Yesterday my sister called me. Unfortunately, for the past decade, family calls mean bad news. Mom was sick, in pain, bleeding and weak. My mom is never weak. She’s an immigrant and a perpetual rock, strong and steady. The calls from my family are mostly medical, I’m the family doctor, so it makes sense. My sister relayed her symptoms, I tried to troubleshoot, but with me in another city, it was difficult to assess. I told her to take her to the ER, but mom wasn’t ready.
I went home to be alone. I was a helpless mess, crying and trying to figure out our next step. “I just lost my dad, I can’t lose my mom now”, I thought to myself. It has been a series of tragedies in our family, one after another since the beginning of time. Someone has said we’re cursed.
In the past I would have indulged in vices that would lead me even deeper. This day, I choose meditation. I scrolled through the interwebs to find an hour long guided meditation. I plugged my earphones in and laid down. After about 23 minutes, I was done. My mind was clear, my sadness dissipated, my catastrophe-filled story was no longer present. I felt at peace. I made plans. I found someone to cover my shift and the next day I was on a plane to calmly and logically determine our next steps.
In order to live through this tragedy-filled time, the tools that get us to a place of peace and acceptance become increasingly important. Everywhere one looks, we see great pain and greater struggle. These tragedies, from mass shootings to suicides to natural disasters, impact us profoundly. Even if you don’t recognize or realize the power of the suffering around you, the body and mind does. Add in our daily struggles with feelings of desperation and despair and it becomes difficult not to feel hopeless and helpless.
As disabling as it all may feel, there is a bright light in all the darkness. It isn’t a magic pill or an easy fix. It does take personal action, effort and work. It does require you to take responsibility for yourself and your life. It was a difficult reality to adopt, but after researching and studying meditation and mindfulness for almost 20 years, I found the answer was always present, always within.
Now, when I am scared, I meditate. If I’m confused, I meditate. When desperation hits, I meditate. If I feel worthless, powerless, unloved or unlovable, I meditate. After many years, I feel less paralyzed, less helpless. I grew more empowered and more at peace. Now, as part of my routine, I meditate every morning. Without it, I’m a mess. I would say I suck at it, even after 20 years, but I’m not supposed to judge. Instead, I will admit that meditation is still a challenge. I do understand that I have to pour love into myself in order for me to share my love with the world. And I have found that love in mindfulness and meditation.
“If you don’t control your mind, someone else will” said John Allston. This is a plain and simple truth, but a difficult one to swallow. Meditation is journey towards managing your anxieties, your hysteria, your crazy thoughts and your reactions. If you’re a gold star catastrophizer like me, meditation is the best drug and treatment for that wild imagination that takes you down the rabbit hole.
As I’ve written many times before, the benefits of meditation and mindfulness abound. The body of research continues to grow, but it is all positive with no side effects. A recent study looked at 35 male and female participants who were unemployed and under substantial stress. After only three days, those who meditated and practiced mindfulness had more communication between the portions of the brain that process stress-related responses, focus and calm. Four months later, their inflammatory markers were still lower than the non-mindful/meditation group even without continued practice.
As I have always said, there is no one-size-fits-all for any treatment, practice or intervention. To find out what is best for you, it is all about self-experimentation and experience. All I know is that if you say you don’t have five minutes to sit mindfully and meditate, then you probably need a few hours.
It doesn’t take rocket science or an expensive membership to start. You can download a guided meditation and chill out alone. Or you can do stretches and focus on your breath for five minutes. Or you can walk barefoot, focusing on each step and get really tuned into the present moment. I dare you to try it. It’s imperative to changing our culture. Attempt a mindfulness or meditation practice that speaks to you for 21-days. Twenty-one days is not long in the grand movie of your life. Just pick a time, dedicate two or five minutes of your day and just breathe. You will ‘suck’ at it. You will feel like one minute is ten hours. You will have a thousand thoughts flutter through your brain. But with time, it will get easier; you’ll feel more at peace, more calm, more centered. And then one day, you’ll get some life changing news and instead of losing your marbles, you’ll sit down, breathe and go to a place of acceptance and peace that will allow you to operate from a place of love instead of fear.