In my experience, and I’m pretty sure that psychological research would back me up on this, human beings don’t start new, helpful routines unless they are motivated. We tend to make sincere and lasting changes to our day-to-day lives only if we are at or nearing our tolerance threshold for emotional, psychological, or physical pain. For me, it was debilitating stress that brought me to mindfulness practices.
Have You Had Enough?
Depression had a way of sapping all my energy and joy. I was doing the same thing day in and day out, feeling trapped within the walls of my routine life and the negative thoughts that consumed me. My experience with anxiety was somewhat different. It was a frantic hailstorm of worries about things that might happen in the future. Similar to depression, anxiety would suck all the energy and joy out of my days. The thought loops seemed like an endless carousel of fearful negativity, or theoretical pessimism as I like to call it.
It took me a while (years) before I reached my personal pain threshold. I got to a point at which I cried out and said, “Enough is enough!” Every method of coping that I tried was not working in any meaningful or lasting way; I was in utter despair.
Finally acknowledging the pain that I was avoiding at all costs lit up my awareness; I had no choice but to face it. I noticed how often I would hold my breath or breathe very shallow. It was contributing to my asthma and my tendency to get sick during allergy season. So, my meditation practice started like this: Take one intentional deep breath every day, and feel it. Feel that I’m breathing in, feel that I’m breathing out. That was the beginning.
From there, I was introduced to Yoga. I have to admit, aside from the centering meditation before practice and the final resting pose at the end, formal meditation practice was still not of interest to me. Every time I would sit down, the endless thoughts would bubble up and overwhelm me. I couldn’t bear to sit with it. But, with continued practice, I began building the strength of my emotional resilience.
Because of my Yoga Teacher’s embodied wisdom through years of dedicated practice, I developed an interest in practicing meditation myself. It gave me a clearer, calmer mind and a more joyful presence. Being a recovering overachiever, I figured I could muscle my way through establishing a practice of my own. As much as I “knew” about how to meditate, I lacked the self-discipline to really go for it.
The Benefits of Finding a Teacher
In 2018, I had the opportunity to take the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class with Carol. Those eight weeks changed everything for me. With the benefit of a trusted outside authority, I had the impetus to make the consistent effort. I had invested in the class, and had given Carol permission to “tell me what to do.” As with Yoga, this was the motivation I needed to do the work.
The MBSR classes had the perfect pacing and order to support and guide a brand new or even somewhat experienced meditator. My rational mind was grateful to learn about neuroscience in layman’s terms. Carol introduced each type of practice with confidence, compassion, and a healthy dose of playfulness. We began with re-occupying our bodies through body scan practices and Yoga. It’s still amazing to me how much of my life was/is lived as a brain in a jar. Over time, she eased us into sitting practices with focal points such as the breath. We learned many informal practices as well, such as mindfully drinking a cup of coffee, brushing our teeth, or walking. The combination of formal and informal practices made it easier to incorporate mindful awareness throughout my day.
I cannot tell you that I no longer experience depression and anxiety. But, the difference is I no longer over-identify with them. I acknowledge them as emotions that come up from time to time, and I trust that they won’t stay forever. I continue to strengthen my emotional resilience through formal practices, Yoga, and mindfulness of daily activities. Because of this, the heavy emotions don’t hit me as hard, and they don’t last as long. In fact, I find myself being magnetically drawn to my practice. It has become a resting space for my being when life gets challenging.
Where Do I Start?
So, as any wise teacher would tell you, the place to start is where you are. If you find that you are nearing your pain threshold, I invite you to try out a beginner’s workshop with Carol, April, or Lori. Or, dive right into one of the 8-week courses like I did. What do you have to lose? Or maybe the better question is, what do you stand to gain?