Last Saturday was a day of mindfulness meditation and learning with a small group of like-minded people who left me on a relaxed high. That all changed on Sunday morning with a distressing phone call from my daughter. She was in tears as she shared with me that her ‘Nanny’, her second mum, was seriously ill and had only 24 hours to live.
My emotions churned. But as I worked through my sadness, worry and grief over the next few days, what became clear to me was the ways I use mindfulness to navigate through emotional speed bumps.
The initial pain was almost physical. My body closed up and my mind shut down as anxiety and the associated stress responses kicked in.
So it was very early the next morning that I found myself wide-awake and experiencing intense and demanding thoughts about this sad situation.
But as I lay there I became curious about this situation and how much of my energy and attention it was demanding. What was the source of my demanding thoughts and why had they imposed themselves on my mind in such a forceful way?
But then I had a light bulb moment! I realised that I didn’t need to cling to these thoughts and the associated emotions and at that point I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to let this situation the opportunity to overwhelm me, especially at this time of the night.
What I did next was turn to my mindfulness practice through focusing on my breathing. Deliberately and calmly I slowed my breathing. (What works best for me is to breath in for the count of 5 and out for the count a 10.)
It took some minutes to release myself from the steel trap in my mind. Each time I felt myself spinning off track, I simply acknowledged that I was ‘thinking’ and returned the focus to my breathing. Finally, I got back to sleep.
Isn’t it extraordinary how an emotional shock or confrontation can demand so much of our attention - even well after the event?
In the past I wouldn’t have noticed the impact. Rather I would have just gone for the ride with the thoughts and emotions, no matter how long they take to dissipate.
But now, after three years of mindfulness meditation practice I realise I have learned the skill of observing my thoughts and letting them go! I can also use meditation practice to ease the physical pain and anxiety responses that I often experience when under stress. It provides a lot of relief.
So why do I allow my mind to be filled with so much debris that it prevents me from enjoying the moment? The good news is that I am increasingly developing the knowledge and tools to support my healing. I am learning to trust myself to find pathways to repair both my body and soul. I can tidy the junk shop of my mind!
For 30 years I worked hard, creating a successful business and raising four children with my husband, Grant. Then came a major crisis in 2012 due to a prolonged deep depression topped off with general anxiety. (I had experienced periods of mild depression before but had always been able to shrug these off.) The death of a dear friend, my mother’s dementia and too many years of ignoring the signs of stress finally caught up on me.
It’s been a long, lonely and dark ride at times. Currently my moods are good but the continuing anxiety symptoms serve to remind me to be patient with myself. Thanks to medication, meditation, family and friends, plus a healthy dose of bravery, I am making good progress.
My wish is to live every day with more grace by being kinder to myself, helping others and staying creative.
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