Dreamcatcher Blog

A Story from Backpacking in the Balkans (Part 2)

In part one, shared a quick story about visiting a monastery while backpacking in Kosovo. You can check it out here

Here’s part two!

I sat down on one of the pews and instinctively closed my eyes. The cool air, the dim light and the silence created the perfect environment to relax. Outside was hot, bright and busy; inside was tranquil, gentle and soothing. On that pew I learned a valuable lesson. 

It was clear to me the space was created for a distinct purpose – A place to go to escape the intensity of everyday life. To be present with yourself and alone with your thoughts (and maybe check in with the  guy in the sky). 

I’m not a traditionally religious person. I wasn’t brought up in a religious family, and I’ve never gone to worship in a church, synagogue, mosque or any other temple. 

I do, however, see the huge value in having a religion as a part of your life. Aside from the community it provides, it allows a person time to sit and process. To ponder and analyse. Think-over and meditate. (I also believe it creates a healthy level of humility in a person but that’s for another blog post.)

I think many of us have lost what religion offers in the sense of a place to go to just sit and ponder. The modern world has us distracted with notifications, social media, emails, and breaking news, that unless we carve out time for ourselves, our minds are always on something. It’s part of what makes the cabins so relaxing – you have the chance to disconnect from it all. 

The notable thing about sitting in that monastery is that I had the mental and physical space to disconnect. And it felt great! I walked in sweaty, burned, and tense. I walked out cool, calm and refreshed. 

I like to think of what I did in that holy place was to meditate for the first time. I sat, closed my eyes and focused on my breath. Nothing complex or special, yet powerful all the same. 

Since then I’ve had a challenging relationship with meditation, and have struggled to make it part of my daily routine. It’s not easy to sit and breathe for 20 minutes in such a distracting world. 

I’m addicted to distraction. I looked at my screen time on my phone, always a scary prospect. And, in the past week, I’ve picked up my phone an average of 45 times per day, which is down significantly since moving into a cabin. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that my mind is craving some form of stimulus all the time. Lusting after the little dopamine releases I get every time I open my phone and see a cool video of a hippo chasing a boat. 

To view meditation as a challenge has definitely served me well. It not only readies my mind to put in some work, it ignites a competitive part of me that wants to prove to myself that I CAN sit on the couch, I CAN keep my eyes closed and I CAN just think about stuff and breath. Bring it on buddy, you’re going to relax whether you want to or not!

Why do it though? Where’s the benefit? 

Well it certainly relaxes the mind. (Ask my Dad if I need to be any more relaxed and he’d probably tell you I need to bring it up a gear, not down. But there’s more…).

Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, control anxiety, improve mood, lengthen attention span (biggy for me), reduce memory loss (big one for Mum), improve sleep and make people less reactive. If someone were to put that in a pill, everyone in the world would be scrambling to get a prescription.

Unfortunately it doesn’t come in a pill – you have to put the work in yourself. But there are a few people that might be able to help you. 

Jack Cornfield has been meditating and hanging out with the Dalai Lama for the past 40 years. He has an excellent website and podcast.

And also did an interview with the New York Times focused on COVID-19 which I would highly recommend casting your eyes over. 

Tim Ferriss has some great resources and practical thoughts on meditation.

The headspace app and website are both excellent. Their blog makes for great reading, and their introduction to meditation on the app is free for 30 days. Why not give it a shot?

I think meditation (sitting silently with your eyes closed) is at the most intense end of a long spectrum. Also on that spectrum is walking, gardening, yoga, running, journaling and even sex. All of these give you the chance to disengage your mind for a while – like putting a car into neutral.

The lesson I learned in that monastery was that for the first time, I felt the power in disconnecting. I felt just how rejuvenating it can be to give your mind a chance to relax. Life is hectic, meditation makes it less so. 

It’s easy to underestimate the challenge in disconnecting, and it’s easy to underestimate the benefits. Carve out some time in your day to do nothing – you’ll quickly feel the benefits.

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