It is 6 a.m. and before I can open my eyes, my stomach is churning with dread. A mass of anxiety has settled in the pit of my belly like swamp-floor sludge. The muck has pinned me to the bed and I want nothing more than to stay here and allow the day to pass by without my participation. However, I cannot. Today is the big exam at the office. This test will determine whether or not I will be eligible to receive a valuable company promotion. It would mean getting off the busy call center floor that houses 100 of us and into the calm of the small telecommunications research team.
It is past the hour now. I have got to find the energy to move. I do not want to go into the office. I am not ready for the exam. If I fail, how will I show my face in that building again? The regret is mounting. The minutes are passing. I muster the will and peel my body away from the safety and comfort of the bed.
I shuffle through the dark hall toward the kitchen and grab the coffee canister off the shelf. I pour scoops of coffee into the well of the coffee maker and picture myself failing. The vision of my failure has the clarity of an actual memory. Palpitations rummage through the walls of my chest and I drop the canister. Coffee grinds litter the tiled floor like a thousand tiny beads. My cat Mavy watches from his perch near the window where the sun is just beginning to light the sky. I sweep the floor while he tucks in his paws. I am weighed down with dread just as the cat settles down into his bed. He has the right idea.
I want to skip meditation for the day but I know I need it now all the more. I am reminded of Gandhi’s words:
You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.
I settle on my mat. I breathe. I focus. On my meditation mat, I am able to slow down and relax. The breath transmutes my anxious energy and turns it into a calming warmth that brings me into the awareness of something greater than myself. It reminds me that I am a part of something bigger and I have direct access to it every time I sit to meditate. I am grateful to have found my way to the mat this morning.
I have made meditation a part of my daily routine. It has not suddenly solved all my problems. I have not reached enlightenment and I have not stopped experiencing the range of human emotions. Meditation has, however, enriched my life with a sense of peace, stillness, and calm that was not there before I took up a regular practice.
I used to allow my life’s circumstances to dictate how I felt. If things were going badly, I felt terrible. If they were going well, I felt good. The problem with this way of living was that I had no real control. I was powerless to the whims of circumstance. This is what drew me to meditation. The ache for peace in my life brought me to the practice. The desire to get out of my head and into my heart pulled me in. I gave meditation a try because I was tired of allowing the mercurial nature of life to dictate my emotional states.
On the morning of my test after my meditation, I was able to put distance between the upcoming event and the emotional space I occupied. The test was happening regardless of whether I was a nervous wreck about it or not. Whether it was exercising breath control, focus, or stillness—or the combination of all three—my erratic nervous system stabilized. This meant that my heartbeat slowed, my shoulders relaxed, my anxiety dissipated, the sludge melted, and my hands could hold things without dropping them (!).
Meditation for me is the reminder that I am alive to experience life and that none of it requires me to lose myself to the wraths of chaotic feelings. Meditation is that step back (and that step inward) that is sometimes needed to gain a new and helpful perspective.
Before a life of meditation, I would wake up in the morning in that anxious-ridden state and ride the rest of the day out through that lens. I can remember just waiting for the hours to pass, eager for nightfall so that the day would be over and I could crawl back into my bed where the only thing expected of me was to sleep. I actually used to live for sleep. That is to say, I was not really alive or living at all. I did not know how to handle big feelings (or small ones) because I was never shown or taught how.
I grew up with a big Italian family in a small house. It was loud in there. Stepping outside was not any better. We lived in Long Island, an over-populated and fast-paced city in New York. If you were sitting still, that meant you were doing something wrong. It took me getting older and examining my life and being honest with the findings to admit that I needed something more.
That inner interrogation led me to meditation and I credit it with my improved zest for life, my improved relationships, and my improved health. Meditation showed me myself. Meditation has allowed me to begin handling my feelings with great care and attention.
I passed that test for the promotion and received an interview with the hiring manager of the new department. She asked me, “How do you deal with stress,” and I told her, “I meditate!”
I received that promotion out of a pool of 22 applicants. I was probably one of the least-experienced candidates. I told my family and I will say it here now, I know I got that job because of my answer to the stress question.
There is a MAGIC in meditation that occurs during practice and even as you utter the word. Something energetic is exchanged when you profess, ‘I meditate.’ That essence is hard to capture in words but you will see what I mean the next time it comes up in conversation and you get the pleasure of saying, I meditate!