My 'No Frills' Mindfulness Journey.
If you knew me in my 20's it may come as a surprise to you that for the last 14 odd years I have practised mindfulness meditation on an almost daily basis, give or take the odd hangover or head cold. Each morning I set my alarm, go sit on a cushion (or sometimes lay down if I'm feeling crazy) and meditate! I focus my attention on the sensations of my breath, or the sounds outside, or my body and the pins and needles that always kick in after about 20 minutes.
When my mind wanders off, I bring it back, it goes again, I bring it back. I do this for about half an hour (depending on when my second alarm clock (my daughter of 2, Rita) starts shouting Anna (yes, she's already given up calling me mum!). Meditation for me isn't sexy, or fun, I would rather go running, or have a lie in, I still have thoughts that I am not “doing anything”, however I have learnt that these 30 minutes are the most important action I can take for myself.
15 years ago I was very good at being a “human doing”, neither particularly happy nor unhappy I was just getting on with things, busily going from one commitment to another, one relationship to another. I never really felt in control of my life, more a pinball responding to whatever life threw at me, not with much skill more just luck and rebound. I clearly remember the feeling of being totally exhausted, knowing that I had taken on too much, feeling broken, needing a few days of hibernation, cancelling on friends, not texting people, missing work with puny illnesses before I had the energy to get going at it again... and a few weeks later, after spinning in the hamster wheel, I would be back in the same place. I thought this was just how life was and I felt incredibly powerless to change.
When the opportunity to attend an 8 week mindfulness course at my work arose I was keen to get involved, mainly because it gave me a chance to shut my eyes whilst getting paid. Closing my eyes, sitting still, I've got this I thought...Haha, how wrong I was! During the course I quickly learnt my mind did nothing I wanted, it was full of judgements, stories, rubbish chatter, ruminating over worries or plans of what's to come. I was never feeling or thinking about the now. (I have since learnt that 58% of the time we are either thinking about the past or future. So if we live to 100 only 42 years we are here, in the present!).
Mid way through the course I felt like I had been punched in the face. I had cleaned my glasses and looking through them I didn't like the view! But I started to get a taste of how things could be. So I kept on meditating, looking blissfully angelic on the outside as my mind did somersaults inside, but I kept on. Slowly slowly things started to shift, I became less of a servant to my busy mind and started to feel a little bit more in the driving seat. I could see how my patterns of thinking and behaving were unhelpful habits that kept me trapped in behaviours that I didn't want. I started to feel I had a bit of space, and a choice, and I started to believe that the way I was living my life was, for once, sustainable.
So here I am, Still not enlightened! My mind still wanders, but I choose not to buy into it all the time. I still get angry, anxious and sad however these feeling no longer rule me when they show up and when they do I am able to recognise them for what they are, feeling, not facts, and not me. Negative emotions don't shake me like they used to, its like they have been watered down, and I bounce back so quickly I surprise myself sometimes!
Mindfulness has helped me with childbirth, with being a new mum as an expat without family support, the tough times have been tough, but “Okay”. Future challenges and losses are inevitable, I'm scared of these already, but I also know that things will also be Okay; mindfulness has given me the grounding to cope.
Mindfulness meditation has woken me up to my life and gave me the balls (or boobs) to live it, to feel it, and be with whatever it brings “we can't stop the waves, but we can learn to surf” and I am getting pretty good at surfing (unfortunately only metaphorically).