International Perspectives

International Perspectives: On Meditation

We are all conflicted at some point or another.

People. Situations. Circumstances we were born with. They frustrate us to no end and leave us wanting out.

When I moved from Japan to Sri Lanka, I was a conflicted child. There were many things going on in my life that I couldn’t understand and come to terms with. Although it didn’t look like it, I was brimming with negativity and desperate for release. Then my distractions were stripped away from me. I had no cell phone, no cable TV, no internet. For the first time of my life, I was really stuck with myself. Time just kind of slowed down.

So I became the kid who went everywhere with her mother for lack of finding better things to do. One of the things my mother did quite often was to visit our neighbourhood temple, which had a special prayer room with a hallway full of painted murals. I’d sit there, recite phrases, bow my head and leave.

At some point I grew fed up of not knowing the meaning behind anything we did at the temple.

So one day, as we were walking past the murals, I mustered up the courage and asked.

“What is this?”

Little did I know that my curiosity would lead me down my own path of spiritual exploration and discovery.

Seeing my interest in learning about Buddhism, my grandmother decided to teach me how to meditate. Every day at 6 pm, we would watch a television program of prayer. After 30 minutes of prayer, she’d slowly close her eyes and breathe until her breath faded away into silence.

It wasn’t easy for me to sit still for so long. Just surviving the mosquito bites was difficult enough. My legs cramped, the ground was cold and I wished I could do something else instead. But my grandmother was strict. I wasn’t allowed to go until we were done. So there I stayed, glued to the ground like an uneasy statue.

Eventually, I decided to let go of the discomfort and focus on my breathing.

Slowly, oh so slowly, I began to be able to concentrate for longer and longer periods. I even began meditating alone, just to keep going.

And the results were startling. Just by taking a couple seconds to breathe mindfully every day, my entire outlook on life changed. From taking the time to schedule my studying, to staying active on a weekly basis, I began pouring energy, focus and determination into every arena of my life. In no way was my mind perfect – but it wandered less towards negative emotions and leaned more towards the positive.

In other words, I was able to let go of the conflict within and generate positivity instead.

Even to this day, I meditate daily. It’s not as deep and intense as it once was and sometimes I find it hard to find the time – but just the act of sitting down in a silent place, closing your eyes and listening to yourself breathe can make the worst of days, better.

While meditation helped me enormously as a kid, I can definitely say that it has had a monumental impact on my life as an adult. With all the extra stresses of figuring out our careers, balancing our time between school and work, trying to maintain professional and personal relationships with a variety of different people – it becomes especially important to take a moment for yourself to just breathe. Otherwise, something that I tend to do – and I’m sure many others do as well – is to keep going until I emotionally and physically break down.

However, what I’ve learned from my personal experiences is that we don’t have to let our lives get so out of control before we collect ourselves. Instead, we can make meditation, moments of silence and reflection, a daily part of our lives. That way, we can reap the benefits of being able to let go of our inner conflicts and generate positivity on a regular basis.

Looking back, I have deep gratitude towards my grandmother for believing that a restless little kid could even meditate. I’m also thankful that I stuck around long enough to actually learn how to meditate so as an adult, I’m able to guide myself through the highs and lows of the experience.

Because sometimes, the difference between feeling happy and unhappy is taking a moment to breathe it all in.

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Akemi Liyanage
ISS Cultural Ambassador. Passionate about the international experience. Lived in four countries, would love to see more! In Fourth year of journalism. Follow me on Twitter @AkemiLiyanage to find out more about my travels!