I have had many opportunities this year to practice mindfulness: repairing my relationship with a newly-minted middle-schooler, moving twice AND moving my disabled mother in with me, navigating working at a new school with a ton of responsibility, leaving friends, recovering from knee surgery, staying single for the first year since I was 18, living on my own again, . . . it is a long list of new, new, new. But this year, this year topped them all.
My life has been a life of transition after transition after transition since my divorce, roughly nine years ago. I used to ask myself why? I used to have moments where I wallowed in secret despair and hopelessness, just immersing myself in self-pity and frustration. I found myself fighting those feelings and judging myself. The drill sergeant in my head pointed his finger and screamed and beat me back with a barrage of insults. The words hammered into my brain over and over. You are a failure. You are weak. You are worthless. The tides of my emotions roared through me inexplicably; the stronger I fought to tamp them down, the wilder and more erratic they became. It was like a raging tsunami, craving destruction, and I was the only one in its path.
The culminating moment of my despair, my rock bottom, came about two years ago. I found myself in my bathroom, hiding from the cold gaze of my then-partner, a pocket knife in hand as I carved long, red lines across my upper thighs. The depression was so deep that, if not for my kids, I would have found a more permanent way out. I felt trapped in a loveless relationship; I was a prisoner to my finances and my relentless need to become who he wanted me to be. Every time I would reach out to him, he would put up a wall of apathy and disinterest. When his neglect and veiled insults overwhelmed me, and I broke down in tears, he would just stare at me in disgust and leave the room. How did I keep attaching myself to relationships that left me broken and bleeding?
It was that moment I knew I needed to change. I needed to change for my children but, mostly, I needed to change for myself. I realized I couldn’t continue living if this was the life that awaited me each day. I started therapy and from the beginning, my therapist strongly suggested meditating at least 3 minutes each day. What the hell? I balked at her (inwardly). How could I sit and quiet my mind for even 30 seconds? My mind was a racetrack. My thoughts never stopped. I was sleep-deprived from the relentless scheduler in my head that refused to sleep.
But . . . I did it. I found time in my car before work to meditate almost every day. I know people walked by and probably thought I was absolutely ridiculous. I swallowed my pride and fear of people’s judgement, and I practiced and practiced and practiced. I found myself using my meditation in times of high stress, using a body scan to calm myself before making rash decisions. It became not only a scheduled practice but a necessary part of my life.
And then, several months later, after sitting with myself, I started to notice things I hadn’t noticed before. I noticed how I was feeling in small moments. I began to feel present. This self-awareness startled and unnerved me. Meditation led me to acknowledge the messiness in my life, the moments I felt utterly out of control and the moments I loved life and the moments I felt uncomfortable. I had to face myself. I couldn’t hide from me anymore.
Meditation was the start of my mindfulness practice. With the help of my therapist, and recovery, and some really good literature (shout out to Eckhart Tolle), I began acknowledging emotions instead of fighting them. I began to find the power in my vulnerability. I realized that being vulnerable saves me from trying to manage my life and giving my addictions all the power. The depression, over-eating, self-harm were revealed as behaviors that I used to sedate myself from myself. Acceptance of my emotions gave me space to learn self-care and self-awareness. It gave me space to sit, think, and then, act.
Eckhart Tolle references this space. He says, “That space, of course, comes when there is inner acceptance of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment.”
“There is nothing you can do about the fact that at this moment this is what you feel. Now, instead of wanting this moment to be different from the way it is, which adds more pain to the pain that is already there, is it possible for you to completely accept that this is what you feel right now?”
I found that the moment we stop giving power to the painful emotions by no longer “trying to resist them,” we keep them from controlling us. I realized that I was lonely, even in a relationship where I was the most financially stable I had been in years, I was still lonely. I began to accept that loneliness and stopped trying to run away from it. The meditation helped me hear myself. The acceptance of myself and my emotions and my loneliness helped me find a mindful way to deal with the parts of my life that weren’t so savory. Eventually, this self-awareness and acceptance opened my eyes to the acceptable losses in my life. The losses that I might need to initiate in order to bring freedom to myself. My partner was one of those losses. I found the power of walking away. I found the freedom of no longer trying to change myself in order to please someone else. I found the space to search for real connection with myself.
There are acceptable losses in our lives, places where we have to lose in order to win ourselves back.-TheMomChronicle
Sometimes, people see acceptance of a current situation as losing, but if you accept it and listen to what it’s trying to teach you, acceptance becomes the beginning of new growth.
Meditation has this reputation as some weird Eastern practice, a strange ritual that is too far out there for many, but I think many people are unwilling to try meditation because it requires them to sit alone, and when you’re alone, you can hear your thoughts. You can really hear what’s rattling around on the inside. You can’t run from it. You can’t hide your true intentions, your inhibitions, your inadequacies. It is all right there; you are transparent to the most important person in your life: yourself. If you want to live an aware life, a regular meditation practice can teach you how to slow down the white noise and really tune in to the world around you and your response to that world.
One of the most useful lessons I have learned through daily meditation – emotions are like waves. They will pass. Even though you feel them, they will pass. As Leo Tolstoy says, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
The interesting thing about this year? After a year of addressing my loneliness by staying single and listening to myself and working on my own recovery, I handled the chaos and uncertainty gracefully. For the first time in my life, I understood myself. I began to understand the patterns that motivated my behaviors and elicited such strong emotions. My journey to understanding began with meditation that opened up space for acceptance. I accepted where I was and from that acceptance grew an awareness that I wanted change.