Updated: Dec 24, 2021
8pm. It is one of these freezing Montreal nights. The cold wind blowing in my face makes me shiver. I just left the café in tears and now I am asking myself a question that I have never asked before and maybe no one should ever ask: is life really worth living?
I began to panic. Asking a question like that caught me off guard. I rush home, facetime my friend and realize that now is the time to get help, especially therapy. Later I find out that therapy will not work for me. What will eventually save me is mindfulness. However, I didn’t know that at that moment. Back then, the pain was raw, almost unbearable.
But what actually happened?
I moved to Montreal one year ago. Having changed five countries in three years, I told myself that this city would be my new home and I came here with big hopes and dreams.
Everything started off well. My adaptation process was quite easy because my best friend lives here, so I wasn’t alone. I started to see someone in the second week I got here and the relationship was going great. Meantime, I was constantly applying for jobs without losing my enthusiasm.
Just two months later, everything started to go wrong. The worst thing was that I was not aware of it. Only later did I realize that I’d been suffering from depression. Being 6’8”, I used to eat a lot during the day, but I was barely eating two meals a day. Usually I hated sleeping more than eight hours and waking up late but now I was unable to wake up before noon. I used to go to gym three times a week, but I stopped exercising altogether. I failed to see any positive sides in my life and constantly focused on negatives. When you add a toxic relationship to all this, maybe some kind of breakdown was inevitable.
As I teetered on the brink of that breakdown, my monkey mind kept telling me that only way I could be happy again was to get back together with my ex. That was not true. However, the more I listened to that voice, the more I lost control. The more I lost control, the more my demons took over. Weeks after my breakup, I was in complete denial which made it so much worse. I was constantly trying to shy away from feeling sad, focusing instead on ways I could get back with my ex. I got to a point where I could not recognize myself any more.
After two months of constant denial and obsessing over my ex, that question popped into his head: was life really worth living? It was then that I decided it was time for me to seek help.
The first thing I did was to start therapy. Therapy helped me to realize what was wrong but, in the long run, it did not help me. I was still in reactive mode, constantly having obsessive thoughts about winning my ex back. When you’ve been controlled by your monkey mind for so long, it is not easy to regain the control. Even with the therapy, the voices in my head kept trying to convince me that the only way to not feel like this was to get back with my ex. Meanwhile, I felt like I didn’t want to wake up in the morning.
One day, in the midst of my darkest moments, I decided to pick up a book from my shelf, 10% Happier by television anchorman Dan Harris who had struggled with PTSD and addiction, and who had even experienced a panic attack on live TV. I was skeptical at first because I didn’t want to read another self-help book that would eventually get me nowhere. Then I decided to give it a shot and, as I kept reading it, I started to see that this book was far removed from the ineffectual clichés of self-help publishing. Harris was explaining how meditation taught him to make peace with his demons instead of running away from them. It struck me that this was exactly what I need to do.
As soon as I finished the book, my meditation journey began and it continues to this day. Using the Ten Percent Happier meditation app, I mainly do mindfulness meditation and loving kindness meditation. I sit in a comfortable chair and focus on my breath. Every time I find myself distracted, I simply begin again. Using loving-kindness meditation, I wish myself and others well. The meditation practices I’m doing can vary but my baseline is always to take a compassionate and non-judgmental approach to whatever arises in my moment-to-moment experience.
From the minute I started to meditate, I could feel that I was gaining a whole new perspective about life. The more I meditated, the less I was controlled by my monkey mind. I have to admit it was not easy at the beginning. During the first attempts, I was making the most basic mistake – expecting that meditation would deliver a particular outcome such as feeling completely blissful. Also, I was expecting that meditation would cure me. In the words of Joseph Goldstein, I was failing because I was trying to conquer my neurosis instead of simply becoming connoisseur of my neurosis.
My friends ask me how ten minutes of meditation a day could possibly change my life. Some assume that, because I meditate daily, I no longer feel sadness or anxiety, even that I have attained some kind of enlightenment. None of that is true.
I still experience sadness, I still have my low moments. But the benefits of practicing mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations are many.
When difficult thoughts arise, I have learnt to simply let them go. When unpleasant sensations show up, I am able to observe them without getting caught up in reactions. When I experience anger or sadness, I simply note that this is what is being felt right now. Rather than getting caught up in thoughts like ‘I don’t want to be feeling this way’, I’m able to allow the emotions to simply be. Acceptanc1e and self-compassion rather than resistance and avoidance. A big part of this acceptance is remembering that everything is ephemeral and all things must pass, including uncomfortable thoughts and unpleasant emotions. Like a sandcastle, all is temporary. Build it, tend it, enjoy it. And when the time comes, let it go.
In the past, whenever I felt sad, I could easily convince myself that there was no way out of this sadness; that this is how I would always feel. It was almost as though I was clinging onto my sadness, allowing it to persist. Now, knowing that it will pass, like everything else, I can allow it to be and gently place my attention elsewhere.
I spent so much of my life clinging to what I labelled ‘pleasant’ and pushing away that which I labelled ‘unpleasant’. As if clinging to the pleasant would make it last and resisting the unpleasant would actually make it go away. As I’ve learned, being mindful means that we make room for whatever thoughts, feelings and body sensations arise. We can allow it all to simply be.
Do I wish that I had never experienced rough times? Wish that I’d never felt pain and heartbreak? Not at all. Going through those challenging times enabled me to become aware of my own demons and becoming aware enabled me to make peace with them. The light that now suffuses my life emerged from the darkest moments in my life. Without going to those dark places, I would never have started to practice meditation.
Right here, right now. That’s all that matters.