Siobhán McKenna is trained and certified by Deepak Chopra M.D., as a Primordial Sound Meditation teacher and in Ayurveda for wellbeing. She has continued to evolve her meditation practice with davidji, an internationally renowned meditation teacher, best-selling author and motivational speaker. In the first part of a two-part blog, she looks back over failed attempts in search of inner bliss and how she eventually found her way – albeit a wobbly way.
I recently visited Sedona, Arizona for a meditation retreat. Sedona is considered a spiritual place with swirling vortexes that are conducive to meditation. This was a long way from where I’d first attempted meditation when I was in my late teens. The options were limited then and meditation was viewed with skepticism — something belonging to hippies, followers of a cult or a foreign religion. My first awareness of meditation came to me on Dublin’s Grafton Street, when a Hare Krishna stopped to talk to me as his companions danced and chanted around us. Intrigued but looking to escape, I bought a book from him, which I took with me to Wicklow Street and the only vegetarian cafe in Dublin that I knew of at the time. It was there I picked up a notice about a Buddhist meditation group and their weekly meeting. Putting down my new book with the blue-faced gods on the cover, I decided I’d give the Buddhists a go instead.
I borrowed my mum’s car ( fudging the truth about where I was going – not a great start) and set off across the city. It was a dark wet winter evening with heavy traffic. I didn’t have much driving experience and only a paper map to guide me to a part of the city I was unfamiliar with. I was anxious, uptight and late. Finally locating the address – a flat in the ground floor of a mid-terrace row of houses, I rang the bell. No answer, so I knocked and knocked again. A young woman opened the door. She wore her dark blonde hair in long dreadlocks and was clad in a tie-dye top and printed harem pants. I gushed to explain my tardiness to which she silently bowed and indicated for me to leave my shoes in the hallway before disappearing into a room, leaving the door ajar for me. I looked down at the shoes, which were a mix of functional brown flats and Jesus sandals. Looking at my own heeled leather boots, I could feel my face flush. What had I been thinking? I felt like a fraud. Taking a piece of paper from my bag, I scribbled a note apologising for disturbing them and that rather than cause any more disruption, I’d come back next week. I hot footed it out of there never to return. I was a zen failure but at least I got to keep my boots on.
It was twenty years later before I gave meditation another thought. I picked up a book by Deepak Chopra and it ignited a yearning in me to learn more. This time, I stuck with it even though often I was sure I was doing it wrong or simply falling asleep. Ireland was is the boom years and we were caught up in a whirl of living large, spending money and buying property – there was little interest in meditation. Yet, I decided to train to become a meditation teacher to help share the connection and deepen my own practice.
Today, Ireland is different. Mindfulness is widely accepted and is even taught in our schools. Meditation, I like to think, is no longer considered New Age hippy-dippy. There’s no need for me to take off to Sedona for a meditation retreat as I’d easily find one closer to home but I like stepping out of my life and exploring far-flung spiritual places.
I flew into Phoenix. Once we landed, flash flood weather alerts beeped on mobile phones. Still, I picked up a car and drove for nearly two hours in the pitch darkness of the desert in the middle of the storm. I was tense – my palms sweaty, my heart pumping. It seemed ironic that I was so stressed trying to get to a meditation retreat. The driving rain was replaced by a sand storm. There were few cars on the road and when one did come along I desperately hoped they wouldn’t leave me alone. I was frightened and tired after sixteen hours traveling. I wondered had things changed that much as I remembered that first trip across Dublin with palms sweaty on a steering wheel, a young woman in search of something. Now here I was, thousands of miles from home, in the dark wilderness, not such a young woman but still the same feelings bubbled up. When the fork lightning started, exacerbated, I thought, ‘Come on! You’re seriously have a laugh!’ I was far from laughing but then it stuck me (a thought – not the lightning, thankfully) there was a key difference.
Even though these uncomfortable feelings still surfaced, I now had the tools to cope with them. Now, I had an innate sense of trust. Trust in myself and that the universe had by back. This moment was exactly as it was meant to be and there was only this moment to live.
I turned off the radio and drove in silence. I brought my attention to my breath and focused my mind. I practiced conscious breathing, simply saying to myself, ‘I’ on the in breath and ‘Am’ on the out breath, which kept me present, not worrying what would happen if I didn’t get to my destination. Ninety-eight miles, became fifty, then thirty. When I got to ten miles to my destination, the SatNav started talking to me again. With a few miles to go, street lights and other cars appeared. I had practiced my open-eyed meditation for the whole tumultuous ride and now I was here. As I pulled into a parking spot and switched off the engine, I said thank you to the car that had gotten me there safely. And then of course I reverted to old ways of thanking every saint and dead relative I could think of.
That journey through the desert brought it home to me what a regular meditation practice has brought to my life. Yes, I still get stressed but I have a sense of trust and knowingness not only of myself but of the world and universe, I am experiencing and witnessing. Gratitude, even in my darkest hour (with this drive it was a literal darkness) there is always a glimmer of light – even if it is lightning illuminated the road ahead.
Being able to sit with yourself, can be uncomfortable at first. But a bit like peeling the layers of an onion, with each meditation you peak inside yourself and reveal more with each layer you peel back. You may notice from as little as one meditation that you are a little calmer, a little more centred, less judgmental of yourself and others. You make better decisions because your inner compass knows its way home. And then you might notice other things have developed — trust, gratitude, healing. You’ve got to know yourself and even better, you’re quite comfortable hanging out with yourself and you don’t need to fill your life with meaningless stuff, vacuous relationships, and constant noise because you’re pretty amazing just as you are.
If you’d like to explore what type of meditation might work best for you, watch out for my next post where I’ll outline easy meditations to try to help get you meditating like a zen master in no time. Sensible shoes optional.