My Meditation Journey and Why I Think Headspace is Amazing
At the end of 2015, a few months after my husband and I got married, he said to me, “Do you want to do a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat?” Vipassana-what? 10 days meditating? No talking? You must be crazy!!! He told me he would be happy if I joined (men and women are separated anyway), but if I decided to stay home, he would do it by himself. I started reading a bit and decided, for the wrong reasons, that I wanted to come with him. I was worried that he would come out of these 10 days “enlightened,” and I am not, and I wanted to share the experience.
So on December 31st, I downloaded the app Headspace because I had about three months until the retreat and thought I had to start daily meditation, if even for 20 minutes, so I had something to work on. I started with their “take 10” program. That is ten minutes for ten days. I believe afterward, the meditations were 10, 15, or 20 minutes (this was back in 2016, today one can meditate from three to 20 minutes on most of the available meditations). Three months later, we were on our way to Massachusetts, the Dhamma Dhara Meditation Center.
It was exciting but also a bit scary. Will I be okay with the OMS eating schedule? Will I be okay with eating dinner at 5 pm, which only consisted of fruit, but most of all, will I be able to meditate 10 hours a day and not talk to anyone the entire time???
I do not remember how I felt every single day, but I do remember that around day five or six, I had a little breakdown. There was a “leader” for women and one for men whom we could turn to if we needed something. That day she said to me, if I needed to rest a bit, I could do this or that and suggested some meditative alternatives to sitting and meditating.
The morning gong was at 4 am, so it was nice to recognize that maybe some people were really tired. I, however, took it as I am doing something wrong, and she or the teacher noticed it. And I broke down crying. The woman was so sweet and empathetic and chatted a bit with me in her room. Letting “that” out (whatever that was) helped me meditate better (whatever better means) for the remaining days. Those last days, I felt more bliss and happiness than I had felt in a long time. Coming home, my husband and I both did one hour of meditation in the morning and one hour in the evening. It felt so difficult as we were back in the real world, talking, having up- and downloads all day long. The newfound practice changed from two hours daily to one hour daily to 20 minutes daily within one week. It was really hard to work, manage everyday life, and fit in the amount of meditation we were told to do daily.
Yoga teacher training and moving to Los Angeles
When we did our meditation retreat, we were living in New York City. That same year, I also did a 200-hour yoga teacher training, which replaced any meditation I had been doing between the retreat and the training. During my training, I learned another technique of meditation, and I enjoyed meditating with others in the room again. Shortly after my yoga teacher training, we moved to Los Angeles, and then about 1 1/2 years later, my daughter was born. I knew that stress and MS have a big correlation, and between having a newborn and fairly soon having to go back to work, I did not have a daily meditation practice. Looking back, this is one of the things I regret not doing consistently for my health.
Friends over for a visit and the restart of my Headspace journey
We had friends staying with us at the end of 2018 to visit our newborn daughter, and our friend mentioned she is doing the daily meditation from Headspace, and she likes the different topics and voices. That was new to me, so I wanted to check it out. When I used Headspace, the only voice was “Andy”, but now they had various topics and meditation teachers as well as “daily exercises” such as taking a few breaths, meditating when you are stressed, falling asleep, etc. They also started a daily meditation where one can choose the duration between three minutes up to 20 minutes as well as sleepcasts.
By the summer, I really got into meditating daily again (it has only taken me three years!). I started building the habit of “just sitting”. Even for three or five minutes. If you are reading this because you want to start a meditation practice, then my 2 cents are to start by sitting down and not worrying about the duration of the meditation. In my experience, the hardest part (and not to say the only hard part!) is to start. Once you have started, you can refine. Maybe one type of meditation isn’t the right one for you; you can try another one. Maybe you are great at five minutes but want to meditate 30 minutes daily…all of that will come but without starting, there is no refining. James Clear writes in his book Atomic habits, you cannot change a habit that doesn’t exist. So focus on starting it and doing it! That is what I did, and it took me years.
Gamification and meditation
I think gamification has helped me a lot. In the app Headspace, you can have a streak of how long you have been meditating, and I meditated for over one year and felt really proud. Then the Vipassana teachings came back into my life again, and I decided to start meditating by myself. I came across a Youtube video of S.N. Goenka singing that reminded me of my silent retreat, and because of nostalgia, I wanted to follow it. For a few days, I remembered to also start a Headspace meditation so I wouldn’t lose my streak, but after a week or so, I did forget and lost my streak. To my astonishment, I wasn’t upset because I didn’t lose my streak because I didn’t meditate, I lost it because I meditated in a different way. (If gamification is also your thing, there are multiple apps that track your streak. Here is an article that describes those apps).
About a year ago, I started Headspace 365 (and that is not exact, as sometimes I do the daily meditation in between or chose another course). This journey has been truly wonderful and sometimes challenging for me. The description says “Go on a year-long journey with this course from the very first version of Headspace”. It starts with their “take 10” and then moves to 15 and 20 minutes, which is the duration it stays on for the remainder of the year. The techniques get more challenging, in my opinion, as the year goes on. Most courses are 10 days, and then maybe the following level builds on that technique or another technique gets introduced. Sometimes I found a level great or easy, and sometimes really challenging (e.g. I find visualization difficult so the levels that had this technique were harder for me). Topics or themes that were part of the year-long journey were, for example, self-esteem, acceptance, stress, creativity, kindness, change, anger, focus, or balance.
Something I didn’t expect in the Headspace journey was that the last 8 weeks are all about learning to meditate in silence. How can they teach you not to use the app anymore??? One of my favorite podcasts, Feel better live more by Rangan Chatterjee, had a very early episode with a meditation teacher Light Watkins. In this conversation, Light Watkins talks about how guided meditations (such as Headspace) are great for a start but eventually “one should” move to sitting in silence. I remember taking a stroll when I listened to that episode thinking that it has been years for me but I haven’t made the jump from a guided meditation to sitting in silence by myself. So here was my chance!
What did I learn from my Headspace journey and eventually sitting in silence?
I am not done yet, I have a couple of weeks left. It sometimes is hard not to have prompts that help you to come back to the present moment when you drift off into the past or future. One day is easier, another day is harder. I think that is how meditation will always be. One day the mind is quieter, and another day there are thousands of thoughts. I will say the most amazing thing that Headspace has “gifted” me is the fact that it helped me to sit down daily to meditate for a few years already. And that I am so thankful for OMS as meditation is an important part of the OMS program, and it took me years after adopting the diet and exercising to also have a daily meditation practice.
I was so surprised to get taught to “not need” the app anymore, and it also makes me think what is the next step? Headspace has one feature which is an “unguided meditation” which you can pick from five minutes to hours. I wonder if that is the future for me after having learned to meditate in silence…or will I just S I T?