• Committing to Practice Meditation

    Today is my meditation anniversary!  It’s been 9 years that I have been meditating on a regular (mostly daily) basis.  It is a part of my activities of daily living – just like showering, brushing my teeth, eating and walking.  I have been pondering what it took me to develop this practice and stay with it all these years.

    First, just a little about me and my history of trying new things. I have ADHD and when I see or hear of a new “thing” (event, class, material good, diet, craft, teacher, movie or music genre or artist, etc.) – I flock towards trying it out. I might start out by taking a class or purchasing the required goods, tool(s) and materials and I am all excited about it and sort of delve into it with both feet!  My husband has witnessed me think I want to be a photographer, play blues harmonica, become an actor, become a swimmer, learn to cook healthy meals, commit to daily step aerobics, body pump, etc. and then after a month (or three) – I just abandon the new indulgence, leaving behind all kinds of equipment, gear, disappointment, the idea of another failure, etc.

    So, after I came home from seeing a therapist in 2012 – who had shown me a cartoon video about mindfulness meditation and suggested that I give meditation a try – when I informed my husband that I was going downstairs to give meditation a try – he probably rolled his eyes as I walked away, thinking “here she goes again!”.  So, I got on the computer, typed www.headspace.com into my browser and meditated for 10 minutes following the guidance of Andy Puddicombe and I thought it was “interesting” and downloaded the App to my new smart phone.  I came back to it the next night. And I meditated 3 times a week for 10 minutes.  I didn’t mind it and I didn’t struggle with it. I thought the instructions given from headspace were simple and informative. So, I kept going back to the computer after dinner and giving meditation another 10 minutes.

    After about a month of meditating, I had a profound experience at work one day. A co-worker approached me about a computer issue and normally, just the sound of her voice would rattle my cage and I would immediately be agitated for having to deal with her. But, something different occurred; I was calm and listened to her intently as she explained the situation to me and then without a hint of impatience, aggression or agitation – I provided her with guidance on how to handle the situation. And, this happened WITHOUT any effort on my part!  I walked back to my desk and realized how different that felt for me and I wondered if it might have something to do with “that meditating I’ve been doing”?  I didn’t have an answer, but I was going to do it more. As I look back – I began to have faith in this practice – doing it not really knowing for sure if it was working.

    Meditation began to change and transform my life. It felt natural to make a commitment to myself that I would continue to meditate – not only for my well-being but also the people whose paths cross mine. I was becoming a kinder, gentler and more compassionate person; easier to communicate with, a better listener, more patient and less angry, impatient and tense.  As a matter of fact – my dentist was one of the first persons to notice that something had changed about me. After drilling for two crowns (without nitrous oxide – which I had in all previous visits been begging him for), he asked me “are you doing something different? I don’t see that your medications have changed. But you were very calm throughout this appointment!”  I was shocked that the profound shift that I felt internally was witnessed by someone I only saw a few times a year!  I let him know that I was doing something different; that I had begun meditating.  I told him about headspace and another App called “Insight Timer” and the next time I saw him, he let me know that he started meditating too. I think his whole family meditates now.

    Meditation became very high on my list of daily activities. I mean – C’mon! I could fit 10 minutes of something as powerful as this into my day, right?! I began to schedule things AROUND my meditation practice, and I took classes and attended talks given by people who knew about meditation, and I read books. It became a part of me and in a natural progression, I added five minutes to my practice until I metabolized that duration, building up to a daily practice of 30-45 minutes. 

    So, what HAS changed for me since I started meditating? I began to let go of expectations or predictions of how I thought things were SUPPOSED to be or were going to happen.  I now try to enter situations or events with a “neutral” mind. This frees my mind up to be open to what actually IS happening and I will tell you – I have attended, discovered and experienced so many more things than I would have before because I was closed off. This has also helped calm down my judging mind.  Oh, I still have a judging mind – but it is a LOT less intense, loud and harsh than before. AND I am quicker to notice and shift into a more neutral or positive mind.

    I have ADHD and prior to meditating, my attention span was about 3-4 minutes. If the topic or activity didn’t interest me – I would bail; I would change the subject if someone was talking to me, I would make a quick exit or I would abandon the activity for something more interesting (doodling in meetings, interrupting others, fidget, etc.).  People found this annoying and rude. It WAS rude!  About 7 months of near daily meditation practice, I was attending a lecture in Seattle given by a Tibetan Teacher and there was a guy translating for him.  About ¾ of the way through the lecture, I realized that even with all the waiting for the translations in between sentences and paragraphs – I had been paying full attention for about 85% of the lecture!  And, this became the norm for me. I can now direct my attention and awareness to stay with something – even if it is “boring”.  This has been a game changer for me.  This has improved my marriage and relationships with others – because I can listen much more intently – with interest. I still have work to do on the impulsivity inherent with having ADHD – of interrupting and changing subjects constantly. 

    There have now been many instances where I’ve noticed that when I arrive to an event (meeting, symphony, concert, social function) – I can immediately “arrive” and be present. It used to take me 5-10 minutes to mentally arrive; I would wiggle, fidget, have to get my belongings and body situated just right, get my bearings of the room, take the pulse of the energy in the room and all these other “selfing” activities before I could pay attention to the performer/performance, host, speaker, teacher, organizer, etc.  I remember the first time that I noticed this shift. My husband and some friends arrived about 10 minutes late to an intimate concert and we were seated dead center in front of the musicians, front row.  I sat down, had a heavy winter coat on and my purse and I immediately placed my attention on the musicians and let all the fussing that would normally ensue – go. I waited until an appropriate moment to take off my coat and get situated, because I was being mindful of not being a distraction to the musicians or the other patrons.  What great progress, I felt!

    Mindfulness has also taught me to have and practice exercising and strengthening self-compassion for challenging moments.  Prior to this, I was constantly criticizing and berating myself for darned near everything!  The perfectionistic tendencies have been relaxed through this practice. I am more kind, patient, compassionate and open towards others.  Some of my hard edge has softened and continues to do so with practice.  I rarely experience anger anymore.

    After a couple of years of having such a transformative experience in my life – I decided I had to learn to teach others about meditation! There are so many people out there who are suffering from similar things that I had suffered severely from (social anxiety, fear of failure, low self-esteem, self-loathing, depression, anger, impatience, poor communication skills, poor attention span, extreme impulsivity, aggression, a judgmental, negative and cynical attitude) and I have been helped tremendously from practicing mindfulness and meditation – I wanted to be of service and help others!

    My training* to become a Certified Mindfulness Instructor REALLY changed my practice, my discipline, my devotion and my commitment. I learned about the science and research that shows how meditation changes the brain and the positive effects in the body; I learned different mindfulness practices and how to teach them; I began to practice mindful movement and mindful eating, I had to study and read books, watch videos, listen to audio of lectures from teachers (secular and Buddhist) on mindfulness and meditation, how to listen and be present to others’ experiences and demonstrate my knowledge and practice teaching. My confidence and interest in my practice deepened and grew.

    I’ve been teaching Mindfulness Meditation drop-in classes since November 2015 – in Gig Harbor, Tacoma, University Place, Port Orchard and online via Zoom. During the first year of COVID, I offered all my classes online on a donation-only basis.

    Another part of my practice has been to attend silent meditation retreats – at least an 8-day one every year. I will write another post about my first meditation retreat at Cloud Mountain. It was a 5-day retreat, and it was one of the most challenging, emotionally painful and difficult things I have done, and I swore I would never do another one. HA!  Now, I can’t WAIT to get to my next one!  COVID has caused most retreat centers to cancel on site retreats. I’ll be participating in an 8-day virtual retreat (via Zoom) mid-October. It won’t be the same as being onsite, together with other meditation practitioners/retreatants but I look forward to the experience!

    * Foundational Training as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Instructor through UC-San Diego Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute and 9-month Mindfulness Teacher Training Program through Mindfulness Northwest.

    If you would like help establishing a regular mindfulness meditation practice, I offer regular drop-in classes and one-on-one coaching sessions.  https://www.mindfulnesswithrobyn.com/work-with-me/