Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Power of Meditation

This last year held some devastating events that really forced me to stop and give meditation a second chance. I was hospitalized for clinical depression. It was a scary but enlightening event in my life. I saw people of different walks of life going through things similar to myself and others who's circumstances were beyond my understanding. In the end, we all suffered from demons that swelled deep within us and that we wanted to be rid of. One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I received was from a technician. I was describing to him my day and how horrible I felt. I told him how I thought my psychologist was pretty much telling me to suck it up and act better. I felt like a failure because I couldn't get my act together like everyone expected. He patiently listened to me and when I was done talking he said, "[something supporting what my psychologist said]..., but it also means being kind to yourself."

I had not really considered being kind to myself until he said that. I always thought life was a struggle and I just had to muscle through unpleasantness to reap the rewards. In the end, the rewards were bitter, unsatisfying at best, leaving me resentful at the world that cheated me. I didn't realize it at the time, but those words set me off on a journey. I think at a subconscious level I needed to learn to cultivate this idea in my life. I needed to learn to be kind to myself. So, I began exploring different avenues that could support this goal.

I did what was natural to me at the time. I began intellectualizing this goal. I turned it into a problem that just needed to be solved. I mean, years of software development and business analysis kind of lends my mind to problem solving. I just needed to fix myself. I so desperately wanted to be happy. I wanted to be "normal". I wanted to erase the effects of being in the hospital, of feeling broken or being a mess. I read books upon books. So many acronyms! DBT, CBT, ACT, PTSD. I was reading if you could master these skills you would finally break through that cloud of depression. Yet, each new acronym left me more frustrated and broken -- until I learned about smart mind. My psychiatrist was recommending learning to just learn to acknowledge how I feel, which at the time felt stupid. I could tell him, "I'm depressed! What more can I say?" But this idea started marinating and my brain, my brilliantly analytical brain, started rummaging around to find something I could relate his words to. I had come across this idea before.

Then one day it clicked, silently in the back of my mind. I remembered how much yoga promised at least calm, which would be a relief for my overly anxious and depressed brain. I did yoga when I was younger, but only for the physical health benefits and to feed my vanity of keeping a "dancer" body. (I have never been a dancer, just to be clear. But I thought they were beautiful, graceful people -- which I never felt I was. So, it was always faltering to be compared to them.) I wanted to flexible and beautiful and healthy. I totally ignored the meditation portion of yoga thinking that was for old farts who had life all figured out and had time to sit around for hours at a time. This time around, my yoga teacher recommended doing a 30 day affirmation program, where I would get a new affirmation every morning to take around with me for the day. Of course she had to explain to that meditation wasn't about sitting around thinking about one thing all day. She said meditation was learning to sit and be, either with an idea, with your environment or simply with yourself. She recommended, when I felt like I was slipping into old thought patterns, pull out the affirmation (either literally or figuratively) and sit with it.

The first affirmation sent me on a trip that broke the cycles of my depression and allowed my mind to finally acknowledge my feelings. It was, "Self-compassion: Stepping back into warmth and kindness." She recommended allowing ourselves to step back int warmth and kindness for ourselves, especially at time when we felt sad and angry. It was in these moments where one needs warmth and kindness the most. Upon reading this, I figured "Psh, piece of cake!" Then just hours after receiving the first affirmation, I found myself beating myself up for screwing up on a work assignment. I tried reaching for warmth and kindness, but my mind stopped short telling me I didn't deserve this warmth and kindness. "Only after you fix your mistake can you have this warmth and kindness." Whoa! This internal dialogue really made me conscious of how I felt. I felt the familiar chill of depression creeping over me. My brain was going to explode attempting to hold all these emotions in, fixing my mistake, and trying to practice my affirmation. Hour 6 and I was ready to quit. I was ready to quit. I didn't have what it takes to make these kind of internal paradigm shifts. But a quick revisit to the affirmation and my teachers description of what this affirmation meant, I realized that I needed to acknowledge my feelings to withhold warmth and kindness from myself and the effects those feelings had on my emotional state. My psychiatrists words finally made sense! I could find that within my depression I was not only sad, but I was frustrated that I couldn't be loved when I needed it most, I felt unworthy of affection in general, belittled and ashamed. So, I coaxed the part of my mind that felt I needed to withhold to give just a little affection. When I did, I found my mind eased up and I was able to fix my mistakes at work with a feeling of accomplishment when I was done! It was amazing!

Moving forward from that first day, I have been able to sit with some very difficult emotions and memories that I never thought I could revisit, as well as redefine relationships with other people, myself and reality to suit my needs and desires. With warmth and kindness, I can accept the things I cannot change -- whether it is my internal or external reality. There are things from my past that have haunted me for years, but at least now I can look at them and give myself the support I need to heal. I may not currently be in a position to forgive those who have wronged me, but I know eventually it will happen as long as I can forgive myself.