How Meditation Changed My Life | Mamata Venkat | TEDxWayPublicLibrary

How Meditation Changed My Life | Mamata Venkat | TEDxWayPublicLibrary


Translator: Tímea Hegyessy
Reviewer: Denise RQ Meditation has been a part of my life. Ever since I can remember, I personally have been practicing it
for the last 5 and a half years. I have been a trainer
for the last 8 months. But I will get into that
a little bit later. My college career has been
unconventional to say the least. I started out as pre-med, got halfway
through my freshman year in college, before realizing
that really wasn’t for me. I switched my major about 4 times before finally landing
on international studies and eventually choosing public health. I think it took me
a long time to figure out what I want to do with my life,
for a few reasons. One, I’d always struggled
with self-confidence, and I would set my standards
for myself so high, that anytime I failed to reach them, or I felt I wasn’t doing
what I was supposed to be doing, instead of finding strength
from that situation, I would beat myself up in falter. Two – my idea of success, happiness,
and satisfaction up until recently was completely misguided. We live in a world
that encourages this idea, that in order to be internally satisfied,
we have to rely on external circumstances. This is an idea that’s been
hammered into our heads, probably since we could understand what happiness, success,
and satisfaction were. Obviously, these are different concepts
for different people at different times. It could be the little things like spending time
with friends and family, or curling up with a good book; or getting good grades,
getting the job you want, finding the person you’re meant
to spend the rest of your life with. While all these things are great things, we’re still relying on things
outside of ourselves to make us happy. This idea of external substance creation
has been magnified with the increases in technology
and the advent of social media. We can’t really exist
without our devices anymore, it’s almost like our phones have become other body organs
that we can’t live without. No offense to anybody,
but I can guarantee, the second I’m done talking, the majority of you will subconsciously
reach for your phone and check your texts. (Laughter) And social media – social media has created this idea
of false happiness and satisfaction. Nobody wants to share
bad moments of their lives, none wants to share
their mistakes or their failures. So social media has made it seem that everyone is always successful,
and happy, satisfied all the time. What if things don’t go our way? What if don’t get the grade we want? What if the person we thought
to spend the rest of our lives with breaks up with us? Or we do get the job we want,
but there is a negative aspect to it? Like our boss sucks,
or we have a horrible co-worker. Suddenly, the concept
that was providing us with internal satisfaction,
externally is now negative. What I am realizing more and more is that not only is our success temporary
but our happiness is conditional. We are only happy or satisfied because something external
is making us happy and satisfied. We are never truly satisfied
for the sake of being satisfied. That’s where I realized
I was going wrong. Let me back up a little bit. Anybody who knows me knows my entire life I had been on
a one-way path to becoming a doctor. My family is filled with
medical professionals, and at age of 5, I declared
I was going to be just like them. Of course, my incredible Indian parents
let out a huge sigh of relief because they didn’t have
to convince me to go into medicine. For a long time,
that was what I wanted to do until I started learning more
about myself, my passions, and interests. Suddenly, becoming a doctor
was less of what I wanted to do, and more of what I felt obligated to do. Because my entire life I have been taught that in order to be successful
you have to be a doctor. I was always a weirdly compliant kid, I always knew my parents knew
what is best for me. So instead of being confident
to stand up for myself, I went along with it. Fast forward
to my freshman year of college: I was miserable. I was taking classes that I hated,
and I was doing poorly in them. The person I thought
I’d spend my life with broke up with me
the second he went to college. I was still living at home, so I felt like I wasn’t having
the normal college experience. After years of having a plan
and a direction for my life, all of a sudden, I was lost. When you go through hard times
or through a break-up, everybody tells you to get out,
do things for yourself. And I did, I’d hang out with friends, I would go curl up
with a book at a bookstore, I joined our Bollywood Fusion
dance team at school, I would get a massage. But those were temporary satisfactions. I would still come home and still feel
internally dissatisfied with myself. Social media became
the bane of my existence. I’d see my friends, my ex,
and all my classmates posting pictures
of their college adventures, their dormrooms, their new friends,
all these new things. I felt like a failure
for a couple of reasons. One – I didn’t have anything
to share on social media. I was still living at home, I didn’t feel like I was having
the conventional college experience. And two – as an Indian, I wasn’t meeting the standard of success
that had been dictated for me. I wasn’t doing well to become a doctor. But because that was all I knew
as success, I stuck with it, and my GPA and my self-esteem
failed as a reason. So how did I change this?
How did I turn my life around? Like I said, meditation has been a part
of my life ever since I can remember. My dad has been practicing
a form of meditation called Raja yoga, or yoga of the mind, for over 35 years. My mom started shortly
after they got married. Just like people go to church,
a temple, or a synagogue, meditation is my way of life;
it’s all I have ever known. I always knew I was going to start
practicing meditation at some point; I tried it a couple times
at my freshman year of college, but anything at that point that my parents
thought would be good for me, or it would help me get out
of the rut that I was in, I was completely rebellious against. Thankfully for me, very luckily,
I have incredible friends, and I have to show off pictures of them,
because they are my whole world. I was very lucky to have friends who were not only starting
their college careers, or they were halfway through
their college careers, but they were going through
similar things that I was, and they hadn’t built up the resistance
to mediation that I had. One of my friends convinced me to go
to a mediation retreat one weekend. At first, I cribbed, and I fussed, I wanted to stay in my own little bubble
of self-pity and misery. But in the end, I am so glad I went, because it was probably the best thing
that could happen to me. So what is meditation? I’m sure everybody here has a general idea
in their head of what it is, but just to give a few more definitions. “Meditation is an exercise
that trains your mind to regulate itself. It’s the ability to focus on one thing
continuously without break. If practiced properly and diligently, it’s a consistent reconnection
with your true inner self.” A lot of people brush
the concept of meditation aside because we think, “How do we function
without our thoughts?” “How do we get through our day
without thinking?” Other thing people don’t realize is just like our bodies
require physical activity to keep it strong, healthy, and active, our minds are muscles
that also require exercise and regulation to keep it strong, happy,
healthy, and active. A lot of times, people neglect their minds
because they forget this point. If you think meditation is hard,
you are absolutely right. It is very difficult
to get your brain to shut up for longer five seconds
and not think about something else. That is another reason
why people don’t try it out. The first time I sat down to meditate, it felt like every single thought I had
ever had in my 18 years of existence decided to come into my head
at that exact moment. No matter how many times
I tried to push them away, ignore my thoughts, or try
to get into a state of thoughtlessness, they kept coming back. I thought, “Why am I doing this? Another thing in life I am failing at;
why am I even trying?” The second time I sat down
to meditate during that retreat, my thoughts decreased by a quarter. The third time I sat down
to meditate during that retreat, they decreased by half. Gradually, it was as though I was starting
to see the world in High-Definiton. Not only could I see
my external circumstances very clearly but I was finally starting
to see my true inner self with the objectivity and clarity
that I not had ever before. The practice of meditation
that I am a part of prescribes meditating twice a day
for one hour each time. Once in the morning for an hour,
once in the evening for an hour. I will be totally honest,
it took me a very long time to get to a point
where I was consistent with this. Some days I was doing a really great job. I get up, I meditate,
I go to bed, and I meditate. Before I went bed
I would meditate, and I’d be fine. But other days,
more bad days than good days, I would just be downright lazy, and I would stay up all night
watching Ellen videos, and then wake up late the next morning
instead of meditating. My rationale for this was, “I’m young, I have the rest of my life
to work on my meditation practice, I don’t have more time
to watch Ellen videos.” (Laughter) But I think it took me a long time
to connect with my meditation practice because I wasn’t accustomed
to the silence that came with meditation. I think. as humans, we thrive on noise because it makes us feel
as we’re doing something. So I sit to meditate,
and about 5 to 10 minutes in, I would realize I was craving noise,
I needed some sort of distraction. So I’d give up on meditating, and I immediately reached
for my phone or for my laptop. What this taught me was
I had come to point where I hated silence. This also taught me
how loud my world was. Noise is not just sound or cacophony, noise is the frustration you feel
with a family member or a friend. It’s writer’s block, it’s not understanding
a concept at school. Anything is noise
if it is loud enough to distract us. When I realized
that I’d come to hate silence, it made me examine my routine;
I realized I couldn’t get through a day without sound, or noise,
or distractions of some sort. I would wake up in the morning,
and I would meditate half-heartedly before giving up because it got too hard. I would immediately reach
for my phone of for my laptop, and I would play music and videos while I was getting ready for school
or while I was eating breakfast. I’d drive to school with music on,
I’d get to class, I’d be fine; about halfway through class I’d zone out
thinking about the video I watched. There would be so much chaos
coming around me and in me because of my thoughts and distractions that I’d come home
and feel frustrated, and let out that frustration
on my family members not knowing what to do with it. I’d start my homework and feel frustrated because I wasn’t understanding
the concepts, but that’s because I had music
on the background. I try to sit down and meditate
at the end of the day, and I’d give up again because there was
so much going on in my head. I get annoyed when I couldn’t fall asleep,
and I get frustrated, because I felt like I wasn’t progressing
in my meditation practice. What this taught me was in order to create
a true connection with my inner self, I had to learn how to love silence. In order to learn how to love silence, I had to really use my willpower
and commit to my meditation practice. In order to sustain the love for silence
that I cultivated internally, my internal environment had to interact
with my external environment. The more and more I meditated, the more I started to learn
how to love silence internally, the more my internal environment
began to reflect my external environment. That’s when I started to see the changes
in myself that I wanted to see. So here are a few, “How meditation creates interaction –
the internal with the external.” Confidence — like I said earlier,
I’ve always lacked in self-confidence, but creating a consistent reconnection
with my inner self drove that fear of confidence away. Suddenly, I was able to
stand up for myself, I was feeling more confident
within myself, and it gave me the courage to eventually switch my major
to International Studies, and get rid of this idea that in order to be successful,
I have to do something big. Replacing the positive
with the negative — like I said before,
we may get the job that we want, but there is always going to be
something about it that is negative, or something, we don’t want to deal with. All of a sudden, the entire environment
becomes negative. Cultivating a connection
with my internal self through meditation has allowed me to see
the positive in any situation regardless of what it is. Exercise — not just exercise of the mind
but the exercise of the body. When you are taking care
of yourself internally, you are given the ability to take care
of yourself externally as well. Communication —
I seem like I talk a lot up here, but I am actually pretty non-assertive
most of the time, so by creating a connection with myself
through meditation constantly, I was able to say the things
I needed to say, speak up for myself when I needed to. Minimizing stress and anxiety — being able to create confidence in myself
made me take on challenges without any worry or fear. Staying in the present moment — it’s easier to live in the past,
it’s more fun to live in the future, but it’s better to stay in the moment. And that’s what meditation does for you. Compassion, tolerance, acceptance — being able to see everyone
as their true selves because of reconnecting with myself. Willpower — meditation is hard; but if you create the willpower to stop
your brain from thinking long enough, you can pretty much create the willpower
to do just about anything. The capacity to love — as corny as it sounds, the more and more
I was able to love myself, the more I was able to love
everything around me. There was only one time in my life when I really steered away
from my meditation practice: when I was working on President
Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. This is the day my dad and President Obama
went public with their bromance. (Laughter) Anybody who knows
anything about our campaign knows that the energy there is so strong that you really don’t need
much of anything else to sustain you. I realized I tried to take
the energy from this campaign and use it in my daily life. But once again, I was relying
on external circumstances to make me feel good internally. I got to do a lot of really cool things
in my senior year of college, I went abroad to study,
a trip to Europe to study Human Rights. I got to be in Wright State’s
accredited Model United Nations team, but it became less about
the big things that I was doing, and more about committing
to my meditation practice, committing to my internal self, making sure that all the values
I created within myself were expressed in everything I did, so I did what I was supposed to do
to the best of my abilities. When I was very fortunate to get
the internship with the United Nations, I carried that same mentality with me. So what I’m learning more and more is that we shouldn’t have to rely
on external circumstances to make ourselves internally satisfied. True success comes
when you take the time every single day to work on yourself internally, and cultivate the values
you want to see in yourself internally; then, being able to hold
on to those values and express them
in any external circumstance, whether they’d be positive or negative. One of my best friends, Suraj, actually recently wrote
a blog post about this. We think that changes
come to us as we get older; we think we’ll learn how to cook
when we move out, we’ll exercise more
when we really need it. But that’s not the case. We will learn how to cook
when we choose to. We’ll learn to work out and exercise
when we choose to work out and exercise. My internal sense of self
didn’t change until I made the choice to change my internal sense of self. To me, true success is being able
to learn about myself more and more, every single day
with my meditation practice; and using that and expressing it
in any situation that I am put in. Thank you. (Applause)