Before the start of nearly every week, my mom picks up her phone and looks through the messages of a WhatsApp group for weekend retreats. What first began as a short trip once a month evolved to a trip nearly every weekend, almost like a weekly routine she follows with more discipline than anything else.
“There’s a new trip to Siwa, do you want to come?” she once asked me as she handed me her phone to show me the pictures of the place. “It looks magical. Please come along to get your mind off everything.”
I told her I was ‘busy’. Not because I did not want to go, but because I was trapped in a mindset that believed comfort and rest can only come after all the work is completely done, and it always felt like the work was never done.
This all changed when I discovered Deepak Chopra – a holistic health coach and an alternative medicine advocate. I used to perceive meditation or holistic health in a very superficial sense, and associated it with typical Instagram photos of models with organic food, spa retreats or yoga classes by the beach. It was hard to take these kinds of practices seriously when I realized that most of them required a lot of money, and so it came off more as a lifestyle for the rich or a business rather than a true transformation in one’s sense of being.
But Chopra helped me realize that the key to healing and rest does not have to be about being surrounded by gorgeous scenery in the Maldives or seeing the stars sparkle above the mountains in a serene, quiet desert. It does not have to be about escaping to any retreat or place and then coming back to the same routine and same lifestyle. He helped me understand that it is not about the environment, but it is about the peace and state of awareness I hold within.
Even if I am in the middle of Cairo’s bustling streets where it is full of chaos and noise, I can still pause and carry a meditative state of mind. Because as long as we are living in this confusing, complex and big world of madness; as long as we are choosing to stay alive and serve others whether it is in our jobs or our families, then we will always have to face discomfort, drama, and stress.
The trick is to stay present in the discomfort, and to sail through the storms without trembling or constantly seeking an escape. This is also proved by science, as research has found that mindfulness techniques enables patients to “monitor and skillfully cope with discomfort associated with craving or negative affect.”
It may seem like a contradiction, but when you gently turn towards pain, you actually experience less of it.
One of my favourite techniques is the ‘I Am’ meditation. At the end of each day, I practice this meditation in my room listening to his meditation guides that are found on YouTube or the Chopra app.
Figuring out the most comfortable position comes over time, but later I realized that meditation doesn’t have to be about sitting in a specific pose or cross-legged, it can also be lying down or simply closing my eyes.
The purpose is to quieten down the ‘internal dialogue’ or the annoying voice that wraps us in a never-ending cycle of stories and thoughts, and to simply focus on observing the breath and repeating a single mantra (sound) to attain stillness.
There is a quote by Chopra that says, “meditation is a way of entering the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks a day.”
As the breath slows down, Chopra asks the questions: Who am I? What is my deepest desire? What is my true purpose? What am I grateful for?
Without answering these questions directly, the next step is to simply repeat “I am [your name]” over and over again as different emotions and sensations come up, whether it is memories from childhood or reconnecting with past experiences and selves, and simply letting all of these emotions to swim through without having any reaction to them.
Dissociate from the world and the surroundings, and simply let the music take you to where your heart desires. I usually visualize a serene and empty desert, and I sit there repeating the mantra “I am [my name]” slowly for a few minutes until I feel that I am immersed in a deeply relaxing state, where I am reconnecting with myself and God. This moment is always the most precious for me, because it revolves around simply me, my mind and my spirit. Away from the noise, and away from the world, I connect with the spirit of the universe through the sounds of nature in the meditation music.
This meditation allows me to create a connection with my deeper core self everyday, and to discover more and more things about myself that not even a real life experience can teach me.
My world is too fast, and too loud. But I am no longer going to let the noise derail me; instead, I am choosing to find the peace within, and move slowly as I observe every breath I take, and every emotion I feel deep inside.
Even if I am not able to physically travel with my mother to a retreat somewhere in Siwa or Dahab, I’ve learned to carry the feeling of serenity wherever I go and wherever I stay.
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