The power of meditation… and of restless nights
Oh, my beloved ‘summertime’! Relaxation, holidays, sun, sea, books, good mood, positive recharging of body and soul…But suddenly, one night was not like any other and my mind was straying, weird worries overcame me, undefined thoughts started flying around the brain, and I suddenly felt very RESTLESS. I spent the wee hours of the day listening to and observing what was happening around, outside and inside my room. I finally got up in the morning, after a non-existent night of sleep, and I was literally walking like a zombie. I grabbed a cup of black coffee hoping to restore my hypnotic status and trying to make sense of the day, telling to myself: ‘By the way, Paola: life still goes on…’
I thought I should maybe try getting distracted and recharged with some physical exercise: a good swim (in neighbours’ pools?), an energetic Zumba session, body-shaping pilates, body-balancing yoga or maybe – why not- practice some MEDITATION??
After talking to Akari (not her real name) – my amazing Japanese friend living in Germany – some time before, I realized I wanted to find out ‘more’ about meditation. Akari is possibly the happiest and most positive person I met in my life, despite her many issues, all related to a seriously problematic relationship with her husband. One day, during our Skype communication, she told me, out of the blue:
“ Paola, you know, I have been practicing meditation for a while now, and I feel so happy and contented of my life that I could say I reached a kind of ‘enlightenment’ “…
“Wha..wha..what?? Enlightenment? Are you serious? I mean, do you feel like a sort of Buddha now, or… Dalai Lama??’
Her reply was: ‘I would say so…’.
I do not think I have the presumption nor the slightest desire to become a Buddha or any other enlightened being for now, but – although not like Akari – I am generally a positively charged person. Despite that, also restless at times. After my conversation with her, which went far beyond her totally unexpected statement and deep into the understanding of the intriguing process of ‘mindfulness’ (indented as the ‘intentional, non-judgmental focus on one’s attentions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment’ and which is an essential element of the Buddhist practice) I got even more curious. If you think of all major religions, meditation is in fact the way to access the unconscious and to connect us to our central core, although this practice does not necessarily need to be associated with any religious practice to add value to our life.
What I found interesting and intriguing about the power of meditation, it was the discovery that it had not only benefits on our mind, spirit and soul, but also on our body.
An article on the Huffington Post (14/05/2014: “Look: What meditation Can Do For Your Mind, Body and Spirit”) highlighted how the practice of meditation is linked to cardiovascular health, cognitive benefits and so on. Just for our body, the benefits of meditation are quite astonishing. Meditation helps reducing pain, because people who practice meditation develop the ability to exert greater control over unpleasant feelings, by turning them down. Meditation helps boosting the immune system and lowers blood pressure. Transcendental meditation may even help reducing heart risks.
Another amazing discovery, regarding the benefits of meditation on our mind, was highlighted on a study from UCLA researchers. Meditation increases gray matter (!) in the hippocampus and in the area of the brain tied to compassion and self-awareness. No need to say that meditation cultivates willpower, builds focus and concentration, boosts cognitive function, eases stress and anxiety and improves depression.
And finally, for our spirit, meditation builds self-knowledge, helping people understand their own personalities and attenuate the possible negativity of others’ impression. Mindfulness meditation also helps predict relationship satisfaction and increases compassion and empathy.
The list of proved benefits coming from regular meditation practice is long and intriguing. But although it would be enough to spend no longer than 20 minutes a day in meditation (possibly by setting the alarm clock to make it a ‘ritual’ and starting with the help of a repeated mantra or word), I found it easier said than done. Being able to ‘think of… nothing’, was no easy task for me.
I tried a few times, after that restless night, but any small, minuscule thought that was swarming through my mind was distracting me. Well, I promised myself (and Akari, of course), that I would keep trying. However, instead of getting frustrated for not being able to add value to my mind, spirit and body, I – for now – will consider this inability to meditate as a blessing in disguise. It allows me to listen to the intriguing sounds of nature, to observe the ever-changing shades of sunrays…and especially to make order in and create, whenever possible, the web of thoughts that ultimately gives birth to some of my poems or creations. Even at the cost of many a restless night.
SOUNDS OF A RESTLESS NIGHT
I abruptly woke up and listened to the wind blowing,
slamming windows, and bumping doors.
The waves were livid and wondered:
Why should the sea be so distressed?
Was that like the annoying disturbance of broken promises?
Repeated words swirled in a whirlwind of illusions…
Time passes by.
The night slowly leaves the sky.
A gecko performs his ‘gek-o gek-o’ song to his lover.
A strange bird refines his skills of never-interrupted repetitions.
Doves are cooing.
I silently listen to all the jumbled sounds of nature,
while marveling at the glistening of the first sun rays
penetrating timidly through the blinds of my room
and disclosing a hot summer sunrise.
I lay in bed, silently observing the wind shaking the curtain,
just like a flag on its mast.
Shadows cast on the wall merrily dance around:
they recount of a play with its own enthralling story.
I suddenly long for joyful cicadas.
Their chirping and clicking bring back memories
of childhood spent in the fields,
while running down hills of shiny green grass
in the forever search of multi-coloured butterflies.
It has been so long!
I adored listening to all the sounds of this restless night,
Albeit, at times, too restless for my aching soul.
Life still revolves around beauty.
But that’s not all.
Paola Caronni 9/7/2014