It’s 2012. I’m sitting on a cushion in a small yoga studio in the suburbs of London. My eyes are closed, my hands are resting on my knees. I am trying to breathe in and out.
‘And now, imagine this lovely, healing energy enveloping your body when you breathe in’ – says my teacher with a calm voice.
I am getting irritated. ‘What energy? How does it look like? Does it have a colour? How am I supposed to imagine it exactly? Should it feel good? Should I feel anything?’ It’s annoying. Even more annoying is the fact that everyone in the group seems to be getting it. I squint my eyes to see them and they are all sitting there with smiles on their faces, looking so freakin’ calm. I’m not very zen right now!
To me meditation is a torture. It’s not only about the fact that I can’t imagine this ‘lovely, healing energy’ and that it sounds like a total crap to me, but also it’s about feeling like a total failure. I’ve been told that I have to keep my mind still, that I need to accept the thoughts as they come and go, and that I have to focus on my breath. I can’t do any of those things. Sitting still like that is a horrible experience for me and I hate it. I hate it so much that I stop coming to the meditation and yoga classes. I’ve had enough of the bull crap. I sign up to the gym instead.
A couple of years has passed since then. I actually love yoga so much that wherever I lived, I always found a studio, which wasn’t too hippie and I could do the exercises, without the woo-woo side.
(Don’t get me wrong here. Part of me is spiritual, but there are things that I need to understand and they need to be explained to me. I just can’t imagine the ‘lovely, healing energy’. It’s just a bit abstract to me.)
Last year I also tried meditation with some apps, including the popular Headspace. It was ok, but my monkey brain was jumping from one thought to another and I was convinced that meditation is not for me.
This is a rather long intro, but I wanted you to get the idea of how I felt about meditation and what an impact the stay at Valencia Mindfulness Retreat had on me and my approach.
Valencia Mindfulness Retreat is hidden in the oldest street of Valencia and it’s one of the most pleasant places I have stayed at. Dany and Thijs have owned the place for over a decade now, welcoming guests from all over the world. Their friendliness and warmth are visible in every corner of this little B&B and the quirky interior makes it a truly interesting and special place to stay while in Valencia.
Thijs and Dany were so kind to invite me to stay for a couple of nights at their place. I took Chris with me to keep me company. He loves to meditate, so as soon as he saw that there was a daily morning meditation at the Retreat, he wanted to do it and I decided to join him.
Our first session started with Thijs explaining everything to us: what meditation is and how it works, or rather how it should work.
‘People often say that you should clear your mind of thoughts, that you should watch your thoughts come and go’ – he said – ‘That’s impossible. You can’t clear your mind entirely, but you can focus on something’.
OK, this was getting somewhere and I liked it.
Thijs proceeded to tell us about different ways we can do to focus on things, like listening to your surroundings and acknowledging what you hear. You hear a car, you say to yourself that it’s a car driving nearby, you hear a baby cry, you acknowledge that.
Another way of focussing, which I really liked, was to sing in your thoughts or recite a poem. ‘You can just try to sing Madonna’s songs. You’ll be surprised how many of them you know’ – he said with a wide smile – ‘People also say prayers. If you’re religious, you can do that.’ Makes sense, right? What is a prayer if not a form of meditation?
We finally sat on our cushions and I could even lean against a wall. Thijs explained that it’s allowed to move during the meditation and correct your posture if your back hurts. I liked his human, normal approach.
I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the sounds outside. Then, I sang in my thoughts, focussing on lyrics, trying to remember all the children’s songs I used to sing when I was a child.
I was actually doing quite well, but at the end I was getting anxious. ‘This is horrible’ – I thought ‘I will start screaming in a moment’. My mind went a bit nuts. I was trying hard not to open my eyes and not to leave. But a moment later, a quiet bell rang and we were done!
I felt pretty refreshed.
‘How long was it, do you think?’ – asked Thijs after. I was pretty sure the meditation lasted 15 minutes and I was very surprised when I heard it was actually 30 minutes!
I did 30 minutes of meditation!! I couldn’t believe it!
I loved the whole thing so much that I went back for another session the next day, which was also really good. Since then I’ve been meditating very often. I don’t do it every day, but I try to remember about it whenever I have some time. It helps me to sit still for a bit, focus on something else than the past and the future.
I haven’t changed in one day. It’s still hard for me, it is work, but at least now I know that I’m not rubbish at it. I’m totally normal and I don’t need to imagine the ‘lovely, healing energy’. I can just sing a Madonna’s song and that’s totally alright.
If you are going to Valencia and would like to stay somewhere truly special, book your stay at Bed and Breakfast Valencia Mindfulness Retreat. You don’t need to meditate, if you don’t want to, but if you would like to spend some time in a relaxing atmosphere, this is the place to stay!
My Travel Diary is a series of post about my person experiences and about places I see and people I meet. It is free of any affiliate links.