It was December 2009. Professionally, I was in the midst of a challenging, career-defining product launch and the manager that reported to me had just quit. We were already doing the work of about four people and now there was only me. I was "leaning in" more than the Tower of Pisa. My kids were little, 2 and 6 years old, and the youngest was still waking up occasionally in the middle of the night, so the Zombie Walk had become my natural stride. My husband had his own career to nurture, along with a torn muscle that needed surgery. His arm was going to need to be immobilized in a sling for the next six weeks. Our family would be operating with three hands, while I knew we needed at least six. And, for the first time in my life, my health was deteriorating. I had bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and while I had always referred to myself as the one with limitless energy, most days I didn't know how I would get to the middle of the day, let alone the end of the day. It felt as if everyone and everything was leaving me. And worse yet, I started to think "What is the point of all this?"
Photo credit: brad.coy
I didn't have the tools to stop the downward spiral of negative thoughts or to deal with what was going on in my life. By the time lunch came on this particular serendipitous work day, I bought food and then drove in the complete opposite direction of my regular commute. I just drove away. I didn't know where I was going, literally and figuratively.
A mile into my drive, the Anhubuti Meditation and Retreat Center appeared on the righthand side. I don't precisely know how these things happen, but I now do believe that life gives us the ability to find what we need, and when we are searching with our soul, the universe conspires to help us find a clue.
Photo credit: Anubhuti Center
I parked my car beneath a eucalyptus tree and I approached the small building marked "office," thinking I could pick up a calendar of events and figure out what happens at these places. A woman came out to greet me, and she had other plans for me. She told me her name was Elizabeth and that I was arriving just in time for daily lunchtime meditation. I was the only one here today and she would be happy to show me how to meditate. I could have said "No, thank you. I just wanted to know what programs you offer." In the future, you know. Not now. Now is so busy. Now is so difficult. But I knew at the core of my being that I had no choice but to accept this offer.
Elizabeth showed me to the main hall and I followed her lead as she took off her shoes and left them outside the meditation room. We sat on cushions on the floor of a small room with light yellow walls. She approached the small table at the front of the room, and lit a candle. Then she sat by my side and instructed me to focus on my breath. Focus on my breath. Okay. Trying.
But, it was difficult to focus on my breath when my mind was being tormented by the regular storm of incessant thoughts. How long will it take me to hire a new manager? But what about all the work? Will my husband be totally out of commission after his surgery? Will the kids ever sleep though the night? I am very tired right now.
After about a minute, as if Elizabeth already knew about the weather conditions in my mind, she said "When a thought comes, label it as a thought, keep your distance from it, and return to your breath." Okay. My breath. My breath. Where does my breath come from? My nose. Air enters through my nose, through my nostrils to be precise. My nostrils are taking in air. The air I need to live. Air in. Air out. Hello? I haven't thought about anything except my breath for like six seconds! Woo-hoo!
"Allow yourself to use the focus on your breath as an invitation to a calmer version of yourself," she then said. A calmer version of myself? Was there ever one? Yes, I believe so. Granted, the fibers of my being had been wound up so tight over the last decade of career, kids and life that it was hard to remember what the calmer version looked or felt like, but there was indeed a calmer version of myself, and I was going to find her.
I closed my eyes, even though Elizabeth didn't ask me to do so. I was now ready to go deeper within myself. The image of my family formed in my mind and I felt transported to a different frequency of gratitude and appreciation. Before I sat down to find my calmer self I was operating in the outer world frequency, where everything is about how much we do. And now, I was just being, Not doing, just being. When I opened my eyes the light yellow walls appeared brighter in the noon sunshine percolating through the window and I realized that the lack of calm I felt before entering this building was because my life is happening, big time, and it is abundant, with blessings of all kinds, and with obstacles that are normal and to be expected. Right? Whoa! What just happened? Was that a bit of pretty awesome perspective on my life? I think that was me letting go of the tight grip that was leaving my hand bloodless white!
After I let go of my attachment to my thoughts, each minute seemed to bring deeper calm and a stronger connection to my original being, devoid of the harsh expectations I sometimes place on myself, and others. Meditation, it turns out, was about going deep inside myself by quieting external and internal inputs, to find the calmer version, who fortunately has better perspective, appreciation and solutions for my life. Meditation is about connecting to the best part of me, my wise mind, and allowing it to expertly comfort and support the other parts that need attention or soothing.
We remained in silence for the next five minutes, and then she rang a small bell to signify the end of our practice for today. We walked out of the meditation room and put on the shoes that had not been invited to that magnificence, and Elizabeth said, "I would be happy to meet with you once a week to help you make meditation a regular practice for you." I would be happy, too. Literally. I drove back to work. All the challenges in my life were still there, of course, but I was calmer, more centered, in facing them.
The winding of my body, mind and soul into a tight hard knot happened over many years, and thus the fair expectation is about an equal amount of time to unwind them. I am on this journey now. And it is practically orgasmic.
Photo credit: Paige Bradley