Someone once told me they didn't like to be alone with their thoughts and avoided down time for this reason. And at the time, I agreed with them. That conversation has stuck with me for years. Every now and then I'd think about it but in a changing light. I had wanted to keep myself busy to keep my mind off of "things" that were going on in my life. This was especially true when times were tough. Then I detected a pattern. I was keeping myself distracted rather than dealing with my problems. I started to make time to mentally process events and feelings. When I did that, I realized that while I was my own toughest critic, I could also be self reflective in a forgiving way. And my self reflection was beginning to help me cope with issues that felt out of my control and much bigger than me.
Now I stand 180 degrees from that person's statement and my old feelings. I make intentional room every day to be alone with my thoughts. It's given me a sense of control and peace in my life that I haven't had before. Rather than let my emotions run away from me when there was an intense situation going on in my life, I can choose how to react. (Mind you, I didn't say choose how I feel - I try my best to translate how I'm feeling most accurately to myself, which is an important part of processing.) That's an empowering feeling. The most recent example I can think of was giving birth. I have such a low tolerance for pain that the thought of birthing a baby scared me. When Patrick and I became serious, I started to fantasize about raising children with him - a new thing for me. When we decided to try for a child, I had to sort through my fears around giving birth, something I had previously called "walking the green mile". Once I realized I was labeling it as "scary", I wasn't open to it being anything else. Not being open to things is not cool. That's letting life pass you by. So I started to listen to other stories of birthing that sounded joyful and beautiful. I began to look forward to it when I thought about the feeling of holding my baby and experiencing motherhood. I stopped focusing on the "scary" part. I kept doing this mental work. Every day, I'd sit with this quietly and think about all the wonderful parts of the experience. And sometimes, I wouldn't think about anything and my own mind would bring something scary up like what if something terrible happened to the baby. Instead of letting that thought run away from me, I steered myself back towards the better outcomes. I found it interesting in those moments of practicing trying not to think about anything and seeing what was coming up. On the day I gave birth, I was so focused on the wonderful things to come after the painful part that I didn't really experience much pain (...after the epidural). Its incredible how pervasive negative and fear can be if you let it. Thinking back to that day only 2 and a half months ago and I don't even remember the sensations of pain, I only remember the look on Patrick's face when he became a dad and seeing my precious son for the first time.
I've been meditating for a little over a year and it's changed my life. My meditation practice is secular in nature. I look at it as a way to strengthen my ability to be happy person who is learning and growing to get the most out of my experiences and myself. Of course, when you are deep in introspection or even still quietness, it can feel a bit spiritual. But mostly, I look at it as the same way you'd brush your teeth to maintain healthy gums. I'm not particularly open about my meditation because of its very personal nature and because I feel like its something a lot of people don't understand. It has a lot of associations with it that aren't accurate to my experience. My hope is that more people benefit from being reflective and learning how to do what it takes to make themselves happy. Life is way too short to feel out of control.