Meditation – You, Unplugged.
As 2013 drew to a close, I found myself feeling reflective. The year had been difficult for my family. My husband, who had been diagnosed with cancer the previous year, had just endured yet another surgery, and my daughter was emotionally and physically exhausted from a two-year battle with a serious illness.
I admit, I was feeling exhausted myself. The illnesses plaguing my husband and daughter required frequent hospitalizations, which often occurred simultaneously and in different health care facilities. I often found myself driving between hospitals several times in one day, all the while consumed with worry. There were times when both of their lives seemed precarious, and the prospect of losing them was beyond terrifying. I also fretted over my other two children, both young teenagers, who were home without me. Were they eating their vegetables and doing their homework? Were they feeling neglected?
One evening after crawling exhaustedly into bed, the telephone rang. It was an old friend who wanted to offer her concern. I tried to tell her how I was feeling, but found myself verbally groping for adequate words. The only analogy that seemed remotely passable was one of a twig being tossed on the surface of a rushing river – sucked into whirlpools, knocked against stones, and trapped amidst the flotsam. I, of course, was the twig.
My friend’s reply shocked me: “Have you tried meditation?”
Meditation? I thought. Is she for real? I’ll admit, I was more than surprised by her suggestion – I was offended. If she thought such a practice could possibly make a difference in my world, she obviously didn’t get the whole ‘twig in a river’ analogy.
Not long after that phone call, however, I realized that unless I wanted to be the next poster girl for burn-out, my life had to change. Burn-out wasn’t an option – I was the only healthy parent of three kids, and they needed me. I couldn’t restore my husband’s or daughter’s health no matter how deeply I wished it, nor could I squeeze one more hour from the twenty four we’re all allotted, so what could I do? I realized the only thing I within my realm of control was my perspective. I could no longer be that twig, helplessly embroiled in the churn of the river. I needed to become the river – able to adapt to the changing form of my life with the fluidity and grace of water, while somehow maintaining the innate qualities that made me ‘me.’
Generally speaking, I didn’t tend toward Zen-like realizations. The mental noise associated with my roles of employee, wife, and mother often left me distracted and prone to emotional surface-skimming, but the trying circumstances in which I found myself brought out my inner philosopher. Perhaps that’s why my friend’s meditation suggestion came back to me.
It was time to do some research.
First of all, what is meditation? From what I’ve learned, I’d describe it as ‘You, Unplugged.’ Through meditation, you can train yourself to sink beneath the noise, demands, and anxieties of everyday life. A regular meditation practice allows you to come to absolute stillness within. It’s like discovering an internal fuel source you didn’t know you had. Experts on the subject tell us that through meditation, we find personal truths that resonate with our own lives, the emotional balance we need to obtain an elevated perspective, and an insusceptibility to the turmoil that might otherwise suck us into its current (remember that twig in the river? Take it from me, you don’t want to be that twig.)
I hear what you’re saying . . . Meditation? Are you kidding me? Every time I sit still my mind goes into overdrive! That’s okay. In fact, if it was any different, I’d worry you were brain-dead. Just remember that it’s not only possible to practice meditation when your life feels crazy, it’s vital.
So, how do you learn to meditate? Many yoga studios offer classes in meditation, or if you’d rather practice in your own home, you can access a wealth of programs via the internet. I’ve found the courses offered by Deepak Choprah (www.deepakchoprah.com) to be particularly helpful. There are also numerous guided meditations available free of charge on YouTube, some a few minutes long, others much longer. These are amazingly helpful if you’re having trouble sleeping or are plagued with anxieties. Spend some time online to find the program or series that works best for you.
I’ve also found that ordinary chores, such as washing dishes, can become meditative when approached with a mindful attitude. First, turn off your tech! Follow by lighting a candle and placing it on the window sill and put on some soft music. Now, feel the comforting warmth of the water against your skin; notice the glisten of the candlelight in the bubbles; feel the sense of accomplishment as once-dirty dishware emerges from the water clean and shining. Who cares if you look hokey? This is all about moments of peace, carved out of a world designed to snatch them from you. I bet you feel different about the dishes you just washed, didn’t you? Now, try the same practice as you wash the floor, ride the elevator to work, stand in line at the DMV. It’s possible to bringing a mindful and meditative attitude to numerous tasks we perform on a daily basis, and you’ll be amazed at how your frustrations evaporate.
Meditation can lower your stress level, help you face both the daily grind and the unexpected extremities of life, and increase your productivity, because let’s face it, it’s impossible to accomplish anything to full potential when your stomach’s in knots and your brain is racing. Experts tell us it can even fight symptoms of depression and anxiety disorder, and insomnia? Forget about it.
Personally, developing a practice of meditation has changed me dramatically, even though the landscape of my life remains largely unchanged. My family members still struggle with health challenges, and that’s beyond my spectrum of control. My reactions, however, are a firmly within that spectrum. I’m a different person than I was a year ago. I carry a peaceful stillness inside that allows me to face unwanted news from doctors (and most recently, plumbers,) with a measure of acceptance and a quiet assurance that keeps me steady. My children are calmer because they see me ‘handling’ things, and I’m steadily moving toward being the mother they need me to be and the person I always hoped I’d become.
And the most surprising thing I learned through mediation? I always had the know-how for these changes inside (and so do you,) but like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, I just didn’t know it. Meditation simply handed me the roadmap.