Mindfulness and meditation has been taught to me since my days at secondary school. In drama lessons the teacher would often ask the entire class to lie on their backs with eyes closed taking deep breaths, getting us to visualise a place where we would most like to be. I often viewed myself in a sunny beach, and for ones that concentrate just enough one can almost feel as if the temperature of the room rises, it’s a kind of placebo.
The reason why we did this so much in drama, is because our teacher, who had an impressive career as an actor told us that performers such as actors, dancers, comedians etc. all benefit from practising meditation before they go out on stage to calm nerves or to gain a higher sense of self-awareness to optimise their performance in front of a crowd.
We didn’t dive in to any kind of acting techniques until we decided that we wanted to do GCSE drama in our final two years of secondary school, so drama classes were usually based on the idea of mindfulness and creativity. Teacher would get us to scan our bodies from the crown of our heads to the tip of our toes, slowly relaxing the muscles as we went down. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already practising a very common method – body scan meditation.
The school did a one-time health and nutrition day, with every classroom converting in to a specialised workshop, we had our design and technology classrooms turned in to an alcohol awareness workshop, history in to a smoothie making class, and the drama teacher decided to take this opportunity to teach all pupils something a little different. There were thick curtains drawn on the windows but the lights were switched off, as we opened the door and walked in, we could immediately catch the scent of the candles, an awesome ambience as the sound system played smoothing classical music.
The teacher quickly turned the music off. ‘I understand you kids do not appreciate that kind of music, it would stress you out if I had played it for a minute longer. I know how it feels… stress. Let me show you how I’ve eradicated stress out of my life.’ He got us all in a circle, legs crossed and lectured us on the effect meditation has had on his improved temperament as a teacher, stating that he used to lose his cool at other schools he taught at. What we were about to do, was a lot different to the body scan meditation we had gotten so used to, this was more transcendental, where we focused very much on our breathing.
I didn’t know at the time that it would benefit me in any way, I certainly didn’t feel any different once I left the room, it took me a few weeks to realise that it had actually benefitted me because I found my levels of serenity ripple like waves in a pond, a constant and an easy flow of calmness. I had more patience dealing with stuff at home, I have to say I noticed that I got on better with my family, the atmosphere in the house was just somehow different, in a positive way. Could it really have been due to that meditation session? I wasn’t convinced, but I started to believe. After a while, when I didn’t meditate again, my temperament got worse. A toilsome teenager.
In the classroom with our legs crossed, torso up straight, shoulders back, we focused on our breathing, he first told us to meet our thumb with our forefinger and told us whereabouts in our stomach we can feel the epicentre of our breathing, as our thumb was met with each finger, going through to our pinkie, we felt the centre of our breath would move down from the top of the stomach, just underneath the diaphragm until the pinkie finger felt the bottom of our stomach being drawn a stock of air, inhale, exhale. The teacher softly instructed ‘Feel the oxygen go down, feel the carbon dioxide go out.’ All this felt very surreal and mystical, and I could genuinely feel the breath being drawn from different areas of my abdomen. It was strange, but I felt comfortable. I didn’t give it a lot of thought again, until a few years later.
Sometime in my early adulthood, maybe 18, 19. I started reading my father’s choice of tabloid every day. There was a health section that would feature on the same day each week and on that particular day I would skip to that page as soon as I picked it up. Almost every week meditation was mentioned. Any word or phrase associated with meditation, or mindful breathing, if I just caught anything like that in the corner of my eye, my pupils would jump out my socket, feeding on fresh information so keen to learn anything that I had not known before. I’d often read that it can improve memory, lower cholesterol, fight against cancer. It just seemed miraculous that something so easy and cost-free could improve my overall health was just beyond me.
New Year’s Day 2018 was just approaching, I was 24 years old. I had ignored all of the benefits I read in the papers, magazines, internet articles etc. If I was to meditate, it was extremely rare. At the time, my mental health was in a poor condition, I was disorganised, unmotivated, lacked energy, as well as maturity, compassion for others, and my self-awareness and social domineering was seriously challenged.
I had set myself a new year’s resolution – to make a regular routine of meditating, I had not idea if it would work, or how I would change, I just knew that I had to, because I was not content with my life, and I had no respect for myself and who I was. Since then, I haven’t stopped meditating regularly. It gradually improved every aspect of my life. I’m still trying to make improvements every day, though, because the path to enlightenment is still somewhere on the horizon, I will never stop to realise the importance of self-improvement.
As a child, I read atlas’s for fun, and also books about space. I remember at the age of about 5 or 6 I had a space encyclopaedia and memorised all the planets of the solar system until I knew each one off by heart, from the nearest to the furthest away from the sun. To the point where my solar system knowledge was safe and sound, I moved on to learn about what galaxies were and how stars born and die. As a child, who went to numerous religious schools, I sang hymns every morning, recite the lord’s prayer, and morning assemblies were more often than not based around the teachings of Genesis. I even joined the boy’s brigade, which was kind of like the scouts. We used to attend boy’s brigade in a church, and was often taught about Christianity.
The thing is, when I was at that age, I never thought about religion to a considerable extent, even if it was thrown in my face, I was probably an agnostic with a lot of scepticism about the stories of Jesus, and the miracles he had performed. At this age now, I have an openness to spirituality and am on a path of enlightenment aspiringly achieving through meditation. However, nihilism has creeped up on me, when I gaze upon the stars in the night sky, a meditation guru would tell you it brings you closer to feel the connection of your spirit locking in to the entire universe, with eyes fixed on to the sky, I could not – this was because I cannot fathom the idea of an infinite universe, the most powerful telescopes that have been made cannot see the boundaries of the universe just like the brightest minds of other branches of science also cannot understand the topic of consciousness , as I got fixated on the vast size of the universe, I became sure that there was no heaven therefore no afterlife, and that life is meaningless and that is one of the main reasons why I started meditating on a regular basis – to come face to face with my nihilistic perspective of my belief system. Consciousness is merely a word; it has no definition.
Will there be a day where we finally understand it? Personally, meditation is the only path we have to understand it, and Western science has historically refused to accept that meditation has valid and empirical measures to improve our knowledge of our existence.
As 2018 was already such a long time ago, I’ve come to learn advanced techniques, and have been studying the seven chakras. The seven chakras are energy centres in our body that have to balance to reach ultimate enlightenment and peace – and for nihilistic people, to rid the fear of our mortality. According to many experts in mindfulness practise, to be enlightened is to say ‘I am’ instead of ‘I want’. ‘I am worthy, instead of ‘I aim to be worthy’ but it goes far beyond mere cognitive manipulation.
If you enjoyed reading this article, keep an eye out for more. I’ll be writing guides for beginners, and will delve deeper in to the seven chakras, I will help guide Vegan Mag readers in to a path enlightenment and positive spirituality.
This is article was written by Josh Coombes.
A 27-year-old freelance writer from Shropshire, UK.
I believe the world can be a better place, if we all spread enough love around, we can all be happier and live more fulfilled lives.