Skip to main content

A Moment of Serenity

I've dabbled on and off with meditation for years. I've never gotten good at it, and I haven't put a solid effort into learning, but I find it interesting and enjoyable nonetheless. My first exposure came at a gymnastics camp during middle school, when we were led through relaxation/visualization exercises as part of the camp activities. It wasn't called meditation, probably because meditation is a loaded word that turns a lot of people off, but that's what it was.

Meditation just means being present. It means slowing down the relentless stream of thoughts that pass through the mind's eye. If you can slow down your racing mind enough to engineer a pause in the stream and a realization that you're watching your own thoughts, then you're meditating. Congratulations. There's nothing magical or mystical or religious about meditation. It's simply an awareness of your own mind and a break from the constant bombardment of conscious and subconscious thoughts.

Since I've read all about the benefits of meditation (proven by science; not just based on my personal beliefs), for a long time I've wanted to get a more regular practice going, but the easiest thing for me was to just meditate when I already had a brief period of time where I was isolated and had to sit still. Specifically, the sauna after the gym. I figured since I'm already gonna be there for ten minutes, and sauna is a good way to get into a relaxed state, I might as well make it even better and try some meditation.

Last week, I had a truly amazing meditative experience that I wanted to share. I had meditated in the sauna for about ten minutes, just concentrating on my breathing and relaxing, and it was just normal, nothing special. As I usually do, in true Scandinavian style I followed the sauna immediately with the cold tub. So I'm sitting there in the cold tub, and it was particularly cold that day, probably around 45-50F (7-10C), and all of a sudden, I noticed something interesting about the ripples in the water. I let myself explore it, and immediately all my senses heightened and I was completely enthralled by the patterns on the water. The best way I can describe it is it felt like I was high (or so I hear...). The "resolution" of the water increased dramatically, as did my other senses, and I felt supremely calm. Now, some might think this was a survival reaction to the cold water, but it wasn't. I still felt the cold. After seven minutes or so, I went back to the sauna, and immediately started exploring this meditative state. I looked around, noticing details in the wood I had never previously seen. I turned my attention to the auditory landscape, and took delight in teasing out all the myriad sounds that are always there but never really heard: the mechanical clicks and clinks of the heater, splashes from the hot tub, the sound of flowing water, fragments of conversation. I turned my attention to my skin, which was alive with feeling as the blood rushed back to the surface to heat it up after the cold tub. I listened to my heart, hearing it echo in my chest, and feeling the slight sway of my body with each beat. I felt calm, I felt happy, and I didn't want to leave.

Eventually, I showered and got on with the rest of my day, but that feeling of peace and calmness stayed through the day. I tried to replicate it the next day, and the following one, but wasn't able to. Perhaps because I was striving. Perhaps it was just a fluke.

But something stuck. The simple act of focusing your attention is something that is so easy to "forget" to do, because the mind is perfectly happy to just keep on generating thoughts during every waking moment. But this ability to stop and focus is incredibly liberating and powerful. Just the other day, I passed an abstract sculpture in front of my otherwise nondescript apartment building and realized that I had never really looked at it. For nearly a year I had passed it every day, but if asked to describe it, I would have had to dig into the recesses of my peripheral memory to remember what it truly looked like. So I just stopped and stood there for a minute simply looking at this sculpture and taking in the details. Again, I felt calm. You might laugh, but I felt like I had done something meaningful.

Look, everyone's busy. Everyone's always got somewhere to be, something to do, something on their mind. We feel like meditation is a "waste of time" because we're not doing something. But at a deeper level, I think we're afraid of stopping for a moment because we might find something inside our minds that we don't particularly like. It's so much easier to just run on autopilot and let our thoughts direct us, and many people spend their whole lives doing just that. But that sense of "being", of just non-judgmentally observing, is a truly transcendental experience that has the power to change lives.

Even if only for a second.


Popular posts from this blog

영어가 모국어인 사람들은 왜 한국어를 배우기가 어려운 이유

이 포스트는 내 처음 한국어로 블로그 포스트인데, 한국어에 대하니까 잘 어울린다. =) 자, 시작합시다! 왜 외국사람에게 한국어를 배우기가 어렵다? 난 한국어를 배우고 있는 사람이라서 이 문제에 대해 많이 생각하고 있었다. 여러가지 이유가 있는데 오늘 몇 이유만 논할 것이다. 1. 분명히 한국어 문법은 영어에 비해 너무 많이 다른다. 영어는 “오른쪽으로 분지(分枝)의 언어"라고 하는데 한국어는 “왼쪽으로 분지의 언어"이다. 뜻이 무엇이나요? 예를 보면 이해할 수 있을 것이다. 간단한 문장만 말하면 (외국어를 말하는 남들은 간단한 문장의 수준을 지낼 수가 약간 드물다), 간단한 걸 기억해야 돼: 영어는 “SVO”인데 한국어는 “SOV”이다. “I’m going to school”라고 한국어로는 “저는 학교에 가요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I’m school to go”이다. 두 언어 다르는 게 목적어와 동사의 곳을 교환해야 한다. 별로 어렵지 않다. 하지만, 조금 더 어렵게 만들자. “I went to the restaurant that we ate at last week.” 한국어로는 “전 우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당에 또 갔어요"라고 말한다. 영어로 똑바로 번역하면 “I we last week went to restaurant to again went”말이다. 한국어가 왼쪽으로 분지 언어라서 문장 중에 왼쪽으로 확대한다! 이렇게 좀 더 쉽게 볼 수 있다: “전 (우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당)에 또 갔어요”. 주제가 “전"이고 동사가 “갔다"이고 목적어가 “우리 지난 주에 갔던 식당"이다. 영어 문장은 오른쪽으로 확대한다: I (S) went (V) to (the restaurant (that we went to (last week))) (O). 그래서 두 숙어 문장 만들고 싶으면 생각속에서도 순서를 변해야 된다. 2. 첫 째 점이니까 다른 사람을 자기 말을 아라들게 하고 싶으면, 충분히

10 other things South Korea does better than anywhere else

Recently this article about 10 things that South Korea does better than anywhere else  has been making the rounds on social media, but when I first read it, I couldn't tell if it was sincere or satire. A few of the items on the list are not very positive, such as "overworking" and "using credit cards". So, I thought I would try to put together a better list. Here are 10 other things South Korea does better than anywhere else: 1) Small side dishes, a.k.a. " banchan " (반찬) Banchan are by far my favorite aspect of Korean cuisine. Rather than the "appetizer and main dish" approach of the West, a Korean meal is essentially built around small dishes. Even a 5,000 won (about $5 USD) meal at a mall food court will come with two to four banchan in addition to the "main", and often people will actually choose restaurants based  on the banchan (e.g., seolleongtang , or beef bone broth soup, places tend to have the tastiest kimchi). Ther

The King's Speech (and me)

Tonight, I finally gathered the courage to watch The King's Speech . Why did I need courage to watch a movie, you might ask? The reason is both simple and intricately complex: I'm a stutterer (Edit: person who stutters; "stutterer" is not who I am, but something that I do from time to time), and I have been for as long as I remember. Well, there it is - I've said it. To be fair, I actually don't remember stuttering when I was little. My first very distinct memory of stuttering was sometime in seventh grade, when I had trouble saying "nosotros" (we/us) in Spanish class. But I also remember knowing I was going to have trouble saying it, because we were going around the room, and I counted ahead to see what I was going to have to say. Which means by that point I was already stuttering. When did it start? That's a question for another day. So why am I publicizing this fact now? First, I'm in the midst of a lifelong attempt to "cure&quo