lie down and take a nap, than to say, “I’m going to go focus on releasing my negative energy and replacing it with something much lighter.” That day on the tube, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, not wanting to whip out my phone and stare at it like everyone else was doing, I closed my eyes and began my process. At first, I felt a bit awkward. I mean, what would people think? It’s one thing to close your eyes and nod off while sitting, but to do it while standing? They would think I had the uncanny ability to sleep stand.

After a while, when I realized that nobody really cared enough to focus on what I was doing, I closed my eyes again and returned to my meditation. I took a deep breath in and keenly focused my concentration onto the topmost part of my head. As I breathed out, I felt an inner layer of soul skin slowly rolling down from my head to my toes, and an immediate sense of relief from letting it go. Another breath, in and out, focusing this time on my eyes – not exactly my eyes, rather the muscles around my eyes – and I felt the muscles relax, as another layer of consciousness unspooled within me.

With each breath, and each concentrated intention to release the stress from each part of my body, I peeled off all the layers of soul skin, until there was nothing left but raw, pulsating energy circulating within me. My physical skin tingled from its touch. The more I concentrated on it, the more the energy grew. It kept expanding, like a rising balloon, until it was ready to depart my nuisance of a body, with all its limitations, its aches and pains. This pure energy, that was really and truly me, rose up into the air and flew through the clouds, leaving behind the preoccupied people of the world, until they appeared as mere ants in procession, and later, as tiny dots scattered on the globe, and ultimately, were nowhere to be seen.

This being of energy wanted to go somewhere where it could grow, where it could combine with other beings into one enormous entity. This being felt like it could soar. This being felt like bliss.

As I experienced this energy-induced “high”, for a moment I didn’t feel like just another drained commuter going home, on a day that too closely resembled previous days, feeling like nothing she was doing really mattered in life. My spirit drifted, weightless and unburdened.

In an instant, the vehicle where I had left my physical body behind, came lurching to a violent stop. The energy magically returned to its original human packaging. My eyes opened to register my surroundings. I disembarked at my destination and joined the throngs of other worker bees headed home. But I had a little extra pep in my step. A renewed energy to get me through dinner, my son’s bedtime routine, and my own personal rituals for winding down.

Also, I was reminded that there was a blessing in just my being. I don’t necessarily need to do something outstanding to win the accolades or admiration of my peers, and feel worthy of being in this world. I just need to be, and that is all. There is something sacred inside of me, and I need only close my eyes, breathe deeply, and shut my mind, to access it. Perhaps if I made the effort to meditate more often, I’d be able to shine some of that magic into the outer world, too.

The Cyclical Nature of Life

We’ve all heard the idea that life moves in cycles. Sometimes we experience joy in life and sometimes we endure hardship. Sometimes we feel happy, and other times, blue. The seasons change from hot to cold and back again. We live, then we die, only to be born again, according to some people’s beliefs, into an eternal life. Or perhaps, as others believe, we are reborn as different people in successive lives, thus perpetuating the cycle.

If you think a bit more deeply about this cyclical nature of, not just the physical things around us, but also concepts and ideas, you realize that almost every idea has a cyclical opposite. Such is the duality of life. The opposite of beauty is ugliness; guilty is innocent; give is take; and forward is backward. If you think of these concepts, not as linear opposites, but rather cyclical ones, your understanding of life will start to change.

Let me clarify what I mean. In a cycle, forward is not just the opposite of backward; it is actually leading us to backward, and then forward again. As individuals, we are each on our own path, at different points upon these cycles. For example, a criminal may feel guilty and ashamed, but he may also be kind to animals and mentally intelligent. Over the course of his life, his guilt may lead to innocence in some form. Perhaps, he will find a way to cleanse his soul or help someone else avoid the same fate as him. Shame might lead to a sense of pride; not necessarily arrogance, but a humble kind of pride. His kindness doesn’t necessarily have to lead to unkindness. If he works at it, this man can extend the kindness he shows to animals, to humans, too. His mental intelligence might not lead to idiocy, but rather spiritual intelligence. So the cycle doesn’t necessarily remain static. This man always had choices, at every step of his life. By making the right ones, he was able to evolve as a person. Hence, you realize that the cycle is not really a cycle at all, but a spiral, with never-ending opportunities for us to evolve.

It’s interesting to note that we all have microscopic spirals within each of our cells, called DNA. Our DNA is what dictates who we are. But science has proven that DNA can also change over time. Just like each and every one of us can.

If the spiral is in the form of an infinite loop, then we are always moving forward and backward at the same time, as if we’re walking up an escalator that’s going down, or running on a hamster wheel. What does this all mean, exactly? I don’t know. I’m neither a scientist, nor a theologian. I’m just someone who’s trying to figure out how to fight my demons and evolve as a person, using the resources at my disposal – the coding in my DNA – to try to help me understand the truth.

One of the reasons I find the idea of spirals and cycles so appealing is that it takes a little bit of the pressure off. We were all born at different points in the “universal spiral” of life. We had absolutely no say in it. All we can do is the best we can, with what we’ve got. This idea might help us to be less judgmental of others, too. Not just our friends and neighbors, but also our parents and partners. Who’s to say who’s more evolved as a person – you or anybody else? If ever you’ve compared yourself to another person (you know we all do it) and quietly assumed, in the deepest recesses of your heart, that you are, in some way, better than that person, let that feeling go. Yes, you might be better at Math, and he/she at Writing. But in the overall scheme of life, no one is superior to another, because we each started our lives with different handicaps and circumstances, and we’re each equipped with our own particular strengths and weaknesses.

In the end, we’re all walking forward and backward on the same universal spiral. We’re all struggling with our own demons, as different as they may be. We’re all really just the same. And we all really just need each other.

The opposite of being alone is being together. At this current point in our universal existence, maybe our loneliness, which itself was a reaction to too much forced togetherness, is now leading us back towards a more enlightened sense of community and connection. I really do hope so.

I’d love to hear your what you think. Please leave a comment below.

How to Get Rid of Those Sunday Blues

How can your mood go from upbeat to somewhat disinterested to super depressed, all in the span of one morning? And why does that morning always tend to be on a Sunday?

The Sunday Blues is a universal phenomenon. Nobody wants to go back to school or work on Monday, and do the homework or chores that ensure the rest of the week will go smoothly. Most people spend their Sundays procrastinating as much as possible, then scrambling to get their work done before bedtime.

There’s also another, less talked about, element to the Sunday Blues. When Friday becomes Saturday, you’re moving from a structured day to an unstructured one. Unstructured can be fun, at first. The chance to sleep in and have breakfast at 11am, to lounge in your pajamas for half the day, or spend time outdoors in the fresh air. But with unstructured time, there can be trouble, too.

If there’s more than one person living in your house, you’ve likely already experienced the Battle of Expectations. One person may want to stay home, while the other wants to go out. One person wants to socialize, while the other wants to read. If you’re part of a couple or a family that wants to spend time together but can’t agree on what to do, it’s tremendously challenging to meet everyone’s expectations. And if you’re a parent – well – it comes naturally to place your needs behind everybody else’s. By the time Sunday rears its ugly head, you feel a creeping sense of dissatisfaction and realize that your valuable free time is running out.

Often, the negative thoughts and unpleasant feelings you’ve been avoiding all week attack you when you’re at your lowest, like on a Sunday. That’s when you really start to feel miserable. It’s inevitable, though. If you’ve spent a lifetime feeling unworthy of having your needs met, then even as you try to rebuild yourself and your sense of worth, the road to recovery will still be full of stumbling blocks. And when you stumble, you’ll feel like all the progress you thought you were making was just a hoax. It’s the “one step forward, two steps back” conundrum.

At this point, you have two options: wallow in self-pity all day, or allow yourself to feel your feelings and then re-double your determination to keep moving forward. What does it mean to “feel your feelings”? If you feel despondent, don’t hide it. Tell people and give them a chance to help you. If you feel like being alone, say so. Perhaps this miserable feeling is your body’s way of saying you need more time to yourself. You can nap or shower or read or write. You can call a friend or listen to music. What you shouldn’t do is feel guilty about taking time for yourself, as if you’re failing everyone’s expectations. Because what you are actually doing is failing your own needs. And that’s not okay.

In time, you’ll learn to express your needs more frequently. You might adopt healthy strategies like planning out weekend activities and setting clear boundaries ahead of time; letting everyone know that, on Sunday, during the morning or afternoon or whatever day and time suits you, you just want to do your own thing. Or maybe you want to do something that does involve others, like going for a group hike, or to see a play. It’s about doing something you enjoy, something that nourishes your soul.

Feeling the Sunday Blues (or in fact, feeling blue on any day of the week) doesn’t have to be a constant. It can serve as a kick in the ass, and a message from your soul that it needs some love and attention. If you heed that message for long enough, then feeling bad will lead to feeling better. And suddenly, you’ve turned a difficult experience into a more enlightened and uplifting one.

How to Find Peace

Harmony. Connection. Oneness. These words are often used to refer to humanity; how, if only all people could put away their differences and act as one, the world would be such a better place. Indeed, the world would have a greater chance for survival. So, working on the assumption that what’s good for the world must also be good for each human being, on an individual level, then how can we apply harmony, connection, and oneness to ourselves?

We’re each made up of many “selves”. There are the various masks we wear for different people. There are the multiple voices in our head, often in conflict with each other, telling us how to live our lives. There’s our light selves and our shadow selves; our mind, body, and soul; our need to be and our need to please. Whichever way you look at it, we are fragmented people, and often each fragment is working against the other, which leads to stress, anxiety, depression, and countless illnesses.

How can we get all the parts of our Being to exist in harmony and work as one? First of all, we must acknowledge the presence of each part, no matter how shameful or embarrassing. We must acknowledge and accept it, because as of this present moment, this is all we have to work with. So, one person may be kind and caring, but also self-indulgent and quick-tempered. She could try to hide her negative qualities from the world, or she could be open about them, acknowledge them, and learn how to wield her cravings and passion in a more controlled way. Every individual part of our Being has a purpose; we just need to work on figuring out what that is.

Throughout our lives, we play at being different people, taking qualities we have or ones we pick up along the way, and experimenting with them in various combinations, like a person trying to solve a Rubik’s cube. When we’re young, we try to be more like our peers in order to fit in. As we get older, we try to differentiate ourselves in order to stand out. Eventually, we reach a stage where, after much effort, we begin to understand who we really are and stop trying to be someone we’re not.

I strongly believe all the puzzle pieces are there, within each and every one of us. But perhaps they’re not fitting together as they should be. The order is all wrong. Understanding ourselves is only half the battle; figuring out how best to be ourselves, how best to connect all the puzzle pieces together in a way that allows us to be at one with ourselves – that is the real work. Learning how to accept our anger but still control our temper and let go of our grudges, how to use all our pent-up energy to our advantage, or how to go easy on ourselves if we don’t have some of the qualities people around us expect us to have. We are fine just the way we are – works-in-progress, trying to solve our own Rubik’s cubes.

Harmony. Connection. Oneness. We must strive for these things within us, and simultaneously, around us. This is the struggle at the core of life. This IS life. We are meant to struggle, yearn, and persist, but we are also meant to be at peace. How we put our puzzle pieces together will have an impact on how well we can keep this balance.

Are You Strong Enough?

I hate the fact that all my life I’ve been told I was “sensitive” as if that was some kind of an insult. You’re too sensitive. You need to be tough to survive in this world; You’re too nice, you let people walk all over you; You’re so quiet, people talk to you non-stop and never let you get a word in edgewise. Yes, there was perhaps some truth to these statements. I did need to work hard to step out of my shadow and use my voice. But it certainly would’ve helped me feel supported if I’d heard: You’re so sensitive, you’re good at understanding how people feel; You’re so nice, you make people feel good; You’re so quiet and such a good listener.

Every character trait and emotion, from callousness to anger to enthusiasm, can be seen as both a strength and a weakness, depending how you look at it. Anger is a destructive emotion when felt to an extreme, but what about the anger one feels towards an injustice? Suddenly, that anger is a positive force that can change the world for the better. Jealousy is a universally reviled emotion, even though everyone feels it at some point in their lives. But jealousy doesn’t have to darken your soul, if you use it to spark self-awareness. What is missing from your own life that’s making you unhappy and jealous to begin with?

Take any feeling or personality trait and you will find they each have their purpose. The tricky part is making sure you don’t overdo it. Don’t let anger turn into rage or sadness into depression. Don’t be so fearful, you get paralyzed. Don’t even act overly happy, in case you get so consumed in your own life, that you forget to spread your joy through acts of kindness.

Everything in life is such a balancing act. My entire life, I’ve felt weak, when in fact, I could have perceived my inherent character traits as strengths. Even now, society still sends mixed messages about how it defines strength and success. Why do I feel the need to constantly justify who I am? If I stop apologizing constantly for my actions, no one is really going to lose out. If I just let myself be, others will automatically learn to adjust.

I will always be on a mission of self-growth and spiritual evolution. But I cannot deny or hide or even change certain things about the way God created me. I just hope to always have the confidence to keep going. It’s so easy to get beaten down and feel hopeless. What’s harder is getting back up and continuing the journey.

Here’s to staying strong and still being sensitive. Here’s to walking the tightrope that is life and not letting yourself fall or get pushed off and devoured by all the nay-sayers. Here’s to always knowing your worth, respecting your emotions, and appreciating yourself.

Plugging Off

We’ve all heard the phrase “plugging off”, and we know what it means – taking time off from our gadgets and electronics; turning off our televisions, iPads, laptops, and smartphones; being more aware of our surroundings and feeling present in the moment. But there’s one other thing that needs to be switched off before we can truly feel a sense of connection with the world, and that is our mind. Our minds are always on and running at hyper speed, tackling a myriad of issues, all at the same time, imagining future scenarios, both frightening and fanciful, and reliving past moments with all their associated pain. Our minds are incredible. They set us apart from being just another species of animal on this earth. But just like too much of anything can be bad for you, overthinking can turn our minds from marvels into monsters. We get stressed out, on edge, anxious and depressed. We’re unable to sleep or eat or function. Every so often, the mind needs to be turned off, so that we can connect with another part of our beings – our souls.

The soul is probably the most neglected part of us, perhaps because it’s invisible, unlike the mind and body, and so, easy to forget about. But when depression strikes or we feel a general sense of despair, it’s not the mind or body that comes to the rescue (at least, not on their own). Often times, the mind IS at the root of our problems, and needs to be turned off. So where, then, is the off switch?

Everyone has a different off switch or way of zoning out. Some like to meditate or pray, others exercise or simply daydream. You must find the method that works for you. The point is to stop thinking and start feeling. For a lot of people, the easiest way to do this is to focus on your breath. When you focus on your breath, all your other thoughts disappear and you become more aware of your actual Being. If you do it often enough, it will turn into a habit, one you can do for five minutes or fifty. When you “plug off” like this, it feels kind of like waking up from a dream to a beautiful reality. The more you connect with your Being, the more your world, as you know it, starts to feel less important, less stressful. Because at the end of the day, your long-term happiness doesn’t come from completing all the tasks on your To Do list. It comes from feeling fully connected to yourself and the world around you. It comes from the realization that you are a small part of a greater whole, and being 20 minutes late to work, or winning the temporary adoration of your fans, will not change that.

I’m not saying you should quit your day job or stop caring about your responsibilities. I’m saying, take some of the pressure off yourself. You’re not meant to be the perfect man or woman. You’re meant to be flawed and incomplete. You’re a work-in-progress, but each brushstroke you make adds beauty to the bigger picture every time you make the effort to “connect”.

What do I mean when I say “connect”? I mean getting back in touch with your true self, your soul, your intuition. Call it what you want. It’s the inner voice that guides you every time you make a decision. Not all the other voices that you hear on a daily basis telling you that you’re falling behind or you’re not good enough. Those are the very voices that are drowning out your true self. By shutting off our mind, we are telling those negative voices to take a hike, so we can do our best to hear what our inner self is saying. You might not hear it at first, but if you keep trying to make that connection, you will hear it. Your inner self will only ever tell you the truth. The truth about who you are, why you exist, and what you should be doing during your time on Earth. I believe the more we keep striving to listen to our inner voice, the more we will learn about ourselves, and the more at peace we will feel.

Focus on your breath right now. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and focus. Do it for three minutes, or five, or ten. See what happens. Switch your mind off and let yourself go. Then tell me what you felt. I’d love to know. If your experience is anything like mine, you may feel a tingling sensation in your body, or the sense that you’re being lifted into the air. It’s hard to shut the mind off, I know, but please try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Have You Lost Your Sense of Wonder?

As a child, I remember being fascinated by the idea of the circus, hot air balloons, and anything else that fit into my idea of a whimsical world. I was delighted by stories and the playful ways words could be rearranged to elicit different reactions from different people. On the contrary, as an adult, sometimes language seems like such a chore, so limiting, almost like it does more harm than good, and can lead to a myriad of misunderstandings. When did I become such a bore? How did I lose that special sense of wonder that used to get sparked by the most basic of things?

Wonder comes from a simple, child-like place. But as you get older, it gets harder and harder to access. It gets drowned out by all the clutter in your mind, all the worldly distractions, psychological fears and insecurities. Only when you make a concerted effort to remove all that noise, will you be left with an empty space inside of you, a space ready and waiting to be transformed by your sense of wonder.

Wonder comes from your search to understand the world around you. It comes from your intense yearning for connection with something or someone greater than yourself. Sometimes you feel wonder at the genius of a new contraption, at the logic behind the chaos that is life, at the beauty of this world and humanity, even at the devastation that plays out on such a grand scale around us. Wonder is what leads us to the questions, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”

I was blessed to be born into a loving family with comfortable means. Yet, at times, I felt like no one understood me. Like, perhaps, I was a child who’d been taken away from her real mother to be raised by some other family. My real mother would know all the answers to my questions, and solutions to my problems. I realize now, of course, that perfect mother I imagined is God, who has always been with me, whether I knew it or not.  I think, like a foster child or someone who was adopted, you never stop wanting to know the truth about where you really came from.

This desire to learn about our origins and, indeed, our eventual destination, is what drives so many of us. This is why people enjoy reading stories and watching films about characters who go on journeys and endure hardships, to find some meaning in their lives. These stories help people to create a lens through which to understand our world. Perhaps listening to stories is one way for us to re-claim our child-like wonder, and be reminded to keep looking at the world with fresh eyes and an open heart.

When you learn something new as a result of wonder – be it a mathematical concept, a better understanding of your partner, or an epiphany about your own life – you feel triumphant, like you’ve solved an important riddle. But all you’ve really done is unlocked your access to the next riddle. As people, we keep evolving, and with each new riddle, or trauma, or trial in life, the way we solve it or get through it determines how much we grow, spiritually.

Some people want to dig deeper and gain self-awareness in order to heal or grow. Others don’t want to dig deep. They’re perfectly happy not facing their demons. Perhaps they’re afraid of opening a Pandora’s box of problems they can’t face. And that’s okay. Each person is at a different level of self-awareness in life. Each person needs to move at his own pace. But if this describes your partner or parent or friend, make sure you don’t let him/her discourage you from doing what you have to do to find your own truth. Don’t dilute your sense of wonder for anyone else. Let it build and grow, and maybe even engulf those around you.

If we live from a place of wonder – not of certainty and control – navigating life’s challenges might become a little more bearable.