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Commentary: The Most Important 20 Minutes of My Day

Julian Abraham describes how sitting meditation helped him overcome depression.

JULIAN ABRAHAM: My daily routine is pretty standard. I eat breakfast, drink coffee, get to the gym (if I’m lucky) and go to class.

Then at the end of the day when I get back home, I sit on a small red and blue cushion, light incense, pick up a wooden stick, and hit a brass bowl.

(Singing bowl audio)

Then, I sit in silence, and for 20 minutes stare at the wall. When I’m done, I have a more reasonable sense of perspective, and find myself worrying less.

Today sitting mediation is the backbone of my life. And once, it helped me escape from a very dark place.

When I was 18, things were not going well. I won’t get into too much detail, but let's just say it was quite a bit beyond the usual mental health issues that teenagers often have. I had no plan for after high school. I couldn’t do anything competently except play the drums, so I figured I could join a band, but it was impossible. Just getting out bed out of every day was tough.

On a typical day in my senior year, I slept through my alarm, drove my parents’ car to school without permission, and parked illegally in a teacher’s parking spot. I walked into my Comparative World Religions class 30 minutes late. Talking to the class was a man I didn’t know–he didn’t look like the usual teacher, he was wearing light-washed jeans, with an unbuttoned flannel shirt. He was sitting on a metal classroom chair, comfortable and relaxed.

He said he was a monk, and that Buddhism wasn’t a religion as we knew it.

He explained how sitting meditation was fundamental to the Buddhist tradition,and to help us understand he would lead us through an exercise. He said: sit upright in your chair, and pick a spot about six feet in front of you, and softly gaze at it with half-closed eyes.

He asked us to breathe in, and relax on the out-breath, and keep going. Every time a thought comes in – just say in your head “oh, that’s thinking” and go back to the breath.

For the next few minutes,I made an earnest effort to try my best.

During the sitting mediation, there was an argument in the hallway outside our classroom. It sounded like a teacher reprimanding a student.

Normally, this would trigger a response in me – choosing which person’s side I want to take in the fight, but that didn’t happen. I just went back to the breath.

After about ten minutes of sitting and breathing, for the first time in a long while I felt I was able to think without annoying distractions or anger.

The rest of that day was a lot more pleasant than the days had been lately. I rushed home after school and did a bunch of research on meditation, mainly using Wikipedia as a source. I just knew it was going to be my thing, even though I didn’t implement it right away.

The next few years were tough. Again, I don’t feel comfortable talking specifics, but I will say that I had clinical-level depression and anxiety disorders that were causing some serious problems in my life.

But if I was having a really down day -- if I could muster up the strength to confront my thoughts, I would sit and practice meditation for 20 minutes.

And the more often I did, the fewer bad days I had.

Soon enough the bad days only came once in a while, and eventually, almost never.

I was able to finish university – something I never thought was possible.

I wound up working in media, and my career started to actually come together. I was able to do my work in a creative way, and solve problems calmly. The deeper I got into my meditation practice, the better things seemed to go.

Fast forward to now. I do twenty minutes of meditation every week-day, and the effects are amazing. But, in case it needed to be said: I’m not perfect. I procrastinate sometimes, drink too much coffee, don’t stretch properly after the gym, and still get angry!

But I went from barely being able to operate in society – to a place where I feel like I have a fighting chance at a good life. For this, I’m so thankful I discovered meditation.

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