The way meditation works.

I’ve been meditating since 2001 or so. So about 17 years.

It’s been a long journey figuring out what I needed to really understand about meditation. One of the biggest misconceptions I had, and I hear other people having, is how meditation is actually supposed to work.

I was at a wellness event last week and met person after person who, when I asked if they meditated, responded with, “oh no way. I can’t make my mind that still. It just never stops. I’m too busy to sit and do nothing like that.”

Then there was the person who scoffed a bit and said, “well, I pray. Which is…more important.”

Listen, in America we get to have different opinions. We get to choose our religious path or spirituality that serves us. We also get to decide what works and doesn’t work for us. But I think it’s unfortunate when people make assumptions about something or form fixed opinions based on misinformation.

Meditation isn’t about turning off your brain. It doesn’t work like that. Our brains are designed to process information to keep us breathing and keep us alive. So if you’re brain stopped, that would be a bad sign. I told those people last week, “if your brain stopped, you’d be dead."

Meditation isn’t about being dead. It isn’t about being numbed out. It isn’t at all about shutting down the constant stream of thoughts that run through your mind. It doesn’t work like that at all and isn’t meant to. But perhaps people think that because they desperately crave that kind of feeling to escape the prisons of their minds, which never stop and hold them hostage and cause a lot of fear and suffering.

I can see why people would want to shut that shit down. I KNOW why, because my mind can be a dangerous place to wander around. I am extremely intelligent from a lifetime of wonderful education and I also pursue information like it’s my job, because it IS my job. I am an overthinker by nature and an over-analyzer from a tumultuous childhood. I learned from an early age to strategize and sort things out to survive.

It’s taken some hard lessons and a lot of discipline to figure out how to turn the machine of my mind to a different setting. Meditation helps. That’s how it works, actually.

Meditation doesn’t work overnight. It takes practice. It’s meant to help us actually understand what we’re thinking about, not to stop the thoughts. It works by helping us see the way we get hooked on a thought and get carried away by it. It works by seeing how we live our lives in reaction to people or events instead of responding from a place of power and balance.

That’s the way meditation works.

When we sit on a cushion or a chair for one minute or five or an hour, we are practicing how to sit still and watch our thoughts like our favorite Netflix show. We learn to watch the thoughts like they are a sitcom or crime drama and not what we think they are, which is REALITY.

Still with me?

Our thoughts are not REALITY. They are like a tv show, created from our fears and perceptions and the stories we tell ourselves—not necessarily what’s really happening.

Meditation helps us practice this so when things happen to us in real life, when we aren’t sitting still on a chair or cushion, we apply that same awareness.

What’s the point? Well, when we start to see that our reactions to life cause us stress or unhappiness, we want that to end. We want to change things. We want to think differently to feel differently. We want to learn how to have a more loving and fearless approach to life.

That’s the way meditation works. It actually helps us do that to feel better.

But only when we stop saying things like, “I could never just sit there and turn my mind off, it’s too busy.”

Meditation isn’t meant to turn you off, it’s meant to turn you ON to what you’re doing that’s keeping you struggling and feeling stressed out.

So when you’re ready to sit yourself down and be brave enough to do something different, that’s the way meditation works.

Meeting Kim Phuc

Last week, I was doing that thing that happens on facebook. That thing where I click and click and click and somehow end up down a rabbit hole of websites, not sure how I ended up there. Somehow, I ended up reading an article about how Kim Phuc was speaking at a nearby private school in Concord, MA. I had no idea who Kim Phuc was. But I knew this picture:

 kim1

kim1

She's the girl in the center of the photo. I thought it would be an incredible experience to hear her story in person. The article about her said her talk was about forgiveness, which is certainly connected to being a healthy, happy person. I wanted to hear how this woman battled internal and external lifelong pain to become someone who could forgive even the most devastating experience.

I immediately sent an email to the contact person and got a reply immediately back. It said, "there's a waiting list. And it's at 9am." I wrote back, "if it's meant to be, it will be. Please put me down and I look forward to hearing back from you. And please add one more, because I'd like to bring my intern along."

Two hours later, I got the thumbs-up because two people had given up their seats. My intern, Victoria, and I were lined up to sit and hear from a well-known historial figure!

If you aren't familiar with Kim's story, watch this video below (warning: this video contains graphic images)

This morning, Victoria and I arrived very early and secured ourselves seats right up front. When Kim entered the room, I was tempted to try to have a picture taken with her, but it wasn't the right time. We were told there would be a chance to talk to her and have a picture later.

Kim took the stage and there wasn't a sound in the room. As the video shows, Kim's village was bombed by napalm during the Vietnam War. Her voice, soft and clear, told us of her tragedy and her road to forgiveness. She shared some video footage like I posted above. She said boiling water reaches about 100ºC. Napalm burns up to 800-1200°C.  She said when the solider's poured the water on her back, in attempts to help her, she fainted from the pain as the napalm penetrated deeper into her muscles.

She credited God with saving her life several times over the course of about 14 operations over her lifetime. She found God and a deep faith in Christianity after fleeing Vietnam and Cuba and defecting to Canada. I was really touched when she spoke about her insecurity about her body, and her fear that her scarred body would make her dreams of finding someone who loved her possible. Kim smiled when she said, "but I found him. And have two boys now."

The entire room was silent for the duration of Kim's talk, which I found moving, profoundly honest and inspiring. I especially appreciated her honesty about the process of forgiveness. It's not an overnight process, she said. No matter your experience, whether it was planes bombing your village or something completely unrelated, it can take many, many years to replace negativity, blame, shame or guilt with honesty, love, compassion and joy--and forgiveness.

I loved those sentences from her talk more than anything else she said.

After her talk, Kim welcomed guests for book signing. Her books sold out, and I only had my card on me, so she signed that, "with two kisses" she said.

 photo (5)

photo (5)

I thanked her for sharing her story, especially the truth about forgiveness, and she graciously honored our request to take a picture together. It was humbling and really fun to stand beside a famous figure from history but she was also just a person, like me. I met Winnie Mandela 13 years ago, and I had that same feeling of awe and connection to our connectedness as human beings.

I am so glad I reached out immediately when I saw the article posted online. I gave up any attachment to being there, but it came through and I was given the chance to see Kim speak and meet her in person. I was given the chance to listening to a person so well-known and important to our world history share her story of pain, transformation and forgiveness and I am so grateful.

Please visit her site: The Kim Foundation and consider donating your time, energy and money to her cause of helping children all around the world.