When I mention the idea of mindfulness meditation, of consciously sitting with ourselves and observing our own inner world, the usual response I receive is along the lines of: “I like that idea but I can’t do that, I can’t quiet my mind.”
Mind racing anxiety plus the common trauma symptom of hypervigilence (aka feeling hyper alert which often leads to jumping at the slightest sound) and mindfulness meditation can seem like an exercise in scary.
Hypervigilence is a common response to trauma, when part of the mind thinks that we are still in danger. So it keeps us on hyper alert in order to keep us safe from the dangerous situation or object. Which in reality, is a wonderful biological response that we share with all animals. You want the rabbit to run from the wolf that is trying to eat it, and you also want him to be alert when in an open field where he can be lunch for a wolf.
The difference between me and a rabbit is that I have a conscious mind that gets confused when there is no wolf. Rabbits don’t have this problem, if there’s no wolf, there is no fear. That means that part of my mind hasn’t gotten the good news: that we are okay and safe now, the danger and traumatic event has passed. That we have already survived.
Mindfulness practice has been important in my own life. I first began a formal practice in November of 2007, not long after I left that final abusive relationship. I wanted to learn how to train my mind as a way to have more awareness of the decisions I was making and the patterns I was in when it came to my relationship decisions.
So I looked up a local meditation center and I started studying a type of Tibetan meditation called Shambhala. It’s a really beautiful type of meditation practice where you spend long hours mainly sitting in a quiet room with eyes open and a light focus on your breath. It sounds simple but it is very profound.
My first time “sitting” was at a weekend long retreat. And what I quickly came to realize was that not only was this very hard to do, but I also was hyper alert and ‘jumping’ at every sound in the room. For years this went on, and sometimes it still does.
I was also surprised at not only how difficult it was to focus my attention for longer than a moment, but it also brought an awareness to my very self critical inner dialogue.
Honestly, the first several years of my formal sitting practice was extremely difficult. It also was the opposite of instant gratification, and I did not see any direct shift in my life until many years later.
What did happen in those first years was that I showed myself I had faith in believing in something that wasn’t immediate relief, that I could show up and meditate day after day and survive the mental turmoil. That takes strength, faith, and resilience.
I also became more aware of my thoughts and was slowly training my mind to see the stories I told myself about my life and my world. Years later, I realized that in those first years I was creating a capacity for space within for a greater degree of peace and fulfillment.
It also created space for me to recognize the jumpiness and hyper-alert pattern that was happening in my mind and gave me space to respond differently. I still remember the day when I decided to meditate using the sounds in the room as the object of focus and the air conditioner kicked on, which normally would cause a momentary tinge of panic, and I responded differently. I felt no fear in that moment and stayed calm and serene.
Mindfulness meditation gave me the container to change my life. To respond differently and to be aware of myself, my thoughts, and my actions in a way that I had never before created space to do so, or even know how to do.
The truth is, we are all familiar with the ache of wanting change to happen but not being quite sure how actually to make it come into fruition. We can probably all also agree that it can be really hard to make change actually happen in our lives, even when it’s a shift that will make life more enjoyable, and add a greater degree of meaning to our lives.
Mindfulness meditation is deeply rooted in the idea of the here and the now. It teaches us that we are not our thoughts and through meditation we learn to create space in our minds to be more fully in the present moment.
It is also perfectly normal if when you sit to meditate you find that your mind is chattering. Meditation gives us the opportunity to observe our thoughts and begin to train our minds to focus- using the breath as an anchoring point of the present moment.
Each time you notice your mind is lost in a thought and bring yourself back to your breath even for a moment, that’s creating space within for increase peace and well-being. Each time we bring ourselves back to our breath with an attitude of loving kindness and allow ourselves to start fresh and begin again.
I invite you, Rockstar, to give yourself the gift of practicing the art starting fresh and beginning again, wherever you are on your journey. It has truly been a beautiful gift in my life.