We live in a hectic world, especially those of us who live in urban centres. When I look out the window of my downtown Toronto condo, I see cars maneuvering their way through traffic, streetlights flashing, and people rushing to their next meeting. Even though our conscious brains are able to filter out a lot of this ‘noise’, the cumulative effects of too much stimulation have an effect on our bodies in subtle ways. Many of us don’t seem to notice just how much stress we’re faced with on a daily basis because we have very competent coping mechanisms in place. Sometimes it takes a vacation to a place with no wifi to remember what it’s like to ‘be’ instead of to ‘do.’
I first made the ‘being’ vs ‘doing’ realization in 2009 as a stressed out medical student. My 10-hour a day study schedule, coupled with a 6-hour plus work day, left very little time for relaxation or contemplation. When I began to feel an underlying current of irritation at the little things in life (call it stress), I knew something had to give. That something was my always-on-the-go Type A personality. It was no longer serving me. I wanted to hold onto the motivated, dedicated & ambitious aspects of the old me that were serving me well and let go of the competitive, over-achiever parts that were causing me to suffer. I came into medicine as a second career after years of working in strategic marketing, so my penchant for hard work & no-play came by me earnestly. I needed a tool to let go of the old me and let in the new. In comes mindfulness meditation….
The Journey Began
I saw a poster on the wall of my college for a course that was being offered by The Centre for Mindfulness Studies for healthcare practitioners called “Mindfulness based Meditation.” At this point 6 years ago, mindfulness wasn’t nearly as popular of a practice as it is today. I was skeptical that it could help unwind the stress ball that was me at the time, until I dug into the research and found a HUGE amount of literature to support the use of mindfulness meditation use for everything from quicker recovery after surgery to the ability to rewire your brain from reactive states to to responsive states. I was sold.
The course started me on a journey toward the art & practice of meditation techniques and mind training practiced by ancient traditions, like Tibetan Buddhism. Each lecture began with a short yoga sequence, followed by an experiential discussion on topics like breaking down limiting beliefs, letting go of negative self talk, practicing gratitude, learning to forgive as a tool for gaining personal freedom, and finished with meditations on focusing inward and cultivating awareness. It was such a challenge at first for me to sit still in a cross-legged position and not move for 15 minutes. My mind would wonder aimlessly and I thought that I might never be able to tame the dragon in my mind.
Perseverance lead to Results
To my surprise, each weekly session got a little easier, my posture got a little better, and my mind found a few extended dips into tranquility. I liken the experience to driving. At first it seems impossible. After a few months you feel like you’ve got it under control but you’re still are on high alert. But after a few more months you begin to relax and this newfound state becomes second nature. Mindfulness meditation is no different. With practice comes a deepening of practice (not perfection, because there is no perfection). At the end of the 8-week course, I was beginning to chip away at the parts of myself that I no longer needed to hold onto. As a result, the authentic parts of myself began to shine through brighter.
Stepping into the future 6 years later, many aspects of my life have been altered with this practice. The neural circuitry in my brain has literally been rewired after years of intentionally forging new healthy pathways that do serve me well. Happiness is a perception of your own reality, and meditation helps you to shift the way that you perceive things. Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching, “when you change the way you look at something, the thing changes” and mindfulness is the gentle guide that catalyzes this perceptual shift. It enables us to see things as they actually are instead of attaching our stories to them.
Improvements in memory, focus, and relationship satisfaction are just a few of the health benefits of this practice. Mindfulness has also proven to be useful in altering the cognitive processes that underlie clinical issues like depression and anxiety. I now have the pleasure of assisting my clients achieve their long term wellness goals by helping them to integrate a mindfulness meditation practice in their daily lives. Watching the transformative effect this practice has on clients and their families is phenomenal. The effects of mindfulness meditation are like an ocean wave that continues sending little ripples of blessings after it breaks.