Why Meditation is Important while Living Abroad
One evening, I was going down the street on my e-bike and saw a student leap down into the road in front of me without even looking to see if traffic was coming. I slowed and honked, and prepared to turn, but the man didn’t get out of the way. He just continued loping along, never once looking to see I was coming up behind him. I was stunned that I would have to pull the brakes and honk my horn because I might hit him.
When he suddenly realized I was about to run into him, instead of turning to the left or right, he did this awkward kind of jump further down the road in front of me. Twice. That was peculiar to me; even his self-preservation instincts didn’t guide him to move out of my path. He eventually managed to get out of my way, as though his discombobulated brain had finally realigned.
I continued on my way home, thinking about the way my perceptions could have shaped the way I reacted to that incident. Most of the time when something like this would have happened, I’d get irritated or angry. I would start cursing, muttering something disgusted like, “What the hell is wrong with that idiot?”
But as I have been continuing to practice mindfulness, and continuing to accept certain sorts of quirks in my mind, I’ve found that acceptance and a degree of empathy is much easier that mentally grating against everything I dislike or find irritating as I go about my day. The brain is a chaotic piece of technology, and deliberate training only tempers it.
Luckily, I have found a solution to efficiently acquiring this kind of training, and it has led to a much more fulfilling experience in my time abroad.
The program is called headspace.com. While I have only ever used the desktop version of the website, there is a popular app for the site available on Android and iPhone. The program features lists of guided meditation exercises, for different purposes and durations. Andy Puddicombe instructs each exercise, walking you through each of the steps.
While I had studied meditation before, and also tried using guided meditation recordings, they didn’t click with me as well as Andy’s. Now that I understand the methods, I can implement the steps all on my own, with only a reminder of when to stop so I can get back to my work.
Having access meditation recordings served in specific, bite-sized segments has allowed me to engage in the activity of sitting without it feeling it’s a blind pursuit. I started to understand the value of every mental exercise introduced, and how it might benefit myself as well as the people I interact with daily.
After sitting for ten minutes became a habit, I tried doing fifteen instead. The more time I spent on practicing mindfulness, the better I felt, and it wasn’t something thing hanging over my head anymore, like the obligation of work after a Sunday.
Just like I’ve heard some followers of Buddhism advise, you can see for yourself empirically if the practice of sitting has a pleasing effect. As soon as you go about other tasks, actually living in the moment, it’s quite a clear distinction. When your mind no longer desires to always to be doing something, you’ll find a new degree of calmness and purposefulness in your endeavors.
I feel that meditation is the most appropriate activity for coping with culture shock. Living in a place like China, where personal space isn’t always respected, it’s imperative to observe the mind. How we react, how we engage, and the attitude with which we choose to see the world has everything to do with clarifying our experiences. How you put these insights and observations to use is up to you.