“OH, MY GOODNESS—How are you staying so calm??!?!! I would be so panicked if I were you!” Says one of my friends, not overly reassuringly…
I’m on a tropical island paradise approximately 6000 miles from home and unable to walk properly because of a severe sea urchin sting on the sole of my left foot. Somehow, I’ve managed (due to a lapse in …umm… presence and awareness) to leave my only remaining bank card in a cash machine, which has swallowed it whole.
Although this scenario might be every new traveler’s worst nightmare, five years of full-time traveling have prepared me for potential pitfalls. But, still…
Despite the situation, I am feeling nothing but calm, relaxed, and optimistic.
And, all I can think is “Wow, thank goodness for my meditation practice. I’ve come a long way!”
The Benefits of Meditation
There are hundreds of articles on the internet that talk about the benefits of meditation. These include scientific studies that have found that it reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, and can improve the immune system.
The mental benefits are also fairly well known. A regular practice can help reduce anxiety, lower stress, and create greater calm and clarity in our lives. There is, of course, a spiritual component as well. Over time, we learn to reconnect to ourselves and to a deeper, wider, all-encompassing presence.
But, how does someone who’s been practicing for a while notice the benefits of meditation in their everyday world?
Contemplating the recent meeting between the little black spiky creature from the sea and the sole of my foot made me aware of just how differently I show up to events in my own life these days.
Don’t Dramatize! Letting Go of The “What Ifs…”
The back of a favorite Hridaya Yoga t-shirts says “Don’t Dramatize.” It’s a reminder—should we need it—of the stories the minds loves to make up. It asks us to be aware of how we give meaning to the events in our lives.
After my run-in with the urchin, I saw my mind wanting to rush in and concoct the most terrifying scenarios imaginable.
“What if they don’t get the needles out? Or, it gets infected?” quickly became “What if I never walk again? Maybe it will have to be amputated! Waaaaaaaah!”
Pointless future thought projections as Sahajananda, the founder of Hridaya, would say.
(Heads up, as a former actress I have a great tendency toward drama. It’s true!)
I’m doubly grateful that my meditation practice has enabled me to simply witness the ridiculous acrobatic leaps my mind makes and move on without allowing myself to get dragged onto the roller coaster of emotion.
Likewise, when I’m nursing the sting of an emotional wound—for example, a lover who didn’t call or a falling out with a family member—I can launch straight into a story. Often, that story is trying to point to how something is wrong with me.
But, after being stung by the sea urchin my mind stayed relatively drama- and victimization-free. I chose not to interpret events as meaning either “the Universe is teaching me a lesson” or that I am stupid, unlucky, undeserving, or just not good enough.
I also didn’t use it as an excuse to diminish how I decided to show up in the present. I continued to teach Hridaya Yoga three times a week (albeit mat-based and seated for most of the time), with a rallying cry of “the sting affected my foot—not my Spiritual Heart!”
Accepting What Is —Saying Goodbye to The “If Onlys…”
I can’t begin to count the number of times my mind has uselessly reared the ugly faces of ghosts past to try and somehow retroactively fix the present. “If only I hadn’t done that, then maybe the present would be better.” We spend our lives trying to avoid pain and move towards pleasure. That, as the Buddha rightly pointed out, is the cause of our suffering.
So much of our mental activity can be a resistance to what is.
But, as Sahaja says, above all else meditation is a commitment to Reality.
Yes, sometimes my practice leads to greater feelings of peace and bliss. But, in this respect, a meditation practice can also be misused and abused, allowing us to check out and avoid pain—the same way we might seek refuge in an extra helping of cheesecake or a bout of retail therapy.
When practiced correctly, one of the benefits of meditation is the invitation and space it provides for us to sit with uncertainty, discomfort, and pain.
I notice how I’ve developed the emotional resilience to simply sit with what is. The more I can do that, the less I feel the need to stuff down or hold onto pain. I can simply (but not always easily) feel what is alive for me, witness it, and allow it to pass through me. Over time, this powerful practice has led me to feeling lighter, brighter, and more self-accepting.
A sting that had me bandaged up and unable to put weight on my foot two weeks before the end of a high-investment six-week teacher training course in dance wasn’t exactly ideal. And, neither was leaving my only bank card in a cash machine. Once upon a time, I would have mercilessly beaten myself up for such actions and thrown in a hefty side dollop of guilt for good measure.
“Talk about presence and awareness! You call yourself a meditation teacher?”
But, if there’s something else my practice has given me, it’s the ability to witness that unkind voice and choose a different response.
Instead, this time, I did what we all need to do. All of the time.
I forgave myself for being human.
I learn that the more compassionate and less judgmental I can be with myself, the less judgmental and more compassionate I can be towards others.
As Matt Kahn, a modern teacher of non-duality, says, “If everything that happened was always going to happen to you regardless of what you did, how would you act differently? How would you show up differently? How would you love yourself differently?”
Freedom Is Mine
In the great Sanskrit teachings, moksha (freedom) is the ultimate liberation from suffering. For us humans muddling through life, perhaps the greatest freedom we can give ourselves is to truly acknowledge what we can control and what we cannot. The media, weather, events, people, Donald Trump’s next tweet—anything outside of us is pretty much outside of our remit. Regardless of whether we believe that we have the freedom to consciously shape the course of our lives or that our lives have been predestined by the great hand of fate, there is one thing we always have the power to do, and that is to choose our response. With this comes a great freedom and the reclamation of our own energy and power.
Thanks, My Spiky Little Friend!
Once upon a time, the lens through which I looked at the world would have been darkly different. Getting stung and losing my bank cards would have sent me spiraling into worry, anxiety, fear, panic, and “poor me” mode! I probably would have upped my isolation and certainly not known how to reach out for support.
This time, I witnessed events (my new card winging it’s way to me via the UK, Australia, and Bali over the month and my foot finally healing after 3 weeks of jabs, medicine, and a minor operation—ouch!) with nothing more than a slightly detached sense of amusement. I got to choose a very different response and practice—relying on new friends, asking for support, and receiving help (all skills in the school of life that haven’t always come easily to me). I was blown away with gratitude and appreciation for the beauty, community, and connection that was created as a result. I was almost grateful to the sea urchin for stinging me in the first place!
And, that is perhaps the greatest benefit a regular meditation practice can offer.
Eventually, as that lens we view the world with gets cleared of all the dust, grime, and soot of old ways of behaving, emotional suffering, and triggers, we get to show up in the present moment and interact with more trust, compassion, love, clarity, and calm. As we change, we see how the world changes with us.
I wish you nothing but love, luck, and the same miraculous unfolding in your own lives.
Dominique is a Hridaya Yoga teacher (and now, a Mystical Dance Teacher—she completed the course!). She runs www.wanderwomen.club, an online sangha (spiritual tribe) for women that offers a free 7-day heart connection meditation course. Dominique also has a podcast featuring inspirational women and teaches Dance of the Divine Feminine and Goddess workshops and retreats around the world.