Living in New York, I knew only one mode — GO! My alarm would the knock the life back into me. I would peel myself out of bed after minimal sleep and trudge myself over to a boxing class or gym workout before work. I would offset my begrudging days at work with a social calendar filled with drinks and dinners with friends. A solid night bar hoping typically ended with a slice of pizza or a McDonalds cheeseburger — no judgment! I traveled any chance I could, escaping the daily grind of Manhattan for a foreign or familiar city.
I ate well, worked out, and was well traveled. I was the quintessential Manhattan-ite. I considered myself healthy and somewhat happy, and then COVID happened.
Bars closed, restaurants closed, gyms closed, airports closed. Unfortunately what followed was an influx of … thoughts.
Thoughts about my job. Thoughts about my happiness. Thoughts about my family. Thoughts about my physical appearance. Thoughts about my purpose on earth. Just a never ending stream of the thoughts I was actively avoiding.
I found myself tired — all the time. Instead of drifting off after an active day, I would lay awake thinking about the purpose of my life. Days felt longer with the never-ending Zoom calls where I found myself staring at the corner of the monitor glaring at my reflection to ensure I look “alive” and that my emotions did not seep through the lines of my exhausted face.
One day, when I had enough due to in retrospect a perfectly dull day, I walked over to Madison Square Park to clear my mind. I sat on a bench and sobbed under my mask while I contemplated the meaning of life. Helplessly I called a friend as together we attempted to formulaically solve for happiness. I was not happy, and honestly I could not understand why. I had a great life, a loving family, a good job, and I lived in one of the most amazing cities in the world — why was I so unhappy?
My husband, an avid meditator and quite possibly the most zen human I have ever met shared a video from Sadhguru. A yogi and author. I was skeptical, however my desperation took over and I quickly found myself down a rabbit hole of Youtube talks. I proceeded with caution as I meticulously evaluated if this guy was “the real deal”. I stumbled across one video which changed everything for me. I found myself no longer evaluating this yogi and instead sitting with the message he shared. The message was simple and clear.
“The greatest thing about life is that there is no meaning to it... The purpose of life is to live, and to live totally.” — Sadhguru
Well even if I agreed with the theory, I was lost in the practice. What did he mean there is no meaning?! The talk went on and he explained that we are tied to the psychological trap we have set for ourselves, only we hold the key to freedom. The psychological wall we have built is tied to the identity we have created for ourselves — that same wall imprisons us. In achieving balance in our lives and approaching the world with curiosity, that is how we achieve happiness.
As I continued my research, I found myself experimenting more and more with meditation. I was convinced mediation was not for me. I self-declared that my mind always races and that is who I am. Embracing the ideology that the identity is something I have created in my own mind, I tried anyway.
I eased into meditation slowly, first beginning with guided meditations while lying down. I was quick to complain that it was not working and simply not for me. Continuing to find myself unfulfilled, I tried again. I read more about the science behind meditation including proven data around the ability to control ones thoughts. I was determined to reach the state where the opinions, actions, and emotions of others did not impact my day. I started each day with a simple mantra: “the actions of others will not impact my mood”.
It was amazing. After only a couple weeks I learned to recognize my body’s reaction to outside influences. When my boss or teammates were having a tough day, I recognized the tension in my neck and the change in my breathing as we interacted. I would consciously cue a deep breath that would sink my body into relaxation. I had never received criticism well, and suddenly I was receiving it openly and disassociating feedback from the false identity I had constructed for myself. I was able to recognize that the feedback was tied to something I did versus receiving it as a criticism of my character. As a type A, I was especially pleased with the focus and performance I was exhibiting — I was all in.
I would love to say that I “cracked the code” in meditation, but that was far from the truth. While I was committed, my practice was not consistent. There were days when I was fully attuned to my body and mind, and others where monkey mind took over. In those jumbled moments I found myself checking off to-do lists and dissecting past conversations. I then understood the meaning of the practice. The practice never ends. The practice is the most important relationship you will ever have — the one with yourself.
I was feeling better. Not great, not amazing, but better. I found myself more pleasant and patient with others as well. I wanted to do more, so I enrolled in a 7-day Inner Engineering meditation class along with my husband. Together we agreed to wake up early and complete 1.5 hours of coursework before we started work. Each day the course consisted of talks and ended in a meditation. My once limiting notion that I could not sit tall for more than five minutes at a time dissipated. I listened intently to the learnings and soaked up what served me.
I felt for the first time ever that I had control of my thoughts. In an effort to support my practice and continue to better my life, I decided to change my life in five ways.
- I mediate every day, even when I do not want to.
Initially my mediation consisted of guided mediations, and then I eventually gravitated to a timer with bells that draw me back to center when my thoughts take over.
On a good day, I meditate at least twelve minutes, this is the threshold I had set for myself. Research shows that meditating twelve minutes a day can strengthen attention and working memory. On a day that escapes me, I meditate as I fall asleep.
I used to find myself only meditating when I felt off or flustered; however, I realized my practice is important on good days in anticipation for the bad.
2. I stopped using an alarm clock.
The mere fact that this object is called an alarm or a “an anxious awareness of danger” should have been reason enough for me to give it up. The reality is that this fact did not even register for me until I read a book that called this out. I had never relied on my body to tell me when I was tired or when to wake up, so I decided to give it a shot. This initially felt foreign as I was nervous about not waking up in time for work or that successful people sleep less.
Over time, I found that my body would naturally wake up when it needed to. I made sure to sleep on time and was pleasantly surprised that I would wake up refreshed and ready to go.
3. I stopped drinking coffee.
I remember the moment I started drinking coffee. I had not more than five hours of sleep the night before and was anticipating at least a 12-hour workday. I hated the taste, but the benefit was worth it. I then grew to rely on coffee and would grab one post workout and with colleagues for an office break.
As one-offs turned to a routine, I felt I could not live a day without coffee. My skin thought otherwise, I was constantly dehydrated and it was apparent in the dullness of my skin. My skin would soak up serums like the Sahara desert.
I did the unthinkable and gave it up. I replaced it with a non-caffeinated turmeric ginger latte. This is the fancy label I assigned to tea with lukewarm almond milk I clumsily concocted at home. Initially giving up coffee was tough, but as I allowed my body to wake up when rested, the need for caffeine diminished.
4. I rarely drink alcohol.
As a social drinker, I found more and more I would open that bottle of wine as my private quarantine social event. It was a way to relax and unwind, and I would reward myself a treat on a Friday or Saturday night. Well COVID hit and the days blurred. Tuesdays and Wednesdays started to look like weekends and soon enough the tracking of consumption blurred along with the days. One day I thought about it and realized that I do not actually even like the taste of most wines. Sure I enjoy a nice glass with a meal or socially from time to time, but why was I consuming this much?
I decided to do something I would have never done before COVID. I stopped drinking alcohol. This was not a light decision, but I had to try. My reaction was even more shocking — I did not miss it. I no longer felt the need to lower my inhibitions or table emotions. I felt energetic and calm with the meditation practice I committed to, and the consumption of alcohol was in conflict with this. I enjoyed thinking clearly.
Now I only order alcohol if I am curious about a cocktail or am offered a wine I particularly enjoy.
5. I stopped eating meat at home.
Meat is delicious. I love me some spicy peperoni on a pizza, a medium-rare steak, and chicken on my salad. Meat was always happily granted prime real estate on my plate. Then I found out that it sits in your stomach for almost two days. TWO DAYS. In comparison, vegetables only take a few hours to digest.
I had a frank conversation with myself about this one. I was in no way willing to become vegan. I wanted to enjoy pizza and carne asada tacos from time to time. I landed on a happy medium. I stopped cooking meat at home, and only eat it when I see something on a menu that I want.
I have embraced my Indian upbringing and have re-learned the mostly vegetarian diet I once consumed as a kid. Within two weeks of my diet change, I felt lighter and the bloating and discomfort I once felt disappeared.
For some the changes I made seem drastic, but for me these changes are worth it. I feel… good. I have never felt so connected to my body and mind, and I find the benefits are trickling to other areas of my life.
In conversations with friends and family I find myself more engaged and willing to participate in life. I find myself curious to try new things and appreciate old ones. I am less fearful of trying new things or failing at them (I recently tried ice skating and definitely looked ridiculous).
I once contemplated the meaning of life. I found my answer— it’s to actually live it.