This month I’m attending The Mindfulness Summit, a free daily electronic series on mindfulness which features the most prominent figures in the study and practice of western meditation. These are mainly doctors or clinicians affiliated with major universities who have been committed to integrating eastern principles into western lifestyles for decades. I’m very excited to resubscribe to my own practice, and am so happy for the opportunity to share my mindfulness journey here.
I am certainly someone who has had highs and lows, most of them internal. At my lowest, I have been capable of extremes of self abasement. At the recommendation of a university counselor, I joined a Loving Kindness Meditation group for students in the Fall of 2011. The group met once a week for 8 weeks, focusing on the principles of mediation, attentive breathing, and self kindness. It was a very raw experience for me. I can remember feeling overwhelmed by the silence of our group meditations, often fighting back tears. It can be very uncomfortable to sit alone with yourself and your thoughts in silence, fighting for acceptance. I can easily point to it as one of the most significant experiences I’ve ever had, and although I didn’t speak to the other group members, I always felt a tremendous affection for them when we would pass each other on campus.
The next semester, I was eager to further my involvement with meditation and signed up for a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy group. This treatment is intended for people in a depressive remission– people who have a history of depression but who are not currently experiencing a depressive episode. For 8 more weeks, I learned to greatly reduce labelling and judging my thoughts and experiences. I did not have as profound of a response to my time in the group, but I think that shows progress. I also learned that some of what I previously considered to be strengths in dealing with depression were actually avoidant and maladaptive behaviors, which were weakening my ability to manage negative thoughts.
At the end of both courses, we were asked to choose a stone and write a message on it to remind our future selves of the experience. I’ve always really loved these stones, but feel ashamed at the corniness of what I was inspired to write, so I pack them away in boxes. The idea of having to explain my experiences to guests in my home who might stumble upon them is very uncomfortable for me, and I regret feeling that way.
After these two experiences with meditation, I began to pursue mindfulness with an academic curiosity. At the time I was an aspiring clinical psychologist, and saw amazing potential to enable others to experience the same level of change that I had. The structure and ease of accessibility of these programs create an ideal solution for chronic issues of generalized anxiety and recurrent depressive episodes.
I can honestly say that mindfulness helped reduce my recurrence of depression for several years. However, I didn’t continue the practice and, predictably, my problems returned. I have often gone back to mindfulness practice and literature when I feel like I’m losing control, but haven’t kept to the structure provided in the classes. Additionally, I think there’s a vital component that comes from doing the practice communally. Even if you aren’t open to sharing your experience with the group, the vulnerability of silence and breath shared with strangers heightens the spirituality of the experience.
I’m at a place now where I don’t know what I will be doing with my life professionally, but I’m hoping that this summit helps me return to mindfulness just as a meditating mind returns to the breath, with a gentle push and warm acceptance for the thoughts that distracted us from our path. The path does not have to be straight, mindfulness teaches us, so long as we are attentive to it and follow along with kindness and curiosity.