Meditation, my friend
I meditate because it puts me back together. Makes me whole again and nourishes my heart. Meditation is like the centuries-old Japanese art of repairing, the golden joinery, Kintsugi. Meditation is my lacquer, dusted with gold. Gently, firmly and beautifully it fills the delicate lines on the surface of my soul, where I have split without breaking apart. It leaves me strong, with a little bit of sparkle between my toes, to face the world.
Growing up in central Victoria, a five minute drive from a country town, and a short bike ride to the forest and the river, I spent a lot of time riding my bike, barefoot and in bathers. Pedalling on the gravelled road, over the rickety bridge and along the motorbike tracks, up and down the ‘big dippers’ to go for a swim and hang out with my brother, sister, and friends. We had a lot of fun in the sun and water over the summers. Equally, there were many times I went and sat in the dirt under the trees by myself and just watched the birds and listened to the wind dancing through the leaves of the trees, mesmerised by the flow of the river. Just hanging out in nature. Noticing things. Letting the world wash over me, while the sunshine warmed my feet. Contemplating. Just being. Thinking back on those memories of solitude, I realise they were my first memories of meditation. Although at the time, I didn’t know, that was what it was called.
My first exposure to the term meditation and what it was ‘traditionally’ all about, came a little later from the most unlikely TV show called ‘A Country Practice’. There, one of the characters, Shirley Dean Gilmore from the Wandin Valley Bush Nursing Hospital, would sit after work at home in her lounge-room under a pyramid, meditating. She was seen by her fellow characters as a bit ‘whacky’ and ‘out there’. But there was something about the serenity in her face, the laughter in her eyes, that inspired me to sit after school on the carpeted floor of my bedroom, legs crossed, hands resting on my knees, eyes closed. Meditating. Minus the pyramid. Nervous my siblings or parents would walk in and catch me, and perhaps think of me as weird, like Shirley. But enjoying the deliciousness of doing something for me that others around me might not understand.
The first time I meditated with other people was in Year 10 at school. Our drama teacher introduced our class to meditation and we would practise it collectively before each class. This was the first time I meditated lying down. This was the first time I was taken through a body scan, encouraged to let my feet, then my ankles, then my legs become heavy and sink into the floor. To work your way to the tip of your head and then worked your way down imagining every part of your body is light and floating into the space of the room. It felt amazing. And I was hooked. It was during these meditation practices that my 15 year-old self came to the realisation that I was part of something much bigger than myself. That we were all part of something bigger than ourselves. There had been a lot of sadness and death that year. Meditation was healing our hearts. It helped me come to terms with the loss, grief and the harsh reality of life.
As a young adult I got my meditation fix at the end of each yoga class. I suffered through those beautiful poses, holding my body awkwardly in space, stretching my limbs beyond their limits, challenging my mind and my belief in what I was capable of, only to finally be rewarded with the sweet delight of lying down, under a blanket on my yoga mat, finally in Shavasana. Dead Man’s pose. Where life and death comfortably entwine. Coming out of Shavasana I always felt reborn. And for many years my meditation practice was linked explicitly to my yoga practice. It was the full stop of my yoga practice each night. The satisfying close bringing it all together, each time.
Later in life, through my reading and curiosity, I unpacked Buddhism, neuroplasticity and wellbeing to land on the idea that meditating for half-an-hour, twice a day, each day was the ultimate period of time to realise its benefits. So I started using a guided meditation app, and meditated for half-an-hour every morning and half-an-hour every night. And I felt the shift. I saw the shift. I felt that gold dusted lacquer doing its magical work on my soul. Over time I let go of being so rigid on how long I meditated, and just let each day decide when and how long, and where I would meditate. My favourite place and time is on the beach, in the early morning sunshine at Kennett River, the salt air on my face.
Exploring the benefits of exercising your muscle of attention, on the impact it has on our collective mental health and wellbeing, has led me back to my love of mandalas; to the discovery of Zazen, the Japanese art of seated meditation; a meditation course; and the joy of discovering mindful movement, meditation on the go. And now, at this time in my life, with some trepidation, I start my meditation teaching course. To maybe one day pass on the gift of meditation to others. For meditation to become their Kintsugi, to make art of their brokenness and illuminate their repair. To make their history part of their story, rather than their disguise. For them to feel the work of the gold lacquered dust between the lines, cracks and wrinkles of their souls. To heal their hearts. To sprinkle their toes.
So when asked what inspired me to meditate. What gets me on the cushion. I realised, on reflection, that meditation has always been with me. By the river, by my side. It is, perhaps, my oldest and dearest friend. It is, a gift. I am grateful for this gift, handed down the generations over thousands of years, a gift for us to make our own. A gift where everything lifts, allowing an escape from the joy or pain of the past and the worry or excitement of the future. To be in the moment. But to be everywhere. A place where my mind and imagination can run free. Where I have felt the most at peace, and the most creative. Where the answers I have been seeking find me. Where exciting new ventures, and pieces of writing have been born. Where fears, worries and doubt have died. Meditation, where life and death entwine.