Getting the Life I Want: i. Meditation and Mindfulness
After the summer of 2015 I knew I had to stop making excuses and I needed to start taking control of my life. I had just gone on a camping trip with 30 other artists and I felt inspired by their stories, their artistry, and their openness to create.
I had been complacent and I wasn’t growing personally or professionally. And it finally dawned on me, “If I wanted to to create a life of my dreams I had to own 100% of my actions and my action’s consequences.”
The years prior I had been unhappy with my job and I was blaming them for my unhappiness. I didn’t get a promotion that I had been working hard to get and I blamed them for stunting my growth. A project was taken away from me and I blamed them for stifling my creativity. I GOT THE PROMOTION... and I was feeling overworked and I blamed them for taking away the time I needed to do what I wanted. At that point in my career, they were never going to be enough.
Reality check, Mike!
I was pointing my fingers at anything I could blame for my unhappiness. And I wasn’t owning up to what I was contributing to my unhappiness. I wasn’t accountable.
I do this because it makes me feel better. And it relieves me from being in survival mode and it keeps me complacent. And it keeps me from feeling like the consequences of my actions are my responsibility.
Some of my friends would say that I “woke up” in 2015. And I did.
Here are some reflections and learnings that have helped since “waking up”. I’m still learning. And I’ll always be flawed. But there are some tools that help me get back on track to accept my imperfections.
This will be a series of 6 blog posts covering: Meditation and Mindfulness, Patience, Celebrating Small Wins, Accountabili-Buddies, Valuing Self, and Getting Clear.
This week: Meditation and Mindfulness.
Meditation and Mindfulness
At that camping trip a friend introduced me to meditation. And I became curious about silence.
I picked up Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and became even more curious about silence.
I’ve always been aware of my incessant thinking. And leading up to this "wake up call", the internal dialogue always consisted of not feeling worthy or enough. And this became a vicious cycle of not giving a fuck about my life and my future.
I would try at something. Fail. Feel terrible for trying. Feel shame. Then blame someone or something for feeling like shit. And the feeling like I’m not good-smart-talented-fit-loved enough or like I’m not worthy of love-attention-kindness-generosity-forgiveness would cycle back in front of me. And this is how I became complacent and unhappy.
What was happening was I was unaware. Unaware of how my emotions were dictating my life and defining my character. I couldn’t accept responsibility. I was comparing myself to others, which was making me judge people who I perceived to be “less than”. I was also putting people I perceived to be “better than” me on some imaginary pedestal. And I felt out of control.
So I decided to give meditation a go. I started doing guided meditations I found on Soundcloud. And I committed to meditate every morning for a month. I immediately felt the difference. It felt like if peace were a spec of light and that warm spec of light, that peace spread through me internally. And it was showing externally in all of my relationships. It felt like roots left my feet and dug itself into the earth. And I felt happier, more focused, and more energized.
Studies are showing that adopting a regular meditation practice can change the size of different parts of your brain. People who meditate regularly have smaller amygdalas and they release less stress hormones, like cortisol. And as their amygdala shrinks, their prefrontal cortex increases in size. This is the area of our brain that helps us with “awareness, concentration and decision-making.”
Meditation has helped me accept my life for what it is.
It’s also allowed me to accept all the dirt in my past and all the treasures of my future.
Mindfulness entered my life around the same time meditation did. I was seeing a hypnotherapist and he guided me through a bunch of mindfulness practices that really helped me label and acknowledge my emotions--I would add textures, colors, and shapes to these emotions. And he would ask me where I felt that emotion in my body. And it sounds a little odd to give what you’re feeling a texture, color, or shape. Or even notice where you feel it in your body. But when we don’t have the words to articulate what we’re feeling, it helps to develop a description with words that we do know. And this practice helped me focus in on those emotions.
It was hard for me to describe emotions that came from emotional pain, rejection, guilt, and embarrassment. And not being able to describe my emotions felt like prison. It made me more frustrated and the only way I knew how to deal with these emotions was to pretend like everything was ok. Or I would smoke a cigarette. Or I would puff my chest up and say that I didn’t need any help.
Now, mindfulness is not just labeling what we’re feeling. It’s about paying attention and focusing on something in the present for a period of time. I mostly use mindful meditation where I focus on my breath. And more recently I’ve been practicing mindful running--where I focus my attention on my body, breathing, and strides.
In the 2+ years since I “woke up”--what I mean is that I started to see my life full of possibilities, rather than dead ends--I’ve become aware of how my emotions can control the way I think about myself and my future. When my thoughts get in the way of me being my best self--
I pause. Notice what I’m feeling and where in my body I feel it.
I acknowledge it and I get curious about why I’m feeling it and I accept full responsibility.
And I let it go. I don’t dwell on them or try to analyze and pick apart what I’m feeling.
I usually say either to myself or out loud, “Whoah, that was embarrassing. Ok. Nice work noticing, Mike. What’s next?”
Since I’ve been practicing mindfulness, I find myself recognizing different triggers before it happens, these emotions don’t sit with me for very long, and I immediately notice if I go to a place of blame.
[Side Note: I don’t only practice mindfulness when I’m feeling shitty. When emotions like happiness, excitement, and gratitude come up, you better believe I notice and acknowledge those emotions, too. And I’m still working on noticing them more.]
Now, I’m not completely enlightened. I still struggle with my thoughts… and they’ll never go away. That’s the truth.
We need all of our emotions. And we need to accept them to grow. They are what make us dynamic and human.
But I feel more open and curious about my emotions. And I better understand how they sometimes paralyze me.
...Or make me optimistic about my future.
To learn more about the difference between Meditation and Mindfulness check out this easy read: Mindfulness vs. Meditation: What’s the Difference? by Lodro Rinzler.
If you're more curious about how the brain responds to mindfulness, check out What does Mindfulness Meditation do to your Brain? by Tom Ireland.
I use Headspace some mornings for meditation. They have both guided and unguided meditations and mindful practices. My new favorite addition to their app is their “Everyday Headspace”. It’s a new guided meditation every day and it doesn’t cancel a pack you’re working on.
And if you're unaware of how your emotions control you, but you know that they show up in your life and you don't know how to respond, let's talk.
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