Why I Do What I Do
Meditation and I found each other in a fascinating way - at a Contemplative Practices course taught by Dr. Martha Travers. What stuck with me most from the class was what Martha taught us to do with thoughts when they arose during meditation. My whole life to this point had been predicated on getting rid of my anxiety, on extinguishing unwanted thoughts in hopes that I could conquer my condition of anxiety. Martha, though, taught us how to distance from our thoughts, to acknowledge their existence and to notice when they arise, but to simply return to the breath and the mantra after acknowledgement. This was a game changer for me - to this point my cognition resided at the extremes of either “pushing away” anxiety or believing every thought as pure truth, attaching to the content of every thought as if each were some holy grail of importance.
Meditation, and Martha’s class in particular, has taught me that there is a middle ground between ignoring the presence of thought and believing every thought as pure truth. Meditation was about rewiring my brain to respond to thoughts in a more equanimous manner. It wasn’t about denying reality or creating some utopia within the mind. It was about becoming more in touch with how things REALLY were. Instantly, I felt a sense of calm and hope that I had never experienced. I found meditation to be an incredible tool for sharpening my focus, decreasing emotional reactivity, perceiving reality in an objective manner not clouded by my internal “thought-world,” and rekindling my love of creative pursuits. Now, this is not to say meditation fixed everything. I still get anxious, I still have “unwanted thoughts,” and my focus still isn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be. Although, my life does seem to have some sort of “net improvement,” perhaps making me “10% Happier,” as Dan Harris would suggest. Perhaps time, age, and general life experience contributed to this change in approach, but I give meditation a whole bunch of credit for my shift. Meditation became a foundation on which the rest of my life was predicated.
I now start and end the day with an activity that provides me with a foundational mental hygiene of sorts. I see meditation as a workout for my mental muscles, a search for truth, and a way to set intention as I start and end my day. Paired with contemplative & reflective journaling, my practice has become indispensable. This isn’t to say that every day has been a breeze. Some days I forget to meditate, or it simply just doesn’t feel worth it. As we can see with any intention to make a behavioral change, the mind will come up with reasons why we shouldn’t engage in activities that we know are good for us. The mind craves continued reasons to feel important, and its importance is often predicated on the presence of problems to solve. When meditation began to address some of my issues, my mind wasn’t needed as much in the way that it was used to. Thus, my mind often panics, and asserts its dominance by getting me to avoid the activities that have brought me so in touch with the present moment. Maintaining a consistent meditation practice is a lifelong journey. It is the return to the practice when we drift, an intentional and conscious decision to come back to meditation, that offers the most hope for sustained practice. I know that I have planted a seed that will be there for life - it is just up to me to water it consistently.