Putting it bluntly, I am not religious, nor would I consider myself to be spiritual—no doubt in part because I’m not sure too what that means. Just because I don’t prescribe to a certain doctrine or set of beliefs, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t heaps of people in the world that do. According to Wikipedia (that trustworthy and verifiable site), 2.1 billion people practice Christianity, 1.5 billion practice Islam, 1.2 billion practice Hinduism and so on. A number of people practice religions I’ve never heard of, like Cao Dai (4 million), Juche (19 million) and Zoroastrianism (2.6 million). The site states that roughly 6/7 of the world population is considered to be religious, whereas the remaining 1/7 is classified as “secular, non-religious, atheist or agnostic,” which, I suppose, is where I fit in.
Since the overwhelming majority of Earth’s denizens consider themselves to be religious, many of which practice their religion on a regular basis, there must be some reason, some benefit, some positive outcome for doing so. It was with this in mind, and a few other reasons, I chose to adopt a daily spiritual practice for one month. Rather than forcing myself to pick a religion at random, and practice it in some way for thirty days, I chose to practice a component of many religious traditions and beliefs: meditation.
Meditation encompasses a variety of practices. Different contexts provide different meanings, but it is generally considered to be a time of contemplation and thought. It typically involves self-regulation of the mind with the intent to clear it, or to focus it on positive aspects such as compassion, patience and humility. It has been practiced in numerous ways since ancient times. Some techniques involve the use of objects, such as prayer beads, to keep track of an element of the training, while others use mantras to help find a state of peacefulness and relaxation.
For my practice, I chose to sit on the floor and close my eyes. My goals were to focus on my breathing, clear my mind, find an inner calmness, and be awake without being aware of anything, except for the awareness itself. Considering I find it nearly impossible to turn off my brain—even while sleeping, when it’s sometimes more active and inventive than when I’m awake—I knew this would be challenging.
Getting through the first thirty-minute session without thinking of anything except my breathing was no easy feat. In fact, I would dare even call it a moderate success. Was it relaxing? Most definitely. Peaceful, calm and pleasant? Without a doubt. Did I think too much about not thinking? You bet. In my attempt to shut down any thought that crept into my mind, I ended up having an Encyclopedia of short thoughts, snippets here and there, resulting in me thinking—fleetingly—about everything under the sun. And the sun itself. On the upside, I knew my practice would get better, as it really couldn’t get much worse.
For the most part, each day was a little better, and I was able to clear my mind more easily than previous sessions. Some days, however, my thoughts were bursting at the seams—like the belly of a large man who had stuffed himself into a button-down shirt one size too small, and then gone back for thirds at a Thanksgiving Day feast. Sometimes, just a button would pop, and one thought would be let loose in my mind. Other times, the whole shirt would burst wide open, and thoughts would pour out and roll around my mind, utterly unable to be tucked back in and contained. At such times, when the metaphorical shirt had been damaged beyond repair, I let my thoughts wander around and play with each other. Though not the original goal, it was fun and interesting to see what crazy ideas or random thoughts my mind came up with when I was completely uninhibited or unprompted by anyone or anything outside of myself. No surprise to anyone who has read List Mania, I can assure you I came up with an idea or two for a list.
Prior to some meditations, practicing felt like going to the gym on those days I don’t want to go, but just slightly more than that, I don’t want to end up like the guy whose gut finally rips his shirt on Thanksgiving Day, so I go anyway and vow to suffer through it. Once or twice I did just suffer through my meditation, painfully counting each breath, willing time to move faster. But mostly, when my thirty minutes were up, or when I was even just ten minutes in, I was glad I had set out to do it.
At the end of the thirty days, I had discovered how difficult it can be to quiet my mind, but also how simple it can be, primarily depending on my mindset just before beginning a meditation. I also realized the power meditation can have on altering my mood, as nearly every practice resulted in me being considerably calmer, more relaxed and happier. Additionally, I gained respect for those who are devout in their religion or spirituality and practice some aspect of it every day, or numerous times a day. It takes dedication I had not previously considered, and which I admire.
While I still don’t consider myself to be spiritual, I am appreciative for having experienced that world, even if I merely stepped a toe inside for a short while. I know I can turn to meditation when I need to relax, clear my mind and focus on nothing but my inner peace. Or when I need some inspiration for a list 🙂