Meditation is a practice I return to and fall away from over and over again.
I first encountered meditation techniques in various yoga classes as a teenage, and sat a few times at the Shambhala Centre in Victoria B.C. However, I didn't really explore a home practice until I deeply needed one.
When I returned home to Nova Scotia with Mat in 2010, we unwittingly entered a difficult period in our lives. My father was suffering through what would be his final year with ALS. He was in a small, private care home, but we visited him every second day, managed his affairs, medical appointments, supported his ill wife, and cooked the nutritious meals he requested.
Our life was so up in the air and so complicated – we were living in the city, but not really participating in any sort of community because life was all about caring for my dad and simply getting by. Working full-time and coming home to upsetting phone calls and tough decision making left no space for mental rest.
Craving a space in my life that was just mine felt selfish in light of what my dad was going through. I felt I needed permission to feel peace, even if only for a short time.
Meditation helped me so much through that year of deep anguish and grief, through losing my dad to a horrible disease.
I went on a weekend retreat to complete Level I Shambhala training at the South Shore Shambhala Centre.
I experienced such an emotional release – our incredible instructor and the group I sat with held space with such compassion, gentleness, and humor.
Nine months after we lost Dad, I went on a second weekend retreat to complete Level II, pregnant and still grieving. It helped me access joy in my pregnancy through a time of grief and connect with myself through intense life changes.
Since that weekend, I have left and returned to a practice several times, though less and less often since becoming a parent.
Acceptance and Commitment (ACT) Therapy
After the birth of my second daughter, I experienced severe postpartum anxiety. Leaving my 6 month old and 3 year old, I spent one evening every week in a wonderful group therapy program called ACT for Anxiety & Depression through Nova Scotia Mental Health and Addictions. The program incorporated mindfulness, meditation, and many exercises and I came to understand my own anxiety in a way I never could before. I became painfully aware of how much my anxiety had cost me over my lifetime. I cried. A lot.
It was time to face this thing.
I learned to incorporate meditation into little moments in my day - to pause and access my inner resources before reacting; to ground myself in the moment; to be with big feelings, not resist or deny them; to have compassion for myself and those around me.
Sitting with a group can be powerful. If the opportunity comes to you, I recommend you take it. I've sat with the Shambhala Community, my ACT group, and last Fall, with a group in a tiny beach side community hall, led by a friend who had recently returned from the Quebec Vipassana Meditation Centre.
When I sit for just five minutes a day, I:
feel more grounded
make better choices
am patient with my children
feel more in my body
pause before I react
increase my resilience to stress and anxiety.
It can be hard to slow down for five minutes and sit in discomfort. Sitting is a wonderful practice, but if you have a hard time with that, you can stand, walk, lay down - whatever works best for you. (Though I do recommend learning in a group setting if possible.)
What Meditation Isn't
My dear friend Evan Stanley published a piece on Medium called What Meditation Isn’t. In it, he debunks the myth that to meditate “correctly” you need to empty your mind and stop thinking.
If you’ve ever tried to meditate and thought “my mind is just too busy” or that you’re “not cut out for it,” read this. Evan offers four practical tips to help you as you get started with a meditation practice.
"And maybe this notion of practice, this notion of doing something for its own sake, without any point or goal, is one of the great gifts of meditation. Because we realize that that’s the only way we can do anything well: not by aiming at a result, not by shooting for something in the future, but by doing that thing just to do that thing."
Thank you, beautiful Evan.