I have always had a blessed and privileged life and yet it was hard. Hard because of all the pressures and expectations I put on myself, the feelings of not ever being good enough and the voice of judgment and criticism having more airplay than was helpful. Hard because there was no stopping, no downtime, no space…… which meant physical exhaustion. The demands from my mind were constantly pushing me into doing… doing this and that, and then more this and that, mostly unsolicited, always important and urgent, incessant demands to essentially keep me busy and distracted from my feelings and being alone with myself.
I didn’t realise I was also living with a constant low level anxiety or ongoing worry about things; second guessing outcomes, over planning and over thinking. I was really out of touch with my feelings. It was only when there were a few extra stressful life events when this tendency to be anxious and ignore my feelings escalated that I realised this way of living was affecting my life so negatively.
While on the surface I had everything I could want, and more, these internal challenges consumed my life and so I didn’t experience the joy of the fortunate life I was living. I was stressed and frustrated at work due to always trying to get it right and never feeling good enough. I was exhausted at the end of each day from the mental energy expended trying to ‘hold it together’ (hyper vigilantly trying to get everything done and please everyone) along with not taking breaks. I was also operating from, and living primarily ‘in my head’. I was completely out of touch with my body. I didn’t listen to what my body had to tell me, nor did I honour its needs. This, in turn, affected my physical health and self-esteem.
Meditation, and yoga, has allowed me to change this way of living. This has happened through practicing qualities of mind in meditation that have then seeped into my life and shifted all the angst and energy drainers. There are a few qualities that come to mind when I consider what’s changed.
Responding rather than reacting: in the past I would be constantly reacting to life; triggered by a comment or situation. I’d find myself all amped up and ‘ready to fight’; emotions running high and my mind off with many, many thoughts. It could be as simple as an email advising of a change of work plans; or a passing comment; even a car cutting me off in traffic. I now very rarely react to these types of situations and if I do, I catch myself and realise it’s happening. Now, I have the ability to pause, or have some space between the trigger and what’s next. I’m able to consciously decide, or respond to the situation. In many cases the trigger has eased or somewhat disappeared. When it comes to traffic I am no longer bothered by the way other drivers are on the road. When someone says something which triggers me I now take a breath rather than hurl something back, getting caught up in emotion. This alone reduced my exhaustion, from not reacting to everyday life in this way.
New perspectives & kindness: I somehow have more of an ability to see things from the perspective of others. I was always pretty good at this however it’s now completely automatic. I might not know what’s going on in others lives but I do know there is more to it than I can imagine. So when the car cuts me off on the highway I don’t get riled up but rather consider they’re not doing it to annoy me but for some reason completely unknown to me. And if by some chance they are trying to annoy me I can choose whether to be annoyed or not. These days, when someone appears to be rude I am more able to be kind in my interactions with them. I find this to be a much more harmonious way to be living each day.
Acceptance: I expect the practice of sitting and being with what is in each moment, as I do when I meditate, has given me the ability to be more accepting of what’s going on in my life, and in myself. When I sit in meditation I spend time noticing sensations in my body, thoughts in my mind and where it wanders off to, aong with changes in my mood or emotion. I allow everything that presents, as I sit, to be okay. This has translated in my day to day life as an ability to accept, more freely, what is going on in my day to day life, without avoiding it with a distraction (think food, social media, cleaning). I still have a long way to go!
To listen: For so very long I hadn’t listened to my body. Meditation has shown me my body has so much to tell me, if I stop and listen. I can now notice sensations of tightness and tension in my body, and when these appear. I can consciously experience how I can release these, albeit very slowly for me, over time. I no longer have the tension headaches associated with this build up of stress in my body.
To be still: I was always a very busy person with very little downtime. If there was a time I’d sit down, I would 99.9% of the time bounce back up within a minute with something else to do (thanks to my ever vigilant mind thinking of ‘what else’ can be improved, to make things the elusive perfect!). In meditation I practice being still, as I sit. When a thought or sensation appears, I notice this, like I’m an observer of myself; interested in what is going on and any emotional charge encouraging me to act on my minds every whim. Each time I practice observing my thoughts without acting I’m cultivating this ability to be still. This has been my greatest gift; this ability to not be so affected by the mind doing its job; being able to discern whether I act on all it has to offer. I can now sit still on the couch and do nothing. This has been the most life changing aspect of meditation for me.
There are many more benefits and changes I’ve experienced and continue to. This is a quick reflection of what comes to mind when I reflect what’s changed in the last few years, for me.
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I run regular Introduction to Meditation Courses and Yoga Nidra sessions in the Melbourne Bayside area and CBD workplaces.