About eight years ago, I had this headache that won’t go away for weeks. Panadol* helped but only when its painkilling effects lasted. After it wore off, the headache came back. It wasn’t a screaming drop dead sharpness but a dull throbbing pain, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker…you know the type that makes it very difficult to concentrate on work? At its worse, I was swallowing eight tablets a day; I did consider more but the thought of overdosing prevented me. A scan showed nothing.
A friend whom I got to know around that time told me that he was doing meditation and it helped him clear his mind. That might help with my headache, I thought. I wanted to join him but when he told me that he was doing it in a Buddhist temple, I decided not to because at that time, I was not too comfortable about visiting a place of worship, especially meditating there.
When the headaches didn’t go away, I decided to try meditation but not in a temple. Surely, I could meditate anywhere, I thought to myself, no religiosity, no spirituality.
I remember getting up at around 4 in the morning one weekend with a headache as usual. East Coast Park** was the only place I could think of going to at that time. There won’t be anyone there at that hour, I thought. I got into my car and drove through the deserted streets, the lamps creating a rather surreal orange glow.
East Coast Park at the time was indeed empty. The early joggers had not come out yet and so I was alone. There was a stray cat or two here and there. They largely ignored me, stretched and went back to sleep. The coastline was dark with the lights from the parked ships lining the horizon. I could hear the rustle of the trees in the wind and the rhythmic lapping of the waves upon the shore.
I chose a rocky part that lined the beach and sat on the most comfortable spot making sure that the jagged edges of the rocks didn’t cut me. I closed my eyes and wondered what to do next.
Thinking back, it was really a hit and miss because I had not even been instructed in meditation. I only had the impression that I had to clear my mind which was very difficult to do because I was swimming, not in the sea but in my mind, with the worries and frustrations of living and working in a pressure cooker.
Then I had an idea…why not just listen to the rhythmic sounds of the waves and refuse to think of anything else. I remember I tried doing this for maybe about 3 or 4 minutes. At first, it was very difficult but as the sound of the waves continued, I felt myself lifting. The sounds of the waves became more pronounced and accentuated, the sounds beating in harmony with the slowing beat of my heart and the rhythm of my breathing which was also slowing down and becoming more regular. It must have been about half an hour or so before I opened my eyes again. The sun had still not risen, the park was still bathed in the glow of the lamps and at that moment and I notice that I didn’t have a headache anymore. Subsequently, I did the same thing every time I could especially when having a headache. I did it until the regular headaches stopped.
And that was the first encounter with Mindfulness; at that time, I knew it as meditation.
*panadol – brand of Paracetemol or painkillers popular in Singapore often used to relieve headaches.
**East Coast Park – a scenic beach in Singapore popular with picnickers and joggers.
Last year, I attended a course which was inter-faith in nature. At the beginning of the day we were given time to meditate or do whatever we normally did to calm ourselves down. I guessed that this was to get us prepared for the day. The years had passed since my first encounter with meditation and I had actually forgotten about the time I had struggled with headaches and how meditation helped.
The activity triggered my memory; I remembered what I had gone through eight years earlier. It would be a piece of cake, I thought to myself.
I was wrong.
I couldn’t get into the meditative mode because the stress of life and work had insidiously gained control of my consciousness again and I suddenly realized that it had taken root and like a plant that had been allowed to grow too long, its roots held onto my soul in a stranglehold.
How did I do it eight years ago? I found me asking myself. Well, I listened to the waves and cleared my mind. But here, I am in a room filled with other people who were in all types of positions, some lying on the floor, some sitting on a chair, some leaning against the wall. There were no waves, not to mention sounds of waves.
But there was the gentle hum of the air-con and the steady rhythm of my breathing. Would these be sufficient? I tried not just to listen to them but to feel them and push all thoughts and worries out of existence. Slowly but surely, I began to get into the meditative mode. It took effort and the effect was not instantaneous. But at the end of it, I began to hear my heartbeat, the regular pulsating and gentle thump-thump-thump. I began to feel the slight pressure it asserted on my being, a reminder that I was alive. Again after eight years, I felt my spirit lift and my mind clear.
The most recent encounter I had with meditation came when I attended a sharing conducted by some members of Joyful Garden http://joyfulgarden.org, a society of like-minded people who get together to practise and share about mindfulness. I chanced upon the session without really knowing anything about what it is all about. One of the members, a friend, had invited some of us to the sharing.
Three things were added to my previous experiences on top of a new term in my vocabulary – Mindfulness.
Firstly, it was the introduction of a sounding bowl which is called the ‘bell of mindfulness’. The reverberating timbre of a strike (it is called ‘inviting the bell to sound’) had a strangely welcoming and mellowing sound to it. It beckoned without the stress of urgency but invited with an ethereal echo that seemed to draw one into a meditative realm. It took a little getting used to at the beginning because I was not used to the sound. Lawrence, my friend who was introducing the whole process explained that it will sound twice, once lightly so as to ready the listener and shortly after the first sound, he will invite the bell to sound a second time with a firmer full bodied timbre.
The reverberating timber…had a strangely welcoming and mellowing sound to it.
It beckoned without the stress of urgency but invited with an ethereal echo
that seemed to draw one into a meditative realm.
Secondly, instead of having to enter the meditation by myself through my own devices, the facilitator leading the meditation session would in a soft non-intrusive and non-intimidating tone give instructions like to inhale and exhale. It helped me as a newbie. I began to have a sharper sensitivity of my physical being and then a keener sense of my inner soul.
Thirdly is something I’m still trying to understand. During meditation, participants were instructed to feel the presence of different body parts and to appreciate them as they are all working to keep us alive…this I can fully accept. What I could also accept but didn’t know how to do it was when the facilitator told us to express our love to the different body parts. It was very difficult for me to understand how this expression of love could be done. Seems like I still have lots of learn especially experientially.
There were many other things the sharing taught us but one important thing I took away was the fact that as age caught up with me, I needed to slow down, and love and take care of myself better. The practice of mindfulness and meditation is a gateway to this.
For more information about Mindfulness, please refer to these 2 websites:
…..as age catches up with me, I need to slow down, and
love and take care of myself better.
The practice of mindfulness and meditation is a gateway to this.
Look out for the next article on the Practice of Mindfulness by Lawrence, a practitioner – Mindfulness as a Way of Life.