The mind-blowiest thing meditation has taught me
I started meditating for my health. I didn't expect it to change how I approach everything.
Last winter, I was diagnosed with elevated blood pressure. This came as a shock because I had zero symptoms, I’m generally healthy, eat pretty well, and am active. But I also have a family history of hypertension and a nasty psychological hangover from the events of the last few years.
The diagnosis probably shouldn’t have surprised me. Few of us have emerged from these years unscathed.
I decided to attack the problem from a few different angles:
I started taking blood pressure medication.
I began treatment for anxiety.
I committed to learning about meditation.
My therapist suggested meditation training called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I found an eight-week class and signed up that same week.
(This is new behavior for me. When scary things show up like medical stuff or official-looking envelopes in the mail, I have a bad habit of avoiding them. Part of Operation Become a Real Grownup involves facing problems and taking action.)
Meditation isn’t what I expected
Spiritual communities around the world have practiced meditation for thousands of years, but MBSR’s secular, health-focused approach appealed to me. My goal was to lower my blood pressure, plain and simple, and this seemed like the most straightforward method.
I figured MBSR would be like a meditation gym class. I’d learn about the body’s stress response and we’d practice some meditation techniques and breathing exercises. We did that and more. But, to my surprise, the results went beyond improved blood pressure numbers.
Meditation training changed my perspective on everything.
Before I go on, please know that I am not going to press you to start meditating. It’s not everyone’s thing. Nor do I suggest that meditation solves all problems. But it has shifted how I approach my own problems and the struggles/growing pains my kids are going through right now.
And now, the mind-blowy thing
The Big Takeaway from my meditation practice so far:
We are not our thoughts.
Our thoughts inform us, but they’re not us.
We’re not our feelings.
Our feelings help us navigate, but they are also not us.
We’re not the product of the things that have happened to us.
Our experiences affected and changed us, but they, too, are not us.
If we’re not our thoughts, feelings, or experiences, who are we?
An admittedly massive question I’m in no position to answer. All I know is that even my shallow dip into meditation has given me access to a kind, self-assured, almost bemused voice inside…I just had to get still enough to hear it. This voice speaks more evenly and calmly about my problems and parental worries than my “regular” distracted, rushing-around self, and I can bring some of that steadiness into the rest of my life (including conversations with Rael and my kids).
Is this my “essential self” talking? My “spirit?” Is this the “still small voice?” 🤷🏽♀️ I don’t know that it matters. What matters is that meditation ups my chances of showing up as a chiller, wiser version of myself.
It’s not like I’ve swallowed a magic pill and now I’m enlightened. I’m only at the beginning of this! Some days I sit on my little cushion, distracted and impatient and skeptical. I forget to meditate. Sometimes I blow it off. But even with all this, I feel like I’m headed somewhere worthwhile. Perfection isn’t required (that’s the point, isn’t it).
And! My blood pressure is back in the normal range! 🎉
Meet me in the comments
I have questions.
If you meditate, is it what you expected?
If meditation isn’t your thing, do you have other mindfulness practices?
Book, podcast or video recommendations? I like Full Catastrophe Living (affiliate link/policy) by Jon Kabat-Zinn (the creator of MBSR), and Sharon Salzberg’s books (Real Happiness is a classic; her newest is Real Life). I loved this 2021 conversation between Sharon and Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast.
I await you in the comments…