I am intense. Anyone who has met me knows this. On the outside, I may seem as if I have everything managed … and most of the time I do. But underneath it all, I have lived with various versions of anxiety throughout my life. Maybe that’s why I write about it and dissect it as much as I do.
The game changer for me in managing my anxiety is meditation. I don’t think I would be where I am without my meditation practice. I first came into meditation after my mother’s passing. I was at an all-time low in my life. I had completed my PhD at Caltech and my mother passed away three months after my defense. Neuroscience was my lifeline. My mother died from Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. Over my course work, I dreamed there would one day be a cure. Time passed and science is slow, and even though there are many brilliant scientists working on treatments, none were in time for my mother. I was in pain and I was suffering. Layers of loss filled the center of my chest, and a massive black hole emerged. As I floated through the stages of grief, I came across Insight LA and signed up for my first meditation course.
I remember my classmates and I remember their stories: a beautiful dancer who could no longer dance because she had an autoimmune disease. The young writer who had been meditating since he was sixteen and was anxious all the time. There was the mother of four children and this was her only moment of sanity. And my teachers—one who taught meditation in prisons, the other who talked about her perfect outside life, living in a mansion, driving an Audi, but knew she needed something more. Then there was me, half awake and managing, half stumbling around in a cloud of grief.
The first time I meditated, I fell asleep. I hadn’t been sleeping much and I wasn’t too surprised. During my first few months, I fell asleep most of the time. I knew my body was saying, At last, rest here my darling. Even though I was a sleep meditator in my early years, I still experienced benefits. My anxiety, monkey brain, and worried mind calmed. After that class, I was hooked. I’ve since taken numerous trainings, even meditated with monks in Nepal, and continue to take training. The beautiful thing about meditation, you can always practice with a beginner’s mind because every meditation is something new. Now, I even teach meditation. Sharing the practice with others is a joyous experience as I guide people to sit and be with what arises.
It has been eight years since my first meditation class and I continue to meditate every morning. Some days I meditate throughout the day if I need to calm my mind. Especially if I am stressed or drained, a midday meditation can clear my mind so that I feel restored. And sometimes I even get in a wink of shut eye during my midday meditation. I’ve learned that not every sit feels completely blissed out, nor do I always have some deep insight, but I have learned to sit. Sometimes I sit in peace, sometimes I sit with anger, sometimes I sit with incessant thoughts, and sometimes I sit with boredom. I sit with the waves as they arise like joy, fear, doubt, and hope. I sit with the human condition. I sit with my vulnerability. And I then awaken.
For my emotional intensity, I practice a daily meditation to balance my mind and heart. It is as if each morning I’m taking a good pill to start off my day. A mind vitamin. Meditation is a lifeline. It reduces any fears, anxieties, and stress I experience. The practice widens my lens to the good and lets me experience the joy and revel in gratitude to be here and now.
Try meditating and see if it helps reduce your stress. This may be the practice to set your mind free. In the words of Ram Dass, “The next message you need is always right where you are.”