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The Messy Meditator

How showing up imperfect every day to meditate saved me

I was a wreck.

Physically, emotionally and mentally a wreck.  I shall spare you the details except to say this: I had let my body break down to such a point that pain and shaking hands and racing heart and weight loss in the extreme became the norm. Anxiety attacks that woke me with an abrupt shudder at 3:00 a.m., crippling my attempts at a full night’s sleep. I just thought it was stress. It was more, much more, and set me on a path to uncover the mystery of my ailment. Who knew that some illnesses could have such a direct impact on the functioning of my mind?

When I landed in the serene offices of a life-saving endocrinologist, blood tests in hand, I was broken. I sobbed. I was scared. I was then struck by what she told me: in effect, she said, “This is no way to live,  and we are going to get to the bottom of this. It will take some time, but we will get there. I need you to get extra rest, and I need you to meditate. Every day.”

I felt that I had no choice. I was in her able hands. The doctor said meditate, I would meditate.

Headspace app loaded, I said to myself, “OK just do these 10 minutes every day. Without fail. Even if you DO fail – because, really, how can you fail at meditating?”

And this is how I formed a habit, and the habit saved me.

On my train commute, I sat down and meditated. If I drove into the office instead, I stopped in the park by my workplace and meditated by the lake. Sometimes, if weather did not permit, I found an empty office and meditated. I meditated on my front porch as the sun rose, rain or shine. I meditated sobbing. I meditated while having an anxiety attack. I meditated checked out and hyper-focused on something else – a grocery list, what to wear, calling the plumber. I just showed up in whatever shape I was in, closed my eyes and hit start on the day’s meditation. It was just about the only consistent thing other than breathing I did over the course of months of upheaval.

Here is the amazing thing I learned about being a messy meditator: that by allowing for my imperfect   practice, I found the key to it. And to life , especially living through the challenges that I was facing. And it was this: acceptance. Acceptance of what I did not want to go through and going through it anyway. With every additional medical test, every day that felt impossible, I closed my eyes and said, “OK my girl, you can be here. You can take ten little minutes and breathe.” Acceptance is a door opener. If I could be with “what is” when “what is” was just plain awful, perhaps the fear of it was not something to be afraid of. Perhaps, the “what if’s” that fed my anxiety were not worth indulging. Because I had the ability to cope with any “what if”. What a liberating gift that concept is.

It saved me. My messy meditation practice saved me. The year that followed my finding meditation was even more challenging than the year that brought me to it. I was different though. Armed. Accepting. Brave and vulnerable. Messy me, all o.k.

I remember when, after finally uncovering and treating the cause of my illness, I met with my endocrinologist. It had been six months since that first appointment. She looked at me smiling and said, “It is like you turned the lights back on.” It was true. I was physically on the mend, but inside – inside I was calmer. And then, these beautiful words, ‘This is the reason I became a doctor.” We both teared up. We had been through something together, indeed we had.

Her healing of me was real. And I had a hand in it as well – by hitting that app daily and just showing up to breathe “as is” .

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