What happens when I stop meditating during the last month of the semester?
Disaster. Well, not a complete disaster, but nearly.
Last semester, during the month of October, I stopped meditating completely. Up until then, I had the top grades in my two courses and was making steady progress in my research work, in addition to preparing for the physics GRE, swimming and working out consistently, and enjoying nature on the weekends.
I broke up with my girlfriend, whom I was living with at the time, and moved into my mom’s living room for several weeks while I searched for a new place. The disruption of all of this ended my meditation practice when it was the very time that I needed to keep meditating–afterall it is most beneficial during times of stress. I was emotionally stressed by the breakup, and stressed for time to find a new apartment and move all of my stuff.
Though I found an apartment and finished moving in, I didn’t attain the peace of mind needed to begin making rational decisions until after final exams were over. So, for about 2 weeks before finals, I did zero studying and zero research. Instead I very inefficiently completed applications to PhD’s, often writing late at night, letting my essays meander all over the place. Most of what I wrote was irrelevant to the application, but was instead a reflection of my stressed, scattered state of mind. My solid A’s in my two courses fell to A-; my research adviser became frustrated, unsure what to say on her letters of recommendation since I had turned from making steady research progress to doing nothing. I was frantic, unable to sit still, unable to see through my state and take control. The procrastination felt like a deep, black cave that I was unable to climb out of.
While taking time off during the winter break/holiday week, I began to see more clearly again. I realized how crucial my meditation practice is to maintaining stability of mind and to living my life fully. Without meditation I am nearly crippled.
Crucially, I saw clearly that meditation needed to remain a priority in my life, and re-committed to the practice. My commitment began with choosing to attend sittings every morning at 6:30, which I have stuck to for the past week, and intend to continue for the rest of the semester. I am also attending all evening sittings. The first two days of meditation at 6:30 in the morning, I asked several members of my zen group to call me and make sure I woke up on time. Asking for help in this way doesn’t come naturally to me, and so this was an important step; knowing that I needed help, and then reaching out for it.
Though my renewed practice has only been in effect for a week, the changes are noticeable. I have become more patient, more content, more sociable. I cleaned and organized my office. I have started my research again. I am working more efficiently on my application essays. I am more willing to make realistic compromises. I find it easier to say no to caffeine, sugary candies, and distracting emails and news articles. The knot in my stomach is gradually dissipating into a feeling of warmth and comfort. In short, I have greater control over myself, and as a result I am getting my life back.