I have been practicing meditations for 4+ years. Here is what I learned.
I started my meditation journey after I passed Sparta. I was following my coach Anton on SNS and watching his videos where he emphasized the importance of meditations in his morning routine.
At that time I knew very little about the meditation. So as many there was still an imprinted association with Buddhism and religion but I got the determination to explore what the whole meditation thing is about.
So I started to practice.
I still remember my first day. Almaty, Kazakhstan 2013. We decided to meet with friends at “Мост” (“most” means “the bridge”) our usual place near the beautiful pond, located on the way to the mountains of Almaty, Kazakhstan. I intentionally arrived earlier to stay alone and meditate. I sat down on the wooden deck near the pond, set up my timer for 5 minutes and closed my eyes. I had no idea of what I was doing.
God, that seemed like forever.
I couldn’t resist the temptation to peek a couple of times on the times with my half-closed eyes. The signal just wouldn’t go off. My friends arrived and saw me sitting on the floor with my eyes closed and laughed at me. I laughed at myself too. I might have looked like a fool sitting with a proud face like a Buddhist but still trying to take a sneak peek at the timer. And that was the
Lesson #1. First times you will fail. And that’s ok.
When I first started my mind was an “insane ape running towards the cliff”. Insomnia was a normal thing for me because all of my thoughts were relentlessly buzzing in my head and stinging me provoking for new thoughts.
At that time I was still eradicating my alcohol addiction, I wasn’t an addict anymore but I still indulged in it sometimes.
Lesson #2. The poison decreases mindfulness and makes you chaotic.
You can only control the impulse to indulge in your weakness when you Inner Observer is strong enough to detect it.
In August 2013, I arrived in South Korea and continued practicing.
At that time I learned that there are different types of meditations. But I chose the most common one — the concentration on breathing. It’s called Anapanasati in Indian tradition. Osho calls it vipassana meditation. Zazen Buddhists call it zazen.
I was practicing by sitting and observing my breathing. I observed the sensations in nostrils, how the air goes down in trachea into bronchi, how my lungs rise and the contraction of the diaphragm and the focusing on the points that lie between inhale and exhale and between exhale and inhale.
The problem with it was that I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was reading a lot about it, I was watching lectures about it but it always felt that my meditations are like waves hitting a crag. There is an invisible wall that I can’t pass by.
Little that I knew how right I was.
Lesson #3. Stay persistent.
Gutta cavat lapidem
A water drop hollows a stone
I was a robot. I rented out myself to meditations. I still didn’t know what was going to happen but I made a decision to discover.
I was practicing with the timer. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes.
I ditched the timer and started to use the stopwatch. I wanted to see how long can hold the stillness.
There was a long plateau because at 20–25 minutes my legs started to get numb.
I quit eating meat. I was forging my discipline exercising every day. I pushed it to my maximum. I was sitting still for 55 minutes straight coping with the discomfort. Embracing it. Observing the smallest itches and impulses to move or scratch my face or head.
It was the second year of my practice. My stable meditations started to reach 30 minutes.
And then it happened.
One day during my meditation my thoughts had stopped.
I stopped thinking. That was an unbelievable insight. I had no thoughts but I still was there. Who was that “I” who was still watching?
I thought: “OMG I am not thinking” and, of course, at that very moment, I was thinking again. It slipped. The moment had passed. The state of meditation is extremely fragile but I got my insight.
This is the most important lesson that everyone should learn through the practice of meditations:
Lesson #4. You are not your thoughts
After that day I started the transition to a new mind become obvious.
I finally got a higher taste. A glimpse behind the curtains of the illusions of the mind. I got introduced to the inherent duality of my consciousness — the “I-thoughts” and “I-Observer”.
I woke up.
I stepped into the Space of Silence. There is a problem with communicating meditation to those who don’t practice.
It is indescribable.
The problem is that we use words to embody the thoughts, concepts, and experiences. But in the meditation state, you experience becoming a space without thoughts — a space beyond the words.
While we use words to explain things, it is impossible to articulate what the meditation state is like to someone who never tried it. Because you can’t understand it with your mind, you can only live it through when your mind takes a step back.
It is possible though.
I picked up this trick from the acting classes that I used to attend. You can try this little experiment with your friends. Tell them that you can show them what the state of meditation is like.
I take two people and I put a small object like a dice or a coin and put it between them on the table. I ask them to sit and stare at it. Their objective is to grab as I count to 3.
I say: “One…”
And I make a long pause.
And here is when the trick comes into play. For a very short moment, their minds transform into a pure attention. They hypnotize the object ready to snap it at any second. They experience the state without thoughts.
Finally, one of them usually gives up saying: “So where the hell is three?!”.
This is when you explain to them what you just did.
In a nutshell, a meditation state is a state of a maximum presence. This is our natural state and we are supposed to be present at all times staying aware of our actions.
Lesson #5. Stay present.
I learned how to stop my thoughts at will. I learned that the thoughtless state can be easily reached by the awareness of breathing. Everything became my meditation. I made a habit to yank myself and come back to my breath walking on the street, doing chores, and even during the deep work at the task at hand.
The meditations enabled me to develop an inner core that solidifies with practice and serves as sort of anchor which I can hold on to when the storms of life are trying to knock me down. I learned how to always come back to my center.
I had a massive shift in my personality. My temperament changed. All my life I was a turbulent Choleric, now I am an assertive Sanguine. I became much less reactive, more stable, and immune to other people’s opinions. I have mastered the art of not giving a shit to the level of complete indifference of the things that are out of my reach of control.
But what most importantly I finally got the
Lesson #6. Tame your Ego.
I still suck at it. I know that oftentimes I slip into the ego and I get possessed by my thoughts losing the present moment but the awareness of my flaws is what is helping me to fight them on a daily basis.
I learned several truths that I believe that everyone should embrace.
I don’t get tired reminding myself:
You will die.
Everyone will die. Everyone you love will die.
Nothing really matters.
On the bright side— everyone who wronged you in life will die too 😈.
You are not important.
Staying in the middle of the crowded street, meditating and being present you will understand that if you disappear nothing will really change. The Earth will not stop revolving. Even those who hold you dear will mourn temporarily. Time is eternal. You are not.
I have a personal reminder — a scene from the “Doctor Strange” movie that I love, the scene where the Ancient One dies. Before she leaves she delivers her last message to Dr. Strange:
“You have such a capacity for goodness. You always excelled. But not because you craved success but because of your fear of failure.”
“That’s what made me a great doctor,” Steven smiles.
Ancient One parries:
“It’s precisely what kept you from greatness. Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.”
Doctor Strange is perplexed: “Which is?”
I recall this scene over and over again in my head very often. I keep telling myself: “It’s not about you”. It teaches me humility.
And, God, whoever writes scripts for Marvel movies is a bloody genius.
You are a fool.
Your eyes can see a small percent of the electromagnetic spectra that we call a visible light.
Our ears can’t hear ultra-low and ultra-high frequencies.
We understand nothing about who we are, where did we come from, how our brain works, what is consciousness and what is waiting for us after death and if anything waits for us there at all.
We can’t understand what is matter, what is anti-matter and dark energy. We don’t know what is the meaning of life neither if it does have a meaning.
We don’t even fully understand how our body works.
We thump our chests claiming that we are the crown of creation but we are just fools milling about on the microscopic green sphere in the infinite space.
After staring into the darkness long enough I realized that we know nothing about our souls either.
The darkness says:
You are not the label.
We put labels all the time. This is how our mind works. A Muslim, a Christian. A professor, a student. A woman, a man. A Russian, an American. When I redefined for myself what I learned as a kid from Oscar Wilde:
To define is to limit.
The understanding of what I truly am behind the scene of words I learned:
Lesson #6. We are all the one.
If you please, for me this is the concept of God.
When you get behind all of the mental constructions to the very essence of your center beyond all formulations and labels you realize that we are all same. And not just same.
We are all the One — a conscious nothingness without a shape, form, not bounded by space and time.
We all carry it inside and many of us forgot how to enter this space. I was knocking the door for years just to discover a shocking truth.
I was knocking from the inside.
Lesson #7. There is no easy way.
If you are somewhat like me and find yourself keen to dive deep into the rabbit hole this is what you learn in the process. There is no easy way to get anything worth getting.
All the self-proclaimed guru that are trying to make money offering fast enlightenment are impostors. There is no shortcut.
The shortcut is the longcut.
Commitment to meditations is hard. It is supposed to be hard. That is the whole point.
Lesson #8. The Enlightenment is not the goal.
It is about the process of constant personal evolution, it is about the person you have to become in order to materialize the self you envision.
Quoting omnipresent and magnificent James Altucher:
The process is the goal.
Obviously, reaching the state of Silence of Mind and being able to hold it for longer periods of time is the ultimate goal, but the overall objective of the meditation is the discipline you have to forge in order to stay still for these prolonged spans of time.
I believe that the personal mission of every person on earth should be to eradicate the idiocy in oneself. I am fighting my own every day.
Some practical tips.
Here are some things that I learned during the process. It might be of help.
Skipping your meditations is ok.
Meditations will come and go. It’s fine. Keep going.
There will be days when you caught up with the daily routine will forget to meditate and even sometimes there will be days when you will say: “Fuck it. Don’t feel like it today.”
Don’t scold yourself for that. Take it easy. The consistency is important. As long as you come back to it you are ok. Just keep in mind that the longer your breaks are the more momentum you lose and the harder it will be to start again. Go with the flow.
It’s ok to move.
During the meditation you will frequently feel the impulses to move, change position a bit, scratch your nose, your cheek, your head, switch the numb legs. It’s also ok. Do it. But do it with a pause and consciously. Be aware of the movement.
As times go by you will learn more and more how not to rush into the satisfaction of the impulse but rather observe it. The observation itself is the process in course of which the impulse dissipates.
Don’t do it hungry.
But don’t do it being full either — you will get sleepy. Eat light food like a couple of bananas just to kill the growl in your stomach which will cause the rise of corresponding thoughts. The point is always just to remove unnecessary distractions.
Don’t eat meat.
There are 8 major reasons why I don’ eat meat. And one of them is for the sake of meditations. Meat “grounds” you and the consumption of it promotes the different anxiety states.
Lotus position is unnecessary. If you don’t possess required flexibility unnatural for your body positions will only distract you from the meditation. However, it is better if your hands or at least fingers touch each other. By connecting them you are sort of encircling the energy in the body. I am not the most competent person to explain the mechanisms behind that I simply share the methods that worked best for me.
Don’t lie down. You will fall asleep. I prefer to sit on a mat with my back leaning against the pillow on the wall. No need to hold your back straight without a prop either. The discomfort of the numb back will be disturbing.
There is a technique that I learned recently. It is called “the double focus” when you meditate focusing on breathing and the sensation between two fingers rubbing each other. Such a powerful tool as paying attention to two things simultaneously leaves very little aperture for a thought to sneak in.
When you lose your concentration point —don’t reprimand yourself in your thoughts, relax and just come back to it. When the thought flies by don’t grab it starting sucking around it and investigating it. Let your thoughts flow.
My favorite movie of all times is the “Matrix”. 1999. This is crazy how far ahead of our times this movie was.
Remember the pill scene, where Morpheus gives Neo a choice?
“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
I found the red pill:
Whatever problems you have in your life with your mindset, with yourself or with your relationships, meditation is the single practice that will help you to find the solutions and transform you if you stay persistent.
I stayed. It changed my life forever.
If I could give you the single one advice about life that would be it:
These are my final words in this essay and I hope this bell will ring for a long time in your ears.