Thursday, September 26, 2013

Meditation Final Essay

The meditation class I have been taking this semester is incredible. It's hard to even know where to start when thinking about the long term benefits this class will have on my life. Who knew?? It's just a one credit class I took to fulfill a financial aid requirement. I want to write more and more about it, but to start, here is the essay I wrote for my final. The assignment was to pick one attitudinal foundation of mindfulness and write about how and why I will try to implement it in my life. It's not the best writing of my life, but I think it's a good representation of some important things I've learned recently.

Several years ago, my sister told me that I was “a special kind of uptight.” I knew that I constantly felt stressed, but I didn’t understand why or how to change. When my sister put it in those terms, it clicked with me, and I realized I had the power to change. Over the next several months I focused on relaxing whenever I started to feel stressed or uptight about something (which was quite often). I would think, or even say out loud, “let it go,” until I was able to relax. This was a long journey, but one that I felt transformed me into a different and more functional person. I still have a long way to go, and in the last year or two, I have seen many of my old, uptight behaviors creeping back in. Studying meditation and mindfulness has given me a much deeper understanding of what “letting go” actually means, and how I can apply this to help me become healthier and happier.
There are many ways in which letting go would be beneficial, but the first is letting go of my need for certainty. In the article Letting Go of Attachment, Lori Deschene says, “in trying to hold on to what’s familiar, we limit our ability to experience joy in the present. A moment can’t possibly radiate fully when you’re suffocating it in fear. . . . letting go is letting happiness in.” I often feel a sense of false safety in trying to predict the outcome of various situations. This often means I expect the worse, so that if it happens, I feel prepared. Unfortunately this means I miss a lot of opportunities for joy, because I so often live in fear.
This need for control also means I am constantly trying to define the deeper meaning of situations and how it compares to what is “normal.” I want to employ a mindful attitude of letting go of the expectations I place on myself. I would not say I am a perfectionist, but I struggle to live in the moment because I am constantly analyzing every situation, conversation, and action and what it means. Letting go would mean feeling comfortable being my own person, regardless of if it is different from what others are doing. The same article, Letting Go of Attachment, says “practice letting things be. . . . make peace with the moment as it is, without worrying something’s wrong with you or your life, and then operate from a place of acceptance.” Letting go would mean opening myself up to feeling vulnerable, which can be an incredibly painful process, but one I feel is incredibly valuable and important.
When I initially began trying to be a more relaxed person, I interpreted letting go to mean not engaging with negative emotions. I did not allow myself to engage in situations that would cause me to feel anger or emotional pain, because I wanted to “let go” of things that made me feel stressful. My deeper understanding of letting go has assured me that it is ok to feel any emotion, but I do not need to cling to it or define myself by it. When my mind wanders during a seated meditation, I can notice and name where my mind had wandered. Similarly, letting go starts with noticing and naming my emotions so I can begin to separate myself (and my identity) from them. It is common for these negative emotions to come and dwell without my conscious awareness of what’s going on. In the moment, it seems easier to ignore the anxiety or emotional discomfort and pain, but instead of pretending these feelings don’t exist, I want to identify how I am feeling and why. If there is something I can change about the situation, then I can do that. If not, then I can work on accepting the situation for what it is.
I know letting go will benefit my relationships. I tend to cling to painful memories and replay frustrating situations in my head. The first step in letting go is identifying what is within my control. For the most part, when it comes to painful memories, very little is within my control. I cannot change what I cannot control, and I need to accept that. I have a very complicated relationship with my parents, and my inability to let go certainly makes it worse. Not only do I tend to cling to the past, but I also cling to the uncertainty and fear I have for the future and my relationship with my children as they get older. This is one way in which I do have some control. I can work towards building relationships on trust, love, and respect, and that is all. Everything else I can let go.
When I engage in my old habits and behaviors of being uptight, I feel a lot of anxiety. My body feels constricted, my movements feel frantic, and my mind races. I get angry and frustrated easily, and I become very stubborn. I am anything but relaxed. As I work towards letting go more fully, I know continued meditation will be of great benefit. I have used deep breathing as a way to relax for many years, but learning how to apply it to formal meditation has resulted in increased calmness of mind and clarity of thought. This takes dedication and practice, but the byproduct is being a naturally more relaxed, healthy, and whole person.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Three Weeks In

I have now been in school for three weeks, and it's time for a report. Overall, school is going well. My meditation class is as awesome as I hoped it would be, and I think it's changing my life. I'll try to write a longer post about that later. Yoga is good, but it's also rather comical. I started doing yoga 11 years ago, so I figured it would be fairly simple for me to find modifications for my increasingly huge pregnant body. Hmmm. Not so much. Let's say it's a really good exercise for me to not care at all what others are thinking. Yoga has, surprisingly, been rather rough for my back. I've had chronic low back pain since I was a young teenager, and pregnancy doesn't exactly make that better. I've been getting acupuncture to help manage, but putting weight on my knees and sides can make the pain rather acute. Luckily, I think I've determined that my old mattress is the main culprit (which means I've currently kicked Bria out of her bed so I can sleep there), so I'm hoping I'll be able to bend and move again in the next couple days. The point is: yoga is really hard.
And now for my education class. The first day I felt out of place. I feel really old compared to all these straight-out-of-undergrad kids, and my ginormous belly makes me stand out even more. Combine that with my feel self-conscious about having nearly zero meaningful work experiences, and my anxiety levels go through the roof. Each class has gotten better, and tonight I found myself contributing several comments to various discussions. Three cheers for me finding my stride and gaining some academic confidence. It helps that the material is so fascinating to me. Tonight we discussed the social, political, and economic goals of public education and it was blowing my mind. It's so complicated. But it was so refreshing to be surrounded by more of a majority who have similar liberal and progressive opinions to mine compared to my undergraduate experience at ye olde BYU.
Overall my classes are awesome, and I am loving being in school. I am so, so tired though and find I barely have the energy to eat three meals a day. (Confession: there has been a lot of cold cereal 'round these parts.) My to-do lists are getting out of control: there are growing lists in regards to school, baby, and still getting settled in our house. I am also aware that I have a sweet little girl who is still adjusting to kindergarten and needs a little extra love and attention right now. (Also she wants me to sign her up for chess and karate lessons, and I need to get back to her reading lessons.)
This is all so much better than being bored, though, Seriously.