Mindfulness meditation has improved my life (and why I won’t recommend it)
I turned to MBSR, or mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy at a time when my usual ways to de-stress no longer worked. Hours of running, occasional yoga, drinking calming teas and positive self-talk couldn’t get me out the funk I have been feeling at a time when I should have been on top of the moon. I was recently married and really happy, but obviously I still experienced stress at work, I had really negative self-pressure and self-judgement, and was losing steam in every other department as a result. The obvious signs of sadness were creeping in: weight gain (or loss for some), dulling complexion, anti-social behaviours and just an overall feeling of being lost was the everyday norm.
Not feeling myself…
I wasn’t feeling like myself. What’s worse, my anxiety got to the point where it was so intense at times that I couldn’t be in certain situations or else I’d have a panic attack. I thought I was losing my mind — and in a way I did lose part of myself — a younger version that had never experienced these conditions. I sought out a program that involved meditation because I’ve read, and heard so much about the benefits, but I’ve never been able to get started.
The eight-week program was intense and incredible all at the same time. The biggest take-away that has applied to other areas of my life was about commitment: that sometimes even if it’s painfully boring or seems like an effort at the time, when you have to do something, you just do it. In my case, that task was meditating up to an hour EVERY DAY, no excuses. This was crazy hard but I did it. While we were told that the program isn’t meant to be a tool for self-improvement, many of us in the group noticed changes quickly such as a decrease of stress, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions that ripple through. Studies are increasingly supporting what I felt, which was that this is “working”. (This one in PNAS says white matter in the brain changed after only 11-hours of meditation for some people in the study.)
What it meant for me…
A few weeks into the study, my overall feeling during the day was less anxiety-ridden. I slept through the night, dreaming most nights very vividly (which I’ve never done before). I was really emotional after meditating, sometimes bursting into tears but then feeling really calm and collected after words. My emotions came up and then somehow released, this wasn’t always positive. I got really mad at a few friends during a conversation and had to apologize. But overall, my anxiety, low-mood and enthusiasm for life started coming back.
Why don’t I recommend it?
I have to hold myself back every time I speak to someone about meditation and NOT recommend mindfulness meditation because I think like many things in life, what worked for me may not work for you. As well, instead of talking about, I want to make sure I don’t lose sight of the fact that practicing is the most important thing. As a writer and storyteller, this has been so hard for me to do, but I don’t talk about my experiences or comment on meditating when it comes up for this reason. I’ve read the studies, I’ve lived the changes, but it’s not up to me to convince anyone of its benefits. It’s part curiosity, the idea of wanting to feel better, and part-spiritual search that has brought me to discover it. I don’t want to evangelize it.