I came to meditation, 16 years ago, out of necessity. I was working 70-hour weeks, achieving and striving, yet still worrying and planning. It was a cycle of “finish this project, get this promotion, or write this paper, and then you can relax,” but the “then” never came. I continued to push hard and fill my schedule. There was no space for self-care, rest, or creativity. My body rebelled: Stomach issues and irritable bowels; heartburn and constricted throat. Then came anxiety attacks. Lying down to sleep at night, my heart raced, my chest on fire, my skin crawled. The first time this happened, I thought it was a heart attack. The second time, I sobbed, just wanting the overwhelm to stop.
The intensity of my feelings was both scary and embarrassing. I feared for my life. At the same time, I appeared as someone who had everything together. How embarrassing to fall apart inside and yet how necessary: falling apart is what shook me awake. I committed to my own 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction class, as described in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living. Forty-five minutes per day of mindfulness practice: seated meditation, body scan, or yoga. Day by day, I came to know myself anew.
The changes weren’t immediate and grand, but they were steady and cumulative. Meditation gave me space to breathe. Mindfulness encouraged me to make more conscious choices. My choices included a variety of healing practices: therapy, writing, gardening, massage, yoga, self-portraiture, news freezes, and saying “no.” It’s hard to isolate any one of these changes (and they’ve occurred over 16 years). Still, I consider meditation a foundation of my life. It rescued me from overwhelming anxiety; it rewired my brain from “worrying mind” to a mind that’s more open, wise, and kind; it softened my heart and gave me courage to live life more true.
I share this as a message of hope and connection. Hope: Things can change; we can commit to ourselves and cultivate our own well-being. Connection: If you feel alone—lost in anxiety, frustration, or grief—I’m walking beside you. None of us has our shit together and we’re all okay. Ordinary life is an extraordinary practice in patience, humility, presence, and love. We're in this together, imperfect and beautiful; real and courageous.