I discovered meditation three years ago on holiday in Bali and it has changed my life in subtle but fundamental ways.
The run up to the holiday in Bali was stressful. I was stressed out because I was starting a business. I was stressed out because I was moving out of my house and into an apartment that I knew I couldn’t afford. And I was stressed out because I was going on a holiday that I couldn’t afford.
And anyway, I was always stressed out. Ever since I was young I always suffered from anxiety. Not to the point of not leaving the house or anything like that, just a constant, low level feeling of stress. Mostly it manifested itself physically – I felt a constant weight – the weight of the world – across the top of my chest. I got light-headed all the time, sometimes I had trouble breathing, sometimes I would have a bit of a panic attack.
Because I was carrying this constant basic level of tension, I was limited in the amount of external pressure I could take.
I went to the doctors and explained my symptoms. The doctor thought I had vertigo, maybe asthma. But I knew I had a brain tumor and no one could convince me otherwise. I was at the doctor every week begging for a CAT scan. They thought I was insane. Finally, they diagnosed me as plain old stressed out. And I was like:
‘Shut up, this isn’t stress. This is clearly a brain tumor. Or cancer. Or God knows what.’
So, yeah, I was a hypochondriac. I was a bit insane.
But this went on for years and years. I was constantly running at breakneck speed and never slowing down. I thought I was slowing down by going out for drinks, or having a smoke, or partying at the weekend but in fact I never, ever, ever, really, properly took a mental break.
So I was sort of wobbling around for a couple of years – having to catch hold of things thinking “Oh God I’m going to faint, Oh God I think I’m going to fall over here.”
We (that’s me and my best friend Jo) were going to Bali for my cousin’s boyfriend’s 30th birthday – he had actually paid for the whole resort for us. The first part of the holiday we spent with the family. And we were having the absolute craic – drinking and partying and the lot. But I was freaking out – I was at peak anxiety, my brain was running at 100mph, ‘Am I going to spend too much on this holiday? How am I going to pay my rent when I get home? Oh God, my new business is starting next week.’
And when I say next week, I literally mean next week. We were in Bali from around the 24th or 26th July and my business was due to open its doors on 1st August. To be honest, if I had had the choice I probably wouldn’t have gone on the holiday at all – thank God I did.
Oh, and the night before we left Jo confided that the chip on her bank card was broken and that she wasn’t going to be able to take money out and would need to borrow off me, however she would be able to pay be back everything when we got home. Now, at that point in my life I was trying to keep it together and wasn’t telling people that I was skint – I was trying to keep up this persona that I had everything under control – so obviously I was going to have to help my best mate out.
Holy fuck, what am I going to do?
So, arriving in Bali I was heavily stressed.
But, looking back, ‘heavily stressed’ was my default for the majority of my fucking 20s – running around buying and selling houses like a lunatic – constantly worried about this heaviness in my chest – expecting to drop dead at any moment – booking myself in for brain scans – taking vertigo tablets and ‘chilling out’ by partying for days in a row.
In fact, I was so stressed in Bali that on the first two nights I actually had to go and lie in the dark with the aircon on because everything was stressing me out – the money, the drink, the ‘having it all together’ persona. I was in the most beautiful resort in the world and I should have been savoring every moment of it but instead I was lying in the fucking dark watching a fan going round and round above me because I couldn’t even walk in a straight line without thinking I was going to faint. I was having anxiety about my anxiety getting in the way of my holiday!
After the first six days the group split up and me and Jo and Jennifer and Alex went off to Gili Air for the rest of the holiday. It was paradise – absolutely gorgeous – I mean really breath-taking.
Me and Jo ended up doing a three-day retreat in this place called the H20 yoga and meditation centre. It was lovely – it was really quiet because it was Ramadan. We were doing yoga, meditation, chakra bells – all this stuff that was completely new to me.
The yoga talk came thick and fast – ‘downward dog…in this pose you rinse out your liver…big toe pose…this pose will cure your menopause symptoms’ and I was thinking ‘my god this is insane, these people are insane’ – like it was kinda fun but at the same time I didn’t think that it was any use whatsoever and in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘why the hell am I doing this?’
Trying to stay all Namaste, I started doing a bit of meditation with the teacher instructing us in the background to, ‘lie down and listen to the sea.’
So, there I was lying down in the most beautiful place in the world and I was starting to feel a bit relaxed and then all of a sudden my fucking heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. Well not exactly stopped but as anyone who has suffered from anxiety will tell you. It feels like it has. I was gasping for air.
Yoga Teacher: Are you ok?
Me: (gasping, panicking) I just stopped breathing there!
Yoga girl: It’s alright, calm down. Let’s try this again, take it slow, listen to the sea.
I took her word for it and started to relax, started to breathe, listened to the bloody sea… and then again, my heart stopped, I couldn’t breathe, I was flailing around like a dying fish.
Yoga Teacher: Don’t panic, you’re not dying, let’s just start again.
Me: Listen, my heart is stopping here. You may not believe me but it’s my heart and I’m telling you it is.
Yoga Teacher: (laughing) Ok, let’s leave it for today, maybe you’ll give it another go in the morning.
Me (Internally): Like fuck I will…
As we left, Jo was waxing lyrical about the meditation ‘Oh my God, Matthew, that meditation was amazing! I feel so good!’
I was like, ‘Well, I nearly died so I’m never doing that again.’
Anyway, Jo persuaded me and the next day I did try it again and every time I nearly died which was getting a bit boring for everyone else, so I decided that I’d just pretend. So, I was sitting there with my eyes closed, breathing away, keeping control of myself so I wouldn’t die. Pretending to meditate is really boring so I opened an eye to take a sneaky peak at the rest of them. Eagle eye yogi caught me out.
Yoga Teacher: “Let’s try something different. (She took my hand), Hold my hand and walk with me really, really slowly.”
So I held her hand and walked really, really slowly. I breathed in and breathed out and breathed in and breathed out and I walked and walked, and the breeze was on my face and it was warm and it was beautiful and it was Bali and all of a sudden, no word of a lie, my whole body dropped. My chest dropped, my organs dropped into one another, my stomach dropped to just above my pelvis – and I kept walking and breathing, and breathing and walking. I felt like my body was floating – I felt like I’d taken ecstasy – I couldn’t believe my head was sitting on my shoulders! I realised that up to that moment my head was always pulling up towards the clouds which was why I always had a stiff neck. Now my head was on top of my shoulders and my organs were all sitting on top of each other and my body had just relaxed into itself.
Me (to Jo): “My God this meditation is AMAZING! I LOVE this!”
Jo and I had a good laugh about my change of heart, but, may god strike me stone dead, I have never since experienced the symptoms of anxiety that I had throughout my 20s.
Since then I’ve meditated every day. Nothing too demanding – I do a one-minute walking meditation every day and then a short (5/10/15 minute) meditation every night before bed.
Long Term Effects
The main benefit I notice is that I can now take on much more external stress and a much more demanding workload because I have so much more brain space – I’m not constantly thinking “Oh fuck, I’m going to die” or “OMG, what’s wrong with my head, what’s wrong with my eyesight.” (I used to get my eyes tested three or four times a year thinking I was going blind – of course, I have 20/20 vision!)
Having this extra space in my brain has given me extra energy to drive my business. Meditation has literally made me money, its allowed me to make better business decisions and better personal decisions.
Now when I have a problem I meditate on it. I say, ‘OK mind, I have this problem, and this is what I think about it – what do you think about it’. And my unconscious will throw up some mad information that turns out to be the key to the whole thing. It’s so powerful to be able to check in with the unconscious mind and ask ‘Look, this is what going on with me, is there anything going on back there that might help?’ and the answer comes out in meditation. If you’re not meditating, you don’t have access to those answers.
Think about it, if you take 5 or 10 or 15 minutes to meditate and nothing comes of it (which I don’t believe will happen) then at least you’ve given yourself 5 or 10 minutes to do nothing – you’re not on your phone, on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram – having 15 minutes to yourself is brilliant! It’s such a luxury. So, give yourself that and if nothing comes of it, so what?
Getting to know myself
Through meditation I’ve come to know myself better and there is power in that knowledge – when you know who you are you can manage yourself to achieve what you want.
For example, I’m a control freak. Through meditation I have come to know that there are positives and negatives of being a control freak. I have come to know that, when properly harnessed, being a control freak can be a great strength – it means that, as a producer, I don’t let things slip through the net. Being a control freak drives my efforts to get exactly what my clients want.
By harnessing my control freakery, I deliver for my clients. Then I get recommendations. Then I get more work. Then talented people want to work for me and with me. My business gets bigger and better and everyone gets paid. It’s a virtuous circle that started from asking my unconscious how to deal with what I thought was a negative character trait.
So now, if I feel I am being controlling, or otherwise acting like a psycho, I will stop, take a breath and ask my subconscious ‘why am I acting like this?’ This querying has led to answers that have forced me to take responsibility for problems I have caused and even to walking away from relationships having realised that the relationship was unsalvageable.
So getting to know yourself through meditation, through questions, by being honest, by making decisions (even harsh ones sometimes) – is the key to solving your real problems and becoming better able to manage yourself and your life.
Getting all the fake worry out of your life (aka the hypochondria) frees up so much space to ask these questions and get real clarity.
I found meditation eight days before my business, Bankhouse, opened its doors. Bankhouse snowballed and became very successful, very quickly. I don’t know if I would have been able to manage the success (and also the workload) if I hadn’t discovered meditation and got rid of those anxiety symptoms and excess worry. It was exactly the right time.
So maybe reading this blog post right now is the right time for you to discover meditation – I don’t know what’s going on in your life right now but by reading this I hope I’ve planted the seed. And, if you try it and it doesn’t work (or you think you’re going to die) – try again. And if it still doesn’t work – try a guided meditation, a meditation class, find a mentor. If I hadn’t given it another go after thinking it was going to kill me I don’t think I would be where I am now.
I promise you it won’t kill you and it will give you clarity, calm and access to the answers that are hidden in your unconscious mind.
Let me know if would like any advice on getting started or if you are already a seasoned meditator, what are your favorite meditation resources?
Check out a video below that I use regularly to help me meditate.