Have you ever felt like you are completely trapped and suffocated by everyday life? I used to get claustrophobic living in London so much so that I always imagined myself standing in a middle of a field near my childhood home in the British Countryside on a beautiful summer’s evening. I’d imagine myself lifting my arms up as wide as they go and I would just spin around feeling the freedom I longed for while breathing in the fresh air. Even writing this makes me feel all content of that feeling I longed for a very long time.
I used to see people on the tube in London looking so miserable and I realised that I too was turning into one of them and feeling so fed up with my life. I knew I had depression so I grabbed hold of a backpacking idea because when I did my first around the world trip in 2006, it was the best year of my life. I needed to be back in that place again. So I left England in August 2011 and boarded a flight to India.
A guy I worked with at a radio station told me about a Buddhism course he did in India and recommended I do it. He was unaware of the drowning state I was in and I went to India in the hope that this course would help me come to terms with grief even though I didn’t know really anything about it. It literally couldn’t have gone much better. When the course began I couldn’t believe my eyes – this was exactly what I had been looking for.
Now, I’m not religious so I’m not going to tell you how I’m a Buddhist or anything like that now because I’m not but I learnt so much from this course, I now put it into everyday life which is like a huge wake up call for me. I am seeing things differently and so much clearer now like it all makes much more sense and so this is a post about how meditation can change your life.
The course was called An Introduction To Buddhism at a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Centre called Tushita based in the small town of the Dalai Lama’s residence, Dharamsala in Northern India. There were people from all over the world attending this, some backpackers some not. It was an interesting mix. The course was 10 days, in silence, that’s not one word spoken, sharing dormitories, eating vegetarian food and learning about ourselves.
We learnt about the teachings of Buddhism and then learnt to meditate throughout the 10 days and I found the course so interesting. Steve was also attending this course which is how we originally met (before the silence started) and began seeing each other a few months later when we shared our first kiss 4000m above sea level in the middle of the Himalayas! I really felt connected to this course because it was all about learning to let go and that everything is changing all the time.
This picture was taken a few hours before we got together in the Himalayas!
After a few months of a whirlwind romance travelling together around South East Asia, Steve and I moved to his home town of Australia. We were in love and I couldn’t believe I had found someone who felt the same about me. Being a Buddhist, Steve really helped me deal with the grief I was going through but it didn’t all suddenly go away. Once we moved to Sydney, it took us what felt like a very long time to get work. I didn’t have any distractions anymore. There was no travelling, no more ‘where shall we go next’, nothing. I had travelled around Australia before so this was no longer exciting and I quickly became depressed again and started to go back to square one with coming to terms with the previous year. As soon as I started to realise that, I knew I had to go to the Vipassana course in the Blue Mountains, an hour and a half drive out of Sydney.
What is a Vipassana Course?
Vipassana courses are held all over the world and it’s a 12 day silent meditation course consisting of around 18 hours a day everyday spent meditating. The location was perfect – right in the heart of the mountains with a glorious view to look out to which I never got bored of. The course was split into two groups, men on one side and women on the other. I stayed in a dormitory with 3 other women and there were separate dining areas for both men and women. At the beginning of the course I had the opportunity to meet some of the other people who were also attending. This was great as I found myself completely picturing how other people on the course would sound or act when the silence had broken. Once the silence started about two hours after arriving everyone got into the zone and settled in. Well I say that but in actual fact, over half of the course of 100 people dropped out within the first three days. That’s over 50 people dropped out, isn’t that crazy? I don’t think most really realised how full on it was going to be. I knew people who had experienced the course before and they told me to wait it out until Day 4 when it all starts to change and get better. This really reminds me of when I recently did a 10 day juice cleanse. I went through very similar emotions, one day loving it, the next wanting to eat again and I was also told that Day 4 too was the turning point of the cleanse. It must take a good 3 days for your body to start really get rid of any toxins before it can start to heal.
This was the schedule everyday:
Someone would hit the bell each morning at 5am for morning meditation
5am – 7am Morning Meditation
7am – 8am Breakfast
9am-11am – Meditation
11am – Lunch
1pm – 5pm Meditation
5pm – Tea Break
6pm – Meditation
7pm – Video
8pm – Meditation
9pm – Bed
This is roughly the schedule from what I remember. I remember feeling hungry most of the time there. The vegetarian food was incredible but not eating after 11am until the next day was torture even though I wasn’t using up much energy at all. You see the whole course is funded by donations. There isn’t even a price to go there, you can just donate whatever you like and I remember they had volunteers doing the amazing cooking as well.
I went through lots of ups and downs during my time at the Vipassana. Because it’s so rare to have any time to actually think about things nowadays, I had a lot of demons to overcome in my mind. This course was exactly what I needed to do, I needed the space and time to really come to terms with events and choices I had made in my life. There were days that I was loving it, and there were days that I just desperately wanted to leave but I made sure I stayed until the very end. Why did I stay? I knew this was an incredible opportunity to really give my mind the time that it needed to heal. When the course finished and the silence was broken, I had to remove myself from the group because I found it too overwhelming with the noise. It’s amazing how sensitive our senses become when not used. It was the same with the juice cleanse, I found it difficult to eat for the first day as everything I ate was too harsh on my throat.
And so after a long 12 days, what did I actually get out of the course?
I learnt that everything is changing constantly and that 9 times out of 10 it’s not all about me. What I mean by that is for example – the way I might be treated badly by someone is probably nothing to do with me, it’s the person’s own demons being projected onto me. This is one of the biggest things I learnt and remember on a daily basis. People generally always think that there’s something wrong with them but usually it’s not at all. Take for example, I was getting bullied at a previous job by someone and I knew that it was nothing to do with me because she hardly knew me before it all started and that she was just in fact really unhappy. She had an awful boss and she just couldn’t cut her job so she took it out on me. Before I got into meditation I would have got really upset by the way she was treating me but I didn’t because I could see the bigger picture. Same goes with men, I didn’t meet anyone while living in London and I thought it was because I wasn’t beautiful enough or that men didn’t see me as the relationship type. Looking back on that time, I’ve realised how silly and what a waste of time that anxiety I put myself through because it was nothing to do with my appearance, it was because I was a complete emotional mess and at the time I didn’t see it at all. I think you really have to learn to love yourself to be happy. It’s cliched and said all the time but it’s completely true. If I think back to 4 years ago and what a difference my life is now I would have never believed I would be writing this to the world to tell them just what my mum would always say – everything will be OK.
How did I turn my life around?
1. Going to India changed it all for me, meeting the love of my life helped massively but at the end of the day, only I could change how I was feeling.
2. Meditation – I absolutely 100% recommend doing a meditation course. If you don’t want to commit to the 12 day Vipassana then there are shorter 1/2/3 day courses out there. Or you could go to your local meditation centre for a drop in session before/after work. Don’t ever think you’ll feel uncomfortable going to any of these courses or drop in centres because you’ll be so surprised with the diverse amount of people there. I remember seeing nuns to tradies to hippies to posh people to every type of stereotype out there.
3. I did a 360 on my eating habits. I used to drink fanta like there was no tomorrow, buy pre made lasagna’s fit for 10 people, lived off burgers&chips and drank too much alcohol on weekends. I’ve now given up alcohol, eat mainly a raw diet during the day and vegan meal at night and I exercise daily. This sounds simple right? We all know to eat more fruit & veg and cut down on alcohol but I can’t express to you what a HUGE change for the better this has made to my life. The saying is completely true; ‘you are what you eat’ because I am now so much more happier, I feel peace within me, I am incredibly focused (whereas before I had an attention spam of a goldfish) and I feel incredibly switched on. I don’t need as much sleep anymore, before I used to need a good 9 hours + and now I’m fine on 6 hours a night. I have lost quite a bit of weight and my skin and hair feel amazing now. I couldn’t express how good it feels!
4. Exercise – I usually meditate whilst running in the mornings. For me, there is no better start to my day than getting outside when the rest of the world is still asleep. There’s something magical about that!
5. I realised I needed to plan my days better in terms of work/life balance. I’ve always got up at the last minute in a quick dash to get ready for work and run out the door with a piece of toast in hand. Nowadays, I get up 2.5hrs before I need to leave for work so I get a bit of ‘me’ time to exercise, make my breakfast and lunch and do any house work or things I need to do. I’ve realised that there’s no need to leave everything I want to do for the weekend because I was finding that they were flying by and then I’d be back at work again. I think it’s incredibly important to really have that balance in your life and to make sure that you aren’t living for the weekend. Wishing your life away is NOT what you want to be doing. I always put everything into perspective by thinking ‘When I’m about to die, will I remember this moment? Is it really that important to me?’ and that’s when I know to calm it down by seeing the bigger picture. I used to suffer from anxiety and I was quite hot headed whereas now I feel so much calmer with a lot of peace in my life.
I decided to write this post to help others who are going through any pain, depression, grief or if you are feeling unhappy with the way your life is going right now. By sharing my experiences with how I managed to get myself out of a unhappy time in my life, I hope I can inspire any of you feeling a similar way. If you have any questions you can always comment below or email me directly.
Thanks for reading this personal and honest post.