The happiest days of my life were when I lived in a tent.
I’ve had a lot of happy days since then, but I still catch myself finding rudimentary things to be upset about.
When I lived in a tent, I meditated for two hours every day, minimum! One hour in the morning and one hour before bed.
I would wake up before the sun rose. Sometimes I’d open my tent and there would be a deer outside, looking right back at me. My days would always begin with that energy — surrounded by California Sycamores, my belongings in one little tent with just enough space, and all the freedom of the outdoors.
Before I did anything in the morning, I would sit and meditate. I started with 15 minutes, then 30, and eventually an hour. The first week, my legs would fall asleep. My back would ache from sitting upright for so long. My head could not stop thinking.
The second week, my legs stopped being so restless. The muscles in my back adjusted and learned their new posture. Another week in, and I began to lose track of how many sessions I’d completed. The time between my meditations began to take a new form.
I was slower, in a good way. I would eat breakfast in the morning with complete attention. I took a lot of breaths in between. The food tasted better, it felt more nourishing. When I took a shower, I wouldn’t just go through the motions. Washing every bit of dirt off my body became a ritual. I allowed the refreshing water to take the spotlight over my loud, jumbled thoughts.
People became more beautiful. I would look them in the eye with empathy and humility in my own. I saw that they were flawed, just as myself, but also filled with love, dreams, and experiences. The human in me understood the human in them.
My body was responsive. Every natural bodily cycle that humans’ experience became regularized. Every evening, like clock-work, my body did its job of efficiently digesting its food. Every month on the new moon, my body also shed its older form. The mind-body connection dumbfounded me and all previous speculations.
I was a much more patient person. Very few things could crawl up my skin. When I felt the impatience and frustration rising within me, I could pinpoint its exact location within my body. Once I felt that tension in my shoulders, I would take a breath. And then another. Until the tension dispersed.
A breath seemed able to solve almost anything. I was the bravest, calmest, and clearest that I’d ever been.
But in all this bliss, there was still pain.
In the beginning, I found myself crying a lot. When you meditate for so long, you begin to open yourself to deep and honest thought. There were quite a few times when I would hit a raw wound. It needed space to be released. I would cry, write, scream off the side of a mountain, whatever it took, to let go.
It happened a few more times. And it has happened since. I’m human, with a past of mixed experiences, and more to come. I’ve learned these are the ups and the downs we all must navigate.
I returned home with a new set of eyes. Everything looked different. Everything felt different. When I was running late to an important appointment, I felt just fine. That ball of anxiousness wasn’t in my stomach anymore. When someone was rude to me in a store, I smiled. Their anger wasn’t about me. I had no idea what could be going on in their world. So, I wished them (and still do) well.
Over time, my practice faded. In my [real] world, I didn’t (and still don’t) have two hours for meditation anymore.
But I do have 15 minutes. 15 minutes to reconnect, refocus, and rewind.
Sometimes I sit down for 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter. I just make sure I sit down every day.
I attribute so much of who I am today, to the five minute moments, the one-hour sessions, and everything in between. Those moments of stillness have forever shaped me.
This is what happens when you meditate.