By Aisha Niazi
It took me some time to realise that meditation was not rumination. I sat down and deeply considered the way that I breathe, wondering whether it was too shallow or slow. I became so conscious of each breath that I almost forgot how to breathe at all – when considering them at such great length, each one became a great weight. These are the thought spirals I tend to exist in, often returning to the same knowledge. Rumination produces the most endless helixes of thought.
I needed an entry point, so I turned to guided meditation. The man in my ears called me out, assuming that I probably latch onto thoughts, and that it was time to let them go. Thoughts, in guided meditations, are often likened to clouds – they are things we should notice and then let pass. I didn’t like this analogy, as I often found myself fixating on the particular shapes of clouds, extending their life-span within my mind, They eventually passed me by, but in an open sky they remained a point of attention for quite some time.
On day three of meditation I understood the clouds analogy. I had viewed clouds as something it was inevitable I would focus on. I forgot my own agency in letting them go. I began to realise that clouds pass sooner when I let them move on, rather than clinging to their shapes and analysing their form in greater depth. Assessing their formations was rumination, even if I was not in total control of their passing. I felt annoyed – surely it is a positive thing to explore? This was the point at which I remembered the importance of balance.
Few things should be done in excess, whether that is rumination or focus. Meditation became ten minutes of my day in which I was able to explore stillness. These two sensations may appear to be contradictory, but they can be complementary. I explore my breath by returning to it, in noticing each inhale and exhale with a still mind and steady body. This has become a non-judgemental way of exploring myself. Rather than latching onto each breath, I allowed them to pass. I felt able to let things go, to observe from a point of neutrality – from which stillness arose. I got to explore what was left when I surrendered judgement.
Sometimes I was left with intense feelings of love. Upon realising how much joy I strip from myself by heavily ruminating on each experience, I felt silly. Meditation became child-like in the happiest of ways. It gave way to a lightness – it was my place of escape. So often I explore the world on autopilot; meditating presented me with a neutrality and stillness that improved my ability to explore. Going for walks became special – I noticed the sounds of birds, the people passing by and the clouds. I enjoyed them as temporary and allowed them to pass. I felt okay with endings.
As time moved on, I began to meditate in silence. After more time, I tried to meditate in new ways. I found warmth towards people in loving-kindness meditations. These ones can be tricky – they begin by suggesting that you imagine someone important to you and wish them happiness. That felt easy. But then you move onto those you hold contempt for. At first it felt insincere to wish well upon distasteful characters in my life. Over time I realised I do not benefit from their suffering, and I began to feel lightness towards those who occupied the more primal spaces of my mind. Eventually, I stopped ruminating on them and let them go, in a meditative, spiral-like way.
My favourite meditation became one related to consciousness. This time the man in my ear asked me to locate my own consciousness. Flustered, I thought of my brain. Then, upon opening my eyes, I felt I was located just behind them. I did not find myself associating with my body at all. The man suggested that I focus on the sensations of my skin against the ground, the temperature of my hands, the weight of my head. At this point, I realised meditation was not just about exploring the mind – it was also about awareness of the body. I had forgotten about the body outside of its breath.
I did not become a Buddhist or even particularly spiritual; instead, I began to feel more like a child. Life felt lighter and more playful. Everything became something that inspired wonder and my own mortality stopped plaguing me. As my final year in Cambridge went on, I forgot to meditate. Mortality began to bother me again and the darkness of winter left nothing to explore. My distaste for others grew and I continued to ruminate.
Finding myself in a spiral of rumination, I felt it was important to reconsider my time with meditation; that I return to it as a chance to explore my own stillness. I have found Lavendaire and Leeor Alexandra’s meditations really soothing, and a gentle way to return to the craft. As the days get warmer, I seek wonder once more.
Photograph taken by the author