A reflection on my daily meditation habit over the last three months.
Sunday, January 13 was what I hoped would be rock bottom for my mental health; I had three panic attacks and some suicidal ideation. I was tired of the struggle and the burden I felt I was on everyone else, especially my wife. Monday, January 14, I went to work with an overnight bag. I left work in the afternoon and drove to the nearest hospital with a psych ward, called my wife to let her know what I was doing, and then admitted myself for the night. The psychiatrist asked if I would be safe if I went home, and I replied that I would because my wife was there, but I was done putting it all on her, and I did not feel safe being on my own. I stayed one night, and then drove home and slept 12 hours the next night.
On Wednesday, January 16, I had a meeting with the VP of People & Great Work (HR). Unexpectedly, I told her about my condition and situation. She was kind and supportive and I felt encouraged to keep going. That night, I had a hard time falling asleep. I decided to research which meditation app would be the right fit for me. When I was at the hospital, the psychiatrist recommended that I start meditating regularly, which I had never done before. After some research, I landed on Calm, and that night I fell asleep to Stephen Fry reading a story about fields of lavender.
Since that day, I have done some kind of meditation using the Calm app every single day. A week or so ago, I realized that I had not done my daily meditation and was at risk of breaking my 80+ day streak. It is a good thing for my brain to sit with the distress of breaking a rule that it has created for me, and I almost went to bed without doing anything to intentionally break the streak. Instead, I introduced some uncertainty. I listened to a “Sleep Story” to fall asleep that night, not knowing if that would count to continue my streak or not. It did, so my streak is alive and well. This is a streak that I am more comfortable with than most because it is not so much something that I must do every day, as something that I want to do every day. If I miss a day and break the streak, I will be sad, and I will certainly feel some distress (I feel some just writing about the possibility!), but I will not be crushed.
The biggest skill that I have gained from meditation is gentleness. Because I have 90 days of Tamara Levitt playing in my head, encouraging me to return to the breath without judgment, when something comes up that would inspire judgment and harsh feelings, I have a sound bite to play to encourage me to be gentle with myself.
I have learned to accept the impermanence of experiences, particularly emotions. It is much easier to sit with an emotion when you know at a deep level that it will not last forever. This allows you to fully enjoy positive emotions, and not shy away from painful ones. I still have further to go on this road, but as my emotional self learns to trust that nothing will last forever, I am not as reliant on my intellectual self to make a rational pitch.
My 2019 goals are to 1) be intentional, 2) be present, and 3) be curious. A daily meditation practice has helped with all three of these, but especially with being present. I have found myself trying to focus in the shower on the sensations of the water hitting my body, the feel of the steam, and the smell of shampoo, instead of planning for the day. I still feel like an awkward novice, but I am at least more aware of the opportunities to practice.
As I continue to learn to accept the present moment as it is, I find myself better able to shed expectations and the distress that often accompanies them. Instead, I am able to approach situations with curiosity. Not what should happen right now, but what is happening right now?
Finally, I feel that this practice has helped me to be more able to learn from my experiences. Often, we say that hindsight is 20/20 — we only understand the lessons that life offers us through reflection. As I build the skill of reflecting on the present moment, I gain the ability to notice and learn immediately. Much of my work over the past few months of treating my OCD is getting to know myself, and I am thrilled with the idea of speeding that process up.
Meditation may or may not be the answer in your quest for mindfulness. I have found it to be valuable in my life, and have already seen great benefits from increased mindfulness. I hope that you might as well.