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I did not worry about spiders. This was a mistake. The course was on a bird sanctuary outside Auckland, and I arrived only to find that spiders carpeted the wooden buildings, inside and out. When you take a Vipassana course, you agree to abide by five precepts: no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct and no intoxicants. No writing, no talking, no eye contact, no communicating.

At the end of day one, I noticed a daddy longlegs struggling on the carpet but heading toward the door. Instead, I took a deep breath, skirted around the creature, and opened my door. I stood there silently cheering its departure from my room. In the meditation hall, daddy longlegs dropped from the ceiling, feeding my anxiety.


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Huge black spiders dotted the corner of the room where we picked up our pillows, watching over us as we shuffled into yet another meditation session. This was a Tupperware container plus a piece of paper to slide under it for ease of transport. I did not find this helpful.

Getting Started with Mindfulness - Mindful

Then, on day five, I hit peak spider. Just before bed, I caught a glimpse of a bulbous black spider in my peripheral vision, dropping out of a tiny hole near the ceiling. Unlike the many spiders on the veranda, this one was huge. I leapt out of bed in a panic. Every time I tried to reach the spider, it would crawl in the hole again and disappear.

I left the light on, drifting off only to dream about spiders and wake up breathless. Finally I shut the light decisively. At 2am, I awoke to a feeling of deep alarm and turned the light back on. The spider was dropping from the ceiling, right above my head. Gasping, I fell sideways out of the bed.

The spider, as startled as I, hastily clawed its way back toward the ceiling. I watched in horror as it spent the rest of the night eating other spiders in my room. I did not sleep at all. Studies have shown that people who are blind or deaf have heightened ability in other bodily senses. I felt a small, temporary version of this phenomenon at the course. I could not speak or write, but my mind was whirring away at an alarming speed.

Trapped in a cognitive cycle of shame and blame, my phobia of spiders was magnified. The next day, I swallowed my pride and broke my noble silence. I begged the female volunteer leader to let me switch rooms. At that point in the course several people had left, and I was able to move to a different cabin. For the rest of the week, as everyone else sat on the grass enjoying the sun between sessions, I stayed in my room, too scared to leave. A friend once said that in life, worrying ahead of time was futile, because what you are scared of never manifests.

Instead, what you least expect creeps up behind you and scares you out of your mind. Or in my case, drops down from the ceiling in plain view. I wish I could say that the spider incident was a turning point.

It was simply a bump along the way. By day six, I felt exhausted by the pain, the sleepless nights, and a mind slowly unspooling. Some people talk about intruding memories of childhood or overly sexual thoughts during their Vipassana experience. For me, the challenge was suppressing the urge to run around like a toddler. Instead of doing a body scan, I fantasized about flinging off my pillows and running through the empty space in the center of the hall, screaming like a banshee.

I daydreamed of doing snow angels on the worn carpet, making a mockery of the meditation. When the gong rang, I was covered in sweat from the effort of thinking past the pain. By the end of the course, students often report feeling full body flow of energy during meditation. I did not. I felt shelves of pain along the way, no fluidity between them.

But by the last day I could scan fluidly through arms or my right leg.

Buddhist meditation

More importantly, I could refocus my mind away from the pain. I emerged from the course a calmer, temporarily less anxious version of myself. I started to sleep again. The relief of rest was palpable. Our collective obsession with finding happiness is not a reason to meditate. Logic and neuroscience might ground the modern rationale for meditation, but to meditate in order to be happy is counterintuitive.

4 Mindfulness Activities for Groups and Group Therapy

The practice is a counterweight to the jagged peaks and valleys of the human experience. To remain stable when life goes awry is a happier result than grasping for whatever society tells you will make you happy. So much of what complicates our lives comes from assumptions we make and our reactions to them. In the quiet of those 10 days, you see how much your mind distorts the reality you perceive. You project your fears on to their perception of you. For me, this meant creating inaccurate stories about the other participants, as well as their reactions to me.

I kept falling asleep during morning session, keeling over into the person next to me. I heard the snickers of the group as I righted myself again, and vowed to apologize to that woman as soon as the course was over. When I did say sorry, the woman looked at me askance. Often, anger or fears are reactions to a reality we have created in our own minds. A reflection of the stories that we tell ourselves. We take sensory input as objective, but what we see, hear and feel is not objective. It is colored by what we have known, and the grudges we hold without even realizing them.

Shortcuts exist in life, but to train your brain you need put in a significant amount of effort. The first few days are devastating because the work is both mindless and extremely taxing. But you can see a change in a mere 10 days, with disciplined practice.


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  7. The course reminded me that if you have a value system that thrives on making decisions with integrity, for the right reasons, doing your best is good enough. As someone with chronic pain, this lesson was important. I can see with hindsight that by obsessing over the pain, I exacerbated it tremendously.

    Sometimes we hold on to what we fear and hate. While I still ache, that ache has less power over me. This foolproof tool from my book Miracles Now is very easy for meditation newbies. I call it Peace Is in Your Pulse because it improves your concentration and brings calm to even the most scattered mind. This meditation can be done any time, anywhere and you can experience great benefits in just one minute. Practice it daily to develop your intuition and calm your mind. You can do it anywhere. Gently press your thumb against your index finger, then your middle finger, then your ring finger, then your pinkie finger.

    Breathe deeply as you say each word. This technique will get you through all kinds of crazy emotions and help you release resentment fast. Do you take a train or bus to work? Instead of scrolling through your phone, use that time to get centered. Here are two easy ways to get started meditating on public transportation! You can also explore all my meditation albums.

    If you enjoy cooking or baking, turn it into a meditative practice. The next time you feel stressed out after a long day of work, cook a delicious meal. The key is to be deliberate. When you walk into the kitchen, set up everything you need. Play relaxing or energizing music. Take your focus off your to-do list and onto serving your soul. Enjoy the process and then enjoy the meal! When you bring in mindfulness and do these activities deliberately and with joy, they can become meditative experiences.

    Walking is actually a great time to meditate because it keeps us from rushing and allows us to slow down, calm down and get grounded. Slow down just a bit and make your walk meditative.

    3-minute Mindful Breathing Meditation (Relieve Stress)

    Get more grounded and connected with a walking meditation. You can also listen to this guided walking meditation.