“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are.”
Like most people, I thought about meditating well before embarking on a regular meditation practice. On occasion I’d catch myself meditating at the end of a yoga class, and sometimes I’d even choose to sit for five minutes at the start of my day. But for the most part, meditation was an idea, not a practice. “I’m too restless to sit still”, I’d say. “I have no time” was another reason to skip meditation. I’d nod in agreement with others when they’d mention the value of their own sitting practice, but I didn’t plan on making it a priority for myself.
That changed for me in September 2016. I had struggled with anxiety on and off my whole life, but I had recently experienced an uptick in its symptoms and effects. Aside from being constantly worried about everything from my subway commute to global politics, I was becoming increasingly absent minded. My lack of presence was often frustrating (I was forever searching for my keys/wallet/phone) and at times dangerous (coming home late at night to find that I’d left the toaster oven on all day). Additionally, I had previously managed to force myself to snap out of it when I’d feel my anxiety building, but I had gotten to the point that no amount of self will could de-escalate my fear. I still didn’t have much interest in meditating, but I knew I had to slow down and was just willing enough to try.
I took a few suggestions from friends who meditated daily and committed to sitting for five minutes every morning. At first it was a struggle to make time for meditation, but I was surprised at how comforting it was to let myself be still and to simply focus on my breath. After a few weeks I extended my practice to ten minutes, and before long I was sitting for twenty minutes each morning. I was noticeably less hurried, less reactive and more trusting of myself and others. Despite spending an ample portion of my morning sitting still, I felt as though I had more time and was able to give more attention to the task at hand. I still enjoy the focus and calm that meditation provides, but the most powerful benefit for me is that my anxiety can no longer spiral downward to unmanageable levels. I continue to experience worry and doubt, but it’s as if my daily practice provides soft floor for my fear to rest upon, and I can safely arrive back to the present moment after a few deep breaths.
In many ways, I’m the same person I always was, despite over two years of daily meditation. I’m still restless, my mind is unruly, and I still struggle from time to time with catastrophic thinking. What’s different now is that I’m not trying to cure my anxiety or bully myself into being better. Meditation encourages the development of reason, without demanding that the meditator only thinks reasonable thoughts. The effect is that I can tap into greater reservoirs of compassion and courage when I feel fear, and that I can extend that compassion and courage outward to others.
Although anxiety is common, you don’t have to struggle with anxiety to benefit from meditation. Life is more vibrant when you’re present and aware, and mediation is a great tool for helping us maintain presence.
Remember, you don’t have to be great at meditating to experience the benefits, and there is no better time than the present to get started. This month at 2nd Story, we are devoting a few moments of each class to stillness. Additionally, we are continuing with a $5 Intro to Meditation class with the wonderful Patrick Paul Garlinger. His classes are offered in both English and Spanish and are a great way to jumpstart a meditation practice. Check the schedule for his class on November 18th and enjoy some extra stillness this month.
Thanks always for your presence at 2nd Story!