I was lucky enough to lead a life without physical, substance, or mental abuse. I earned graduate degrees and was well employed. There should be no big problem to discuss, right? Wrong!
An educator in a lovely marriage with, combined, five children who have produced seven grandchildren thus far, I'm still not too proud to admit that life's challenges got the best of me. And mindfulness saved me.
I grew up in a traditional home, was 22 years old when I married after graduating from college, had three children, and got divorced after 22 years of marriage. Again, no abuse of any kind; no one was unfaithful; we just grew apart. My goal was to stay in the marriage until all the kids made it into college; I can only say that I got close.
Over the next 16 years I became a K-8 principal, remarried, lost both of my parents, and had two of my children marry the loves of their lives.
While life cycle events are within the norm, they also take a toll. Add to that the difficulties of navigating wedding weekends with people who are no longer married, a few other "wedding related" extended-family issues, and the result is truly a mess with hurt feelings all the way around. Relationships with some of the people who are most dear to me were badly damaged, and I was constantly beating myself up as I tried to figure out what was going on in my world.
In addition, during this time I had become unhappy with issues regarding my job and decided to resign. After 14 years as principal and five years as a teacher in that same building, I would no longer be working at the same school or regularly seeing the people who had become very much like a part of my family. Another loss.
Yes, I was sad. Did I think I had gone crazy? No, but, in hindsight, it may have been a case of under-diagnosis. Or, lack of ability to make a correct self-diagnosis? Or, a doctor treating herself and having a fool for a patient? (Oops, forgot. I wasn't that kind of doctor.)
My last day in the school building was June 29. I broke my foot on July 5 and had surgery July 31. Finally, something forced me to stay put long enough to have to admit to myself that I needed help.
I had attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat the summer before I had resigned; it had been my first encounter with meditation and, while I hadn't kept up the practice, it had still shown me that meditation did work as far as calming, de-stressing, and clearing the mind of unnecessary worries. I enrolled in some online mindfulness classes via Mindful Schools and that was the beginning of turning things around.
I could finally see the role I had personally played in the breakdown of relationships with family members, my role in what went wrong at work, the negative impact it was having on my current marriage, and the negative behaviors I had been exhibiting. I continued learning with Mindful Schools, one of the student-directed social emotional learning programs that insists on its practitioners having personal mindfulness practices, as well as continuing to learn and grow through other retreats, reading works by leaders in the field, and continuing to strengthen my practice.
My saving grace during this time was continuing to work with children and their families. Academic language therapy, study and organization skills based on brain research, writing skills, student empowerment programs, and mindfulness. It's said that you teach what you need to know; apparently, this is true. I, and the children and families involved, were very lucky that my ability to perform in this arena was not negatively impacted during this personal crisis. In truth, they were my refuge, but also people who deserved the best I had to offer, and there is evidence to support that their individual needs were met.
I will never say "I'm totally fixed" but I will say I am much happier and notice an ability to be less reactive with my emotions. I try to stop, breathe, and determine what I am feeling and thinking. Attention is given to what is making me feel and think certain ways, and I then attempt to identify the real issues lurking beneath the surface. I ask myself questions: Is this really true? Is this a current situation, or am I reliving the past or projecting into the future? Is there another possible explanation? Am I able to forgive, either myself or others, for whatever took place?
Being an extremely private person, I continue to have difficulty verbalizing my personal insecurities and worries, but have no problem admitting that I am a work in progress. Family relationships that were once extremely damaged have improved; more progress continues to be made in this area. I try to discuss my upsets as they occur, with those involved, and in a calm and gentle fashion; sometimes I'm even successful!
Learning the science behind meditation helps me better understand how emotions and feelings impact one's health and overall well-being. Learning from Dallas' Center for BrainHealth reinforces and supplements the information I receive from meditation resources, and having a secular version of a mindfulness practice that was once tied to religions other than my own allows me to be true to my personal faith while gaining knowledge of other beliefs. I'd call that a win-win outcome.
So, thank you, mindfulness meditation. Without any expectations for what the future may bring, my personal practice will continue. If you're looking for me, I'll be the one focusing on sound, breath, or body, staying in the present moment, noticing how I feel and what I'm thinking, and making no judgments about whatever I find.
Dr.Wolbe can be contacted via her website at www.drsusiewolbe.com.