I adjusted the snorkeling gear to fit my mouth so that I could breathe with ease. In the clear blue waters of the Pacific near the Molokini Crater in Maui, I saw a paradise of fish and coral. In complete awe of this grandeur, my mind became still and I floated effortlessly. I knew I was in a meditative state.
My first experience of meditation and the skillful use of breath came almost a decade ago when I took the Art of Living Happiness Program. As a young woman juggling various roles -- parent, professional and a homemaker, I was overwhelmed with responsibilities and wanted to latch on to an unshakeable pillar to stay rooted. It was akin to swimming in the ocean with huge tides coming at you but not having a jacket to stay afloat in moments of fatigue and despair. Way back then, I believed meditation was meant for the monks. And spirituality was for those who based their life on renunciation -- give it all up! My mind envisioned meditators sitting in some corner, far away from the hustle bustle of life so that they could disconnect from the drama of the world.
It didn't take too long to realize the limitations of my own mind. The mind knows only what it knows. What it doesn't know, it cannot comprehend. As I began a regular meditation practice prefaced by Sudarshan Kriya, a breathing technique that incorporates specific natural rhythms of the breath, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself relaxed and calm even in the most chaotic situations. Several studies suggest an overall strengthening of the mind-body system with Kriya.
There was strength in being connected to this silent place within. What this was exactly, I did not know but it allowed me to respond to the demands of my life with awareness and composure. Working on a time sensitive deliverable, encouraging my team to move ahead despite roadblocks, dealing with a child's illness all at the same time came effortlessly without putting any strain on my nervous system.
The Open Heart Surgery
In 2011, I was hit with an excruciatingly painful event as I went through the loss of a loved one. The emotional bruises left a flood of pain. Turbulent situations often leave the mind scattered and words of wisdom don't sink in. While there are many scientific instruments that measure a fractured bone or a torn cartilage, pain is a personal journey. Which surgeon could I go to to fix a broken heart and heal the spirit?
But pain is a prod to remembrance. Suffering gives a reason to go within and unpleasant situations can become an instrument of growth, bringing depth to one's life. I took the Art of Silence program, which includes unique meditations designed by spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The powerful meditations combine the use of attention and breath to go deep within, clear one's blocks and cleanse the consciousness.
As I was going through one of them, I experienced pain in the heart region. I couldn't breathe and broke down in tears. It was my moment of catharsis -- as I let go of the pain. In those moments, I realized the importance of continually letting go to move ahead. As I let my mind and heart touch the pain within me, the sensations changed and I felt a release. I was on my way to actively accepting the situation in my life and felt deep gratitude for the relief I experienced. I was amazed with how fresh, light and happy I felt after the program. A year later, I met noted cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz at a public talk and narrated how this surgery was different from the ones that he performed with the knife.
Empowering Others - Learning to Manage the Mind
My life today is a far contrast from what it was a few years ago. I educate people on how the quality of their life depends on the quality of their mind. If there's one skill that would benefit every individual, it is the ability to manage one's own mind. It doesn't matter who you are and what you do, but you can set up yourself for success by simply learning how to manage the moods of the mind. With a greater say on the mind, one can manage the external world better.
As I give talks inviting people to learn how to meditate, I often hear the lack of time and energy as impediments. Yet, those are the reasons they need to embrace it. Science gives us plenty of hard data on the value of meditation - boosting happiness, increasing immune function, decreasing inflammation at cellular level, increasing social connection, decreasing stress and much more. In a recent study unveiled by Harvard University, meditation literally rebuilds the gray matter in eight weeks.
Communicating effectively is vital for success today. I am often reminded of what Peter Drucker calls out - "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." Meditation allows us to sharpen our listening skills. It enables us to be in the present moment and extract more out of it. It changes one's perception, observation and expression. A meditative mind has a high quality of alertness in it and helps one see things as they are, without any judgment.
Living the Dichotomous Values
One of the most surprising revelations of meditation has been living dichotomous values. The ability of being contented yet dynamic, loving yet centered, soft in the heart yet firm in the mind has come to me from cultivating meditation. Usually when one is contented, one is not driven to pursue goals but I have seen both qualities manifest together. Similarly when one is in love, emotions of jealousy, anger, fear or hatred can arise in moments of disharmony. Yet in this space, I find myself loving, centered and dispassionate.
Sri Sri has reached out to millions around the world about the importance of incorporating meditation into our daily lives to help manage stress and increase our happiness quotient. His teachings of living with purity in our hearts, clarity in our minds, and sincerity in our actions have inspired and transformed many enabling them to live with greater purpose.
Today, I am more free with others because I am more free with myself. Giving comes effortlessly because I feel so connected to everyone around me. Sharing and caring for others is a natural outcome and I give back to the community by empowering others with skills that allow them to lead a life of greater awareness and happiness. In turn, I have seen many lives change and a freedom that people experience once they are not in the grip of their emotions.
Freedom in the mind is one of the greatest gifts for a human being.
A calm and a peaceful mind has the power to influence many others. As I continue the journey to raise consciousness and transform the world around me, I feel grateful to have received the gift of meditation that allows me to thrive and be truly happy, as well as share it with others to raise the quality of their life.