Transcendental Meditation Eased My Worried Mind
After a car accident, I was overwhelmed with anxiety—until I started meditating.
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I’ve always labeled myself as a worrier, like my mother before me. But after a minor car accident a few years ago caused me to worry so much that I stopped eating properly for weeks—eventually passing out in front of my children—I realized I had to do something about my worrying ways.
The accident wasn't much, but my brain wouldn’t leave it alone, prodding and poking and suggesting all the ways in which things could have been worse or might still be worse (perhaps the other party involved had internal bleeding, perhaps they’d die, and it would be all my fault). None of these things were true, yet my brain was causing my body to live as if they were.
I spent weeks smoking too much, drinking too much, eating and sleeping too little, until one Friday night after a couple of glasses of wine consumed too quickly on an empty stomach, my body finally gave up. I passed out on the kitchen floor. My children, aged 6 and 7, poked their heads around the door to see what had happened to Mummy. My husband was able to usher them away with assurances that “Mummy wasn’t feeling well,” but the damage was done. The shame that followed burned so hot there was no question: I had to do something about my rumination.
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I Rediscovered the Type of Meditation That Works for Me
I started off with cognitive behavioral exercises I got from podcasts. I read all the self-help books I could get my hands on. I did some guided meditations in a haphazard way, but it wasn’t until the first lockdown that I discovered the meditation for me.
I should say rediscovered because meditation has always been present in my life even though I haven’t practiced it. My parents have been doing transcendental meditation (TM) for over 40 years, and it was their friend, a long-term practitioner and teacher of TM, whom I reached out to.
He couldn’t teach me TM—a mantra-based meditation—during a lockdown because learning this particular technique requires in-person instruction, so he started me off with a simple meditation exercise. We Zoomed once a day over a few days to practice the technique, then I joined some online group meditation sessions he ran every evening. I hate Zoom; I can never get the angle right or the lighting, but at least no one was looking for most of these ones, and I attended them regularly for about a year until I was able to learn the TM technique properly.
Our culture has a way of taking something simple and making it complicated. There are so many apps, YouTube videos and different ways to meditate. Yet at its core, meditation is a simple, natural process. The technique I use is so simple that at first, I was left wondering, “Is this it?!” I searched for ways I was doing it wrong because surely, it must be more complicated than this? Yet after some regular practice, the benefits were undeniable. Turns out, it really was that simple.
A quiet room is preferable but not always possible, so I fit meditation in wherever I am. I get myself comfortable, close my eyes and then silently repeat the mantra given to me by my teacher in my head. My favorite place is an armchair, but I can do it in bed, on the train, on a bench, in a tent, in a car (don’t worry, I pull over first) and, most recently, on the floor of a crowded airport departure hall while waiting for a flight. My commitment to daily meditation has meant I can’t afford to take myself too seriously, which has also worked wonders for my worrying ways.
I Can’t Deny the Benefits of Transcendental Meditation
Whilst meditation is becoming more acceptable in mainstream culture, it still feels closely associated with new-age spirituality. The very word “meditation” conjures images of incense-filled rooms, cross-legged-postures and chants of “om.” Yet what attracted me initially to TM as a type of meditation (apart from being familiar with it through my parents) was its scientific basis. The brains of long-term meditators have been studied and the benefits well-documented: increased gray matter and a reduction in the size of the amygdala can reduce stress and lead to more positive ways of thinking. The research made sense to me: Surely finding some quiet time every day to calm the mind would help to reduce stress, which must have all sorts of positive impacts on the state of body and mind? Some skepticism remained initially, but the more I practice, the less I can deny the results.
The benefits seem to accumulate the longer I practice. I don’t tend to ruminate or catastrophize much anymore. When I do, I’m more aware that I’m doing it, and I’m able to pull myself out of my spiraling thoughts much quicker. My fuse is longer (I used to bottle my emotions then blow my top and shout at my kids; now I barely raise my voice), and I’m more accepting of life. Meditation has allowed me easier access to the best parts of myself. I can feel that my nervous system is more regulated. It’s a running joke in my family now: I need regular food, water, sleep and meditation to stave off “grumpy Mum.”
Looking at life through a meditator’s lens, I can see that there’s no magic bullet that can solve all my problems. Problems are part of life, but I’m learning they don’t have to overwhelm me, and I don’t have to make things worse by catastrophizing or making up problems that exist only in the realms of my imagination.
For me, regular meditation doesn’t banish thoughts; it processes them. I think of it as a tool to effortlessly clear out all the rubbish that’s floating around up there (believe me, that’s one steep waste pile). My thoughts no longer run away with me like an overloaded freight train. When I feel them gathering speed for a circular trip, it’s within my power to put the brakes on.
I have found that I’ve developed an interest in spirituality over the past year. Perhaps it’s a side effect of my meditation practice; perhaps I’m uncovering an aspect of myself that has always been there. But the benefits were just as apparent in my early days of meditating when I had no interest in spirituality. To me, meditation is a simple technique to tame the brain, incense and lotus pose optional.
Everyone Should Take the Time to Meditate
It’s so easy, and it’s worked so well for me that I want to shout about it from the rooftops. I want to petition for its inclusion in all school curriculums. I want a world full of meditators! Yet when I try to talk to others about it, I’m often met with resistance. It can be cloaked in compliments and interest, but I know what most people are thinking: “I haven’t got time to sit down and meditate every day; I’m too busy!”
Yet even with the world turning at full speed again, meditation has become a core component of the daily practices that help keep me feeling like me. I make a little time for it and the rest takes care of itself (a bit like life). When I think of all the time and energy I used to waste on the thoughts that chased themselves around my head, if I consider the stress my runaway thoughts used to subject my body to, the amount of time it takes me to meditate each day feels like a small price to pay. There’s an old zen proverb that says, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day, unless you’re very busy, then you should sit for an hour.”
The question for me isn’t how can I afford the time to meditate, it’s how can I afford not to?