When Vanessa Potter woke up one day to find herself blind and paralyzed, she was stunned to discover that it was meditating, not drugs, that saved her mind. Convinced she had more to learn, she embarked on her own consciousness road-trip, exploring the major schools of meditation. It is thus that she found her way to St John’s Christian meditation group. Read the excerpt below to see how it went!
Finding My Right Mind by Vanessa Potter
Rushing into the vestry of my local church my heart sank. The silent meditation group I had hoped to join, had already started. As the heavy door closed behind me I scanned the six people already seated motionless in a circle. There was an air of heavy contemplation as I padded past eyes that twitched behind closed lids. Perching on a spare chair I extracted a contraption that resembled a sci-fi prop from my bag and placed it on my head. This was an EEG (electroencephalography) headset that would record my live brain activity as I meditated with the group. All I had to do was activate the headset, however, the moment I switched my phone on, an electronic bing echoed around the room.
‘Shit! ’I mouthed silently.
The last thing I wanted to do now was meditate — my heart was racing and my face was flushed. Closing my eyes I tried to focus on the mantra I had been taught at the previous Christian meditation session. Mara-natha, I repeated the word silent inside my mind. Soon my heart slowed and my breathing settled. Then suddenly, I heard a small voice.
‘Shh. You can’t.’
It was a comedy shush, loud enough to permeate the heavy oak door. I held my breath, praying that my children would go back to the books I had left them at the children’s table at the back of the church.
‘Don’t! ’I heard my daughter whisper again as the unmistakable sound of a chair being dragged across stone flags forced me to my feet. Ripping off the headset, I grabbed my bag and fled the room. I held in any rebuke until we reached the car park, where I yelled like a woman possessed. As I stood panting and glaring at my children, my son cocked his head to one side. ‘Mummy, isn’t meditating supposed to make you all calm?’
Of course he had a point, but I wasn’t ready then, for that insight to come from an eight-year-old child. Personal epiphanies can happen at any time and often without warning. Mine happened in 2012 at age forty, when a mystery illness rendered me blind and paralysed for the best part of a year. However, it wasn’t my blindness that offered the insight — it was my response to it. It was the transformation inside my brain that drove me to extraordinary lengths to understand and attempt to harness, the innate power of my own mind.
My illness had opened up the spirituality doors and in 2017 I began a meditation experiment with Cambridge neuroscientists. For the next three years I explored ten different ways to ‘train my mind’ while wearing an EEG headset that recorded my brain activity via electrodes on my scalp. Each techniques impacted my life in varying ways — from the strict seated practice of Zazen (part of Zen Buddhism) to Christian meditation to visualising a feisty green goddess called Tara for a Tibetan tantric practice. I explored self-hypnosis, compassion, kundalini yoga and breath work. I attended a 10-day silent retreat and finally a legal psychedelics retreat. By becoming a human guinea pig I learnt new ways to accept my failings, heal past wounds and overcome insomnia. These days my children tell me I don’t shout as much.
And yet, meditation is not a panacea. Finding the right technique didn’t eliminate stressors from my life, but I do manage them better. Meditation is not one-size-fits-all and it’s okay to take a bespoke approach to helping yourself. My exploration resulted in a book, Finding My Right Mind: One Woman’s Experiment to put Meditation to the Test, which provides a roadmap for anyone else wishing to embark upon their own spiritual journey.
Finding My Right Mind: One Woman’s Experiment to Put Meditation to the Test by Vanessa Potter www.vanessapotter.com published 29th April through Trigger/Welbeck Publishing. http://www.instagram.com/vanessapotterwrites http://www.twitter.com/patienth69
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You might also enjoy Vanessa’s podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/finding-your-right-mind-with-vanessa-potter/id1543205446