My first experience with yoga was when I was about seven years old (honestly, I am probably wrong on the age but I was less than 9). I was in South Africa either visiting for the summer, or it was during the brief time I lived there, and I went to a Hindu temple with my family. I guess we went specifically for a yoga class, because that's what happened... It was a yoga session. I remember being really excited about it because I've always been really flexible, I got to show off all my weird bendiness. Apparently, during savasana (that end of a yoga session where you just lay there and relax, basically it's guided meditation) I fell asleep.
Woops. I was incredibly embarrassed. For multiple reasons. Sleep has always been a... complicated life requirement for me. I used to sleep walk as a child, sleep talk, sleep beat up my sister with stuffed animals (sorry), I would wake up with my feet on my pillow and me hanging off the side of the bed. I wet the bed far longer than I should have. I could fall asleep anywhere, seriously. My parents love jazz and we went to concerts. I would manage to zonk out while being 20 feet from a concert stage. I was always worried about falling asleep. What if I peed myself and we were at a concert? What if I fall asleep in the car and I'm not with my parents?
Waking up to the smell of incense in a temple was weird. It was really weird, growing up in the US we didn't frequent temples. We occasionally went when we were in South Africa, but in the US? It was not common and it was always for some kind of celebration.
So, here I am, groggy, and waking up with intense anxiety because I just woke up, in a place that wasn't where I should have been asleep. I couldn't remember falling asleep or much about before I fell asleep. (Note here: this is all my memory and is inevitably wrong, but the basic idea of what went on... is hopefully right.) I found my mom and she was talking to the person who led the yoga session. I was obviously worried and feeling bad, cause I fell asleep.
But then I heard them talking about how me falling asleep during Savasana was good, it wasn't something I should be embarrassed about. It happens, and it's okay when it does. It meant I was truly in the moment, and I did relax. I relaxed so much that I fell asleep (thankfully my bladder didn't relax... hah). I wasn't embarrassed anymore. I honestly was a little proud of myself. "Man I'm so good at yoga I fell asleep".
That ended up being an experience I looked for afterwards. That I couldn't find truthfully. I have been to plenty of yoga sessions since, mostly in the US where yoga is more focused on exercise than mental relaxation (don't get me wrong. It's still there. But that is not my initial goal). That's not what this is about. I did end up finding a studio that has gotten the closest to recreating that experience for me.
Now I can move on. I never fully explained what that experience was. It's hard to define, which explains why it was so hard for me to find. It took some time to see that I had actually found it. It was through music and art.
Meditation was always sold to me as not having a thought in your head: not doing anything, completely be nothing, do nothing. I tried. I tried so many times to achieve that, but never came close to it for a second.
This video completely changed how I see meditation. This video helped me realize that when I listen to music, when I'm REALLY listening to music, I am meditating. When I am drawing, I am meditating.
Understanding that the idea is about not focusing on a thought it's about letting thoughts pass by without grabbing on to them.
This is exactly how I manage my mental health. What I spent years working with my therapist to achieve. Where I don't stop and focus on the depressive thoughts, the suicidal thoughts, the anxious, I let them just float by. I will notice them, see them, but I won't engage with them. Because, let's be honest, for most of us with chronic mental health conditions there isn't a time when it ever really stops. It's always there like a low buzz.
I've worked to let those thoughts pass. If I don't divert focus to it, then it doesn't really have a chance to take root and grow. If I don't let the seed settle long enough for it to grow roots, then I'm going to be okay.
Of course sometimes there are sneaky thoughts that find a way to take root and spread even when I'm diligent. So I have to be vigilant about maintenance.
Point here is that meditation is similar but for ALL thoughts. Because, one thought leads to another and to another and then others. It's exhausting. Meditation is about giving yourself time to just be, stop the noise, or at least tune it out.
You're not solving a problem or learning something. You're not communicating or doing anything. You're existing in that moment as you. You're existing with your thoughts, and that's it. You're not interacting with them, following them, or doing anything other than observing them.
For someone like myself who can not truly slow down my brain without something specific to focus on, that is a definition of meditation that can work. And, it works well with art and music.
Art and music are my meditation when I let it. When I doodle I'm usually not doing anything other than looking at the page. Letting my hand just guide the pen. I don't do much. Just let muscle memory take over really. It's creepy honestly. When people ask me how I do it, I honestly don't have an answer. I just do it. It's also why all my art is "abstract". Really, they are just doodles...so many doodles all together and sometimes it looks like something, and sometimes it doesn't. I don't draw realistically, that requires engagement with reality. Where the light falls, how to show the depth of something, where should there be shading. How does that thing really look.. what shapes are there that I can use...
My art? There's very little thought. Yeah there's the occasional, oh that spot is empty... it needs something. Or, a swirl would look good here. Oops I messed up, lets... just turn that into something else then. Oh, look a smudge. I can work with it, or around it. These are all like half second thoughts. They are gone as fast as they came.
Seriously. That's it. I don't have thoughts, and if I do, I don't notice them. I'm so focused on the paper. That's probably why I like black and white. It's simple and I don't have to notice colors or change pens.
For music, I don't go with simplicity. I go for complicated, layered music. When I really listen to music, I put on noise cancelling headphones, lay down, close my eyes and listen completely. Then I listen again, and again. I pick out the different instruments, notice the hidden melodies and the harmonies. I started honing this skill in middle school band. The instructor challenged us to listen to orchestra music and pick out each instrument. Listen for the clarinet, the trumpet, the French Horn (what I played). I started doing that with everything I listened to. Music isn't always meditation, only when I really stop to only focus on it. I always feel so refreshed after intensely listening to something.
Music is meditation for me in two specific situations: when I have my big headphones on and have a chance to just sit or lay down with my eyes closed and really focus on what everything I'm hearing. The second time is during a long drive alone. Why does the alone part matter?
If I am with someone, anyone, it doesn't matter the relationship, I will be considering them in everything. How loud the music is, what music is on, if there should be music on, are we going to talk? If I am by myself, I don't have to think about any of that. I don't have to care about what music I listen to, which means I can focus on my current mood and vibe. I can make it so loud that I can't hear myself singing along. I don't have to care about how stupid I look or if I mess up lyrics. In this case, I'm not necessarily listening to every little detail, I'm concentrating on the feelings and vibes coming from the music.
Art and music are my meditation. I'm sure you have something that is the same. Consider some self reflection to find what meditation is for you. It's very possible you're doing it without realizing it.