Back in May, I used a gift certificate Jeff gave me for Christmas and spent four days at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness. I shut off my phone and computer and took with me only a book and my journal. I took yoga classes and other workshops. I meditated. I took my meals in silence.
Over those days, I uncovered a deep sense of contentment. I wish I could explain it beyond a feeling, but it really transcended words. All I could think was this: Everything is okay. Everything’s always been okay. I am exactly where I need to be.
I don’t know that I’ve EVER felt that good. This was life-changing. And I wondered: How can I bring this home? I wrote down all my ideas and made Grand Plans and then drove home.
It wasn’t very long – a couple days after I got home, maybe – that the feeling ebbed and drained, and I was back to my usual.
Obviously it’s one thing to be able to connect with that sense of contentment when you’re surrounded by like-minded people in a place where your only responsibility is to your Self.
It’s very different to find it when you’re in the middle of Real Life.
But I still thought I could find it. I decided to start meditating regularly. And eating better. I committed to getting up early every morning and doing SOMETHING for my wellness; meditation, journaling, yoga, whatever.
And this summer, I was very committed to it. I devoted an hour a day to what I call my “wellness activities.”
But then, life crept in.
For the past few weeks, I’ve all but given up. My daily wellness activities have sporadic; a few minutes here, a breathing exercise there.
My anxiety is absolutely rampant lately; it’s enough that most mornings I can’t breathe deeply whenever I first wake up. Meditation does help to release those bands of around my chest, but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.
It feels like I’m trying to move a 50-ton pile of dirt with nothing but a spoon; I am constantly and consistently waging battle against myself in my head, trying to find peace, frustrated and unhappy.
Clearly I need help.
So I mentioned it briefly a few weeks ago, but I signed up for an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class through the UMass-affiliated Center for Mindfulness. The class has been taught for 35 years now and is based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli. I chose it because of its longevity, and based on the studies done, the results of the program are compelling.
From the website, the “premise of the program is intensive training in mindfulness meditation and its integration into the challenges/adventures of everyday life.”
THAT’S what I needed. I can meditate, I’ve taken meditation seminars, I can connect with that well inside me whenever I have uninterrupted time. But my days are never uninterrupted, and I can’t figure out how to integrate that stuff into my life.
Last night was the first class.
There’s something there.
Two takeaways from me last night: I do not actually inhabit my body unless it hurts or is hungry or I am exercising or meditating. By which I mean, I basically ignore the physical-ness of my body that takes up space, that sits on a chair or stands and breathes and moves. My awareness isn’t IN my body – it’s somewhere in my head, thinking, creating stories, battling demons, whatever.
So consequently, I don’t recognize the physical symptoms of stress until it becomes overwhelming. Inversely, I don’t recognize the physical symptoms of happiness, either.
Our homework this week is to do a 38-minute body scan meditation 6 times. Let me tell you, last night that was the longest 38 minutes of my life. (Put your awareness in your big toe, what? SO hard.) But it’s a good practice for someone like me, who never spends much time aware of her body.
The second takeaway? Holy cow I am judgy. Mindfulness is really cultivating observation without judgment. Focus on something and do nothing but see what comes up. Our instructor last night was amazing at this, reassuring us that nothing is wrong, it just is. She modeled this behavior, too – in one of the exercises, when she gave away the word she was trying not to say, she merely said, “Oh, I just used a word to talk about the objects!” Nothing else, no “that was silly of me” or “oops” or whatever.
It’s amazing, because I never realized how quickly I jump to judgment until I listened to someone NOT doing it. I do it all the time.
There’s something here, you guys.
*My loose plan is to record my experience with this program on a weekly basis – doing a download like this on Fridays. But I am not sure I can be fixed about it. Will keep you posted!