Rising over the mountains and placed amongst a canvas of navy blue sky and grey-bellied clouds, the moon begins its cyclical journey once more. I’m sitting on my bed as I decide to open my window. Outside, the Mojave air gusts in excitement, and as nightfall descends, I think of the nocturnal creatures leaving their holes, ready to continue their evolutionary gambit. The air is harsh tonight. It is a combination of whirls and exasperated bellowing, quickly rising in speed, and eventually dissipating. I hear the zooming of cars—the friction of tires against concrete and the unstoppable force of steel careening against the wind, displacing any relative sense of calm.
The air conditioner begins to whir. Its electric hum accompanies the coral glow of my lamp. The soft light radiates from the corner of my room, creating a pinky-toned gradient against my bone-white walls. Another car goes by, a whoosh in the background. Oddly, there is no barking tonight.
The air smells faintly earthly, a fierce mix of heat and pollution. Notes of dirt, dust, and pollen clinging to invisible strands. Smells of routine, anxiety, and stress.
I close my eyes. There are no cars now. The low rumble of the air conditioner shuts off and the glow of my lamp becomes muddled, now just a tinge of incomprehensible orange beyond my eyelids. I hear only the wind, as a comforting black engulfs my vision.
Sitting cross-legged, I lay my palms against my knees, feeling my fingers rub against the contours of my skin, veins of indented flesh. Slowly, I begin listening to my breath.
First a rising. Starting from the lungs and inhaling through my nose, I feel my chest expand as my body motions itself upwards. A stream of oxygen rushes through my nerves at incredible force, eventually crowning the top of my head. It feels like it's going to push through, the way tufts of fresh grass erupt from newly laid soil or how newborn chicks break through their shells.
The Mojave wind rises again. A warmth finds its way inside the room, embracing me as I fall into my thoughts. They come in a series of quick, sporadic flashes: assignments due next week, burning sequoias along the west coast, absentee ballot requests on the coffee table downstairs, the grocery list clung to the refrigerator.
I pause. And as this noise enters my brain, eventually overwhelming me, I return to my breath and its rhythm, a biological metronome.
Exhaling through the nostrils, I allow the air to swirl in my belly, and as it sits there, unbridled thoughts enter my mind again. But before it has the opportunity to consume me, I bring the attention to my breath, allowing it to descend through my body until it reaches my toes.
I repeat this process for ten minutes, always focusing on my breath and listening to the sound of the wind as my only companion.
Every night, for the past five months, has been like this—a brief moment of environmental reflection followed by meditative practice.
At the height of the pandemic, I, and many others found ourselves secluded from the support systems we grew to uphold and cherish. Weekend nights with friends were now spent cloistered in bed, pondering an uncertain future. The usual routine of driving to my university in the morning and the pleasures of social interaction amongst my peers reduced to digital meetings and chat rooms.
The change in social dynamics was overwhelming. Physical spaces meticulously cultivated over a series of years were suddenly uprooted, and in its place was a void. Empty parks, vacant restaurants, and a foreboding silence over other once boisterous social areas became the norm. My thoughts were scattered as I tried to navigate my way through this new, scary, and seemingly apocalyptic world.
In Politics, Aristotle coined the belief that “Man is by nature a social animal.” Our survival, both mental and physical, are dependent upon others. This cooperation and the intrinsic need for mutual relationships are the driving forces within our communities. But when these relationships falter and we are forced to confide within ourselves, what practices can we put in place to reclaim the joy that’s been lost?
During moments of crisis, our sense of reality becomes warped. Disillusioned thinking leads us to do irrational things. We isolate ourselves, dwelling only on negative thoughts. And as we continue to ignore the problem, it’s only a matter of time before it eventually boils over, drowning us in misery.
I remember laying in bed. My thoughts were fuzzy. I had no sleep schedule and the semblance of a discernible routine was lost under intermittent moments of productivity, interlaced with delusional thinking. I wanted to sink into my sheets, letting the white linen envelop me in temporary comfort and security—anything to shield myself from facing the daunting reality of what awaited if I left my room. Back then, the wind, my surroundings, and breath meant nothing. Voluntary self-isolation and the fear of infection had taken its toll on my mental well-being, blanketing me in never-ending anxiety.
And as I stared at the ceiling, admiring the striations the stucco had left after my home’s construction, a spark within my mind brought me to action—a flash of hope, a thought telling me that my current state was not permanent, simply a challenge worth overcoming. It was sudden, and as I reflect upon this memory, somewhat unexplainable as if part of me knew the path I teetered towards would only bring depression guised as comfort. A change needed to happen for me to live again. Endless nights pondering the unknown was debilitating.
I yearned to reclaim my space. My sense of peace. My calm. Myself.
Recognizing the problem is the first step towards creating spaces within ourselves that value our mental, spiritual, and physical needs. Recognition is the momentary glimmer that brings about transformation and positive development. Within my life, this meant understanding that the negative thoughts I held over myself were the result of unhealthy coping systems fostered over the years.
Acknowledging the issue brings new clarity, enabling us to seek access to resources or practices geared towards quelling those ill feelings. This means finding ways within our lives that promote stability and allow us to reclaim the normalcy we desperately crave.
At first, the change I sought manifested itself in a series of small, yet effective ways. I had to establish a routine for myself that honored my immediate needs and desires.
Here are some changes I started with:
I pushed myself to leave the confines of my room.
I ate three meals a day.
I set an alarm for 10 PM every night reminding me it was bedtime.
Although simple, and seemingly unimpressive, taking these initiatives was vital to the success of creating a space within me that prioritized my mental health. The consistency of routine brought back the stability I desired. And as I continued this inward journey, reflecting upon my intentions, I found myself incorporating daily meditation and mindfulness towards my reinvented lifestyle.
Image: reflection ♾ - Picture by @abbey_lossing
Meditation and the act of mindfulness is a solitude-driven practice that is equal parts introspection and mental exercise. Usually done in a quiet and comfortable location, participants are forced to confront themselves during these periods of intense self-reflection. As Dr. Matthew Thorpe, a contributing writer for Healthline.com explains, by increasing one’s awareness for themselves, others, and their surroundings, they can reap the benefits of a “positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns, and increased pain tolerance.”
When in tandem with one another, meditation and mindfulness are powerful practices that ground us to the present moment. The goal of meditation and mindfulness is not to wipe one’s mind clear of all thoughts. Doing so is unrealistic and counterproductive to an enjoyable practice. Focusing on the breath and noticing when the mind has wandered, then returning to the breath again, is fundamental towards a successful meditative experience.
As we force ourselves to redirect our thoughts, we free ourselves of the anxiety and fear that plagues the unknown. We hone our intentions, focusing not on future events that await us a week from now, or tomorrow, but rather ask ourselves, “What’s the very next step? Not the one after that, but what’s next?”
The intensity of meditative practice is dependent on the individual. Finding your preferred length of mediation or what techniques you’d like to employ during your practice is integral to an experience that is not only joyful and long-lasting but honors your space and needs as well.
It was hard at first—slowing things down. So often, we find ourselves unknowingly living in our heads. We navigate our jumbled minds recalling past experiences, then jumping to uncertain futures, allowing potential fears multiply. However, recognizing how your mind works and noticing when it begins to wander is at the core of what meditation and mindfulness attempt to address. We do this to un-jumble our hardworking minds, setting our focus on specific tasks or assignments. Meditation and mindfulness allow us to bolster an inner space that values the relationships we have with ourselves.
So as I sit cross-legged, in my room, following my breath and listening to the harsh Mojave wind outside, I find comfort knowing the meditative practices I’ve put in place have brought ease back into my life. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and a decisive political election loom over us, meditation and mindfulness offer a sense of relief and stability during a time when we need it most.