Meditation and Me
It’s been almost three years now, and I can tell you it has been genuinely life-changing. I aim to meditate every day. Often I fail, but I have managed to pretty well stay on track most of the time, even if sometimes I only get in ten minutes or so before getting out of bed. It’s not the fact that my life has changed as such. What has changed is the way I see my life. This has altered beyond recognition, and I can tell you that it is SO much better. Let me start at the beginning.
If you knew me, you’d say I was not the type to meditate. It’s true, and for most of my life, it wasn’t something that would have occurred to me. For me it was all about career, bringing up the kids, commuting, and all the usual chaotic juggling and crisis management that your average working mother calls everyday life. So what changed? It certainly wasn’t the fact that I’d read about CEOs, celebrities or eastern gurus doing it. It wasn’t even that I’d started to read about the health and other benefits that regular meditation was supposed to bring. No. What got me thinking seriously about meditation was seeing the effect it was ‘having on’ a good friend of mine. Let’s call her Amy. Without wishing to hurt anyone’s feelings here, I have to tell you that Amy, whom I have known since childhood was a miserable, belligerent type who woke up every morning looking for a reason to be negative. She didn’t have a good word to say about anyone. Then Amy changed. The change was profound. It’s not just that she seemed to have visibly chilled, but she became noticeably more accepting of others and more willing to expand her horizons. So I asked her what had changed and she told me she had done a mindfulness course at the Buddhist Centre. That got me thinking. Maybe there was something to be gained from meditating.
So I enrolled in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction course. It cost less than a weekend away, and I thought that at the least I’d get to spend some evenings meeting interesting people rather than slumped in front of the TV eating cheese sandwiches and crisps.
Twelve of us met once a week for two and a half hours. We practised guided meditations and learned about stress hormones, happy hormones and more. We were given daily guided meditations to listen to as homework. Most importantly we were set weekly challenges aimed at making us more mindful of the present moment. Mindfulness is about learning to live in the present. It’s about facing the bad stuff rather than trying (and failing) to push it away. It’s about engaging fully in whatever you’re doing at any given moment, whether that’s spending time with the kids, buttering a piece of toast or chairing a meeting. We waste far too much of our waking lives ruminating about the past, which cannot be changed and worrying about a future which is entirely fictitious. Mindfulness, we were told, could address this problem.
At first, I didn’t notice any change, and it was hard work making the time to do about 30 minute’s daily practice. Was I wasting my time and money? But I started enjoying the practices and kept at it. After a few weeks I started, gradually to notice things. Not just the pretty leaves on the trees or the crisp softness of my duvet, although it was good to fully appreciate these simple pleasures. What changed was that I started to pay more attention to what I was saying and to how I reacted to negative situations. This noticing made me realise that I had a choice about how I would react. When the dark thoughts came crowding into my head at four in the morning, I could choose whether to pursue the cycle of negative thinking or not. At work, I felt more in control of how I would react to stressful situations. I was better able to control what I said. Wow! It’s no exaggeration to say that I became a bit closer to the person I wanted to be. People around me have started noticing the difference.
I still have bad days- who doesn’t? Sometimes, I’ll be honest here – I go for a couple of weeks without doing the daily practices. But when this happened I can feel myself slipping back into negative thinking patterns and worrying about the future. So I start again. I plan to make this a lifelong commitment. Those few extra minutes spent meditating each day have made my experience of life a better one. I won’t pretend to understand the science behind it. Ask any neuroscientist, and they will probably tell you that nobody understands how the brain works. But there just might be a good reason why humans have been meditating for thousands of years. Something that works doesn’t need to be understood. What matters is that it works.
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