I began experimenting with meditation while I was in graduate school. I was married (for the first time) and living in Massachusetts – about as far away from friends and family in California as I could get. While I was excited to be studying counseling and working with athletes, it was the first time I felt deeply depressed for a long period of time. I remember quite vividly my then husband looking at me one evening and saying, “You really aren’t happy, are you?”
I wasn’t. I am sure if I had gone to a therapist I would have been diagnosed with depression. Instead, I slept in until early afternoon when I didn’t have classes. I would get up and get out of the house just as my husband was getting off work. Sometimes I would pass him on the turnpike, as he drove home after working all day and I drove to the mall to shop, wander through Barnes and Noble, or go see a movie.
I was deeply unhappy.
Looking to make new connections, and sub-consciously searching for a grounding practice, I began attending a weekly yoga class. In addition I began to study meditation. Frequently you would find me in the new-age section of the local book store, coming home with several books on yoga, meditation, and spirituality.
I tried meditating while focusing on a candle flame. I enjoyed savasana during yoga. I read about the benefits of meditation during my stress management course. I was interested, drawn to meditation, yet unable to establish a meaningful practice.
My next real attempt at establishing a practice came in 2010, when my (second) marriage was on the rocks, I had two small children, and my mom was dying.
I was looking for something to help me stay present to what was going on around – and inside – me. I researched local meditation groups and centers. Eventually, I came across a free group that met at a time I was able attend. I was nervous about going, and wasn’t sure if it was open to newcomers, so I sent an email to the teacher. She replied, “Please join us.” I took it as the sign I was looking for.
Although I was nervous as I walked into the center, kicked off my shoes, and found my seat, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of ,”Yes. These are my people.” I was home.
I attended that weekly sit for several years. It was my space to breathe, to experience the stillness I needed so desperately in the whirlwind that was my life at that time.
Meditation was my anchor.
Mindful meditation helped me open myself to the impending death of my mom – I wanted to be open to the experience, not hide or avoid the pain of losing her. I worked on opening myself to the full experience of her death. I believe my practice helped me be lovingly present – along with my sister – as my mother took her last breath. I know what a gift that experience was, and it has taught me more than I can express in this post.
Mindful meditation also helped me sit with – and fully experience – the painful and complex emotions the demise of my marriage brought up for me. I wanted to be sure that before I made such a major change in my life – and the lives of my children – I was doing it from a place of calm and stillness, not anger, fear, or resentment. My practice sustained me during that challenging time.
Eventually, I began to deepen my understanding of meditation and mindfulness. I attended trainings at Mindful Schools , both their Mindfulness Fundamantals and K-5 Curriculum trainings. I began to incorporate mindfulness into my 4th-6th grade physical education classes and volunteered to bring mindfulness into the 1st-3rd grade classrooms as well. I love introducing students to the concept of mindfulness. I believe the work I have done to bring mindfulness into the lives of my students is some of the most meaningful work I have done.
I was also awarded a scholarship to the UC-Berkeley based Greater Good Science Center’s inaugural Summer Institute for Educators where I found myself, once again, amongst my people. Surrounded by fellow educators dedicated to developing the social-emotional lives of students (and, truth be told, teachers too!) I felt inspired. The experience deepened my respect for – and understanding of – the science behind mindfulness.
Mindfulness and meditation are now interwoven into the tapestry of my life. When I look back on the last five years I know without a doubt that mindfulness saved me. I am more resilient. I am wiser. I am more respectful of the power my thoughts hold, and how to gently acknowledge them and then let them go if need be. Am I a perfect meditator? No. Am I and expert now? Not by a long shot. But do I believe in the power of mindfulness to bring us to a higher level of functioning in the world? Yes. Do I believe it can help us live fuller, more healthy lives? Absolutely. Do I believe the benefits of mindfulness are accessible to each and every one of us? Without a doubt.
Since we moved into this home over two years ago I have had the idea to offer a mindfulness class here. We have a beautiful (underutilized) front room with hardwood floors and great light that I have wanted to use as a mindfulness and yoga studio from the beginning.
So that is what I am going to do.
I am going to offer a simple, basic introduction to mindfulness to friends and community members. I am excited by the possibilities. I look forward to sharing the merits of mindfulness and meditation with others. I can’t wait to tell you how it all turns out!
PS: If you would like to help me I have launched a gofundme campaign to help me purchase cushions, benches, and mats for the studio. If you are like me, it is uncomfortable to ask for help, but I chose to believe that when we put our good intentions out into the world miracles happen and pieces fall into place in surprising ways.