I started practicing mindfulness and meditation nearly 10 years ago.
I stumbled across it by chance really, not knowing much about it, and having a fair few preconceptions about it being creepy, flowery, and all the rest (I know that nowadays most wouldn't think that...but that was 10 years ago after all!)
At the time, I was a typical young work-hard play-hard Londoner, who also suffered from insomnia and anxiety.
I didn’t want the anxiety, and looking back I spent a lot of energy trying to push it away, by filling my life with things to do and achieve – my days were packed, from the moment I woke up at 5am to go running, to the moment I went to sleep around midnight, after a long day of working and socialising.
Eventually, my levels of anxiety were preventing me from enjoying my life at all, despite doing all the things that I thought I needed to be happy – exercising, socialising a lot, going on regular city breaks, taking part in charity runs, and so on.
Learning to meditate, I learnt to stop. To stop, observe, and create some space around my experience. To stop, and get off this cycle of constant doing. To stop, and learn to just be.
It was extremely hard at first, as I became aware of how all over the place my mind was, and how restless my body was becoming when I tried to stay still. I thought that I wasn't any good at meditation (everyone else was, but not me...I was just too restless for it) and that I should probably give up, but somehow I stuck at it.
I became aware of difficult emotions, such as the fear that was sitting underneath all these things I was trying to achieve, and a lack of kindness to my body which had been sending me signals of pain and tension that I had ignored. I started to become an observer of my own mind, its activity and the thought pathways that it follows.
I realised then that a lot of the anxiety I was experiencing was self-inflicted. Yes, I had a stressful job, but the way I was thinking about it and relating to it didn't help.
I realised that I didn’t have to keep thinking in the same way, and doing the same things; that stress is part of life, but it doesn’t have to be distressing.
Mindfulness can help us release stress and physical tension, by learning to be with and soften into our experience. But more importantly, it allows us to develop self-knowledge. In my case, I realised that I was not as extraverted as I thought, and that I do need some time on my own to recharge, and keep emotionally and physically fit. I also became aware of my values, and how not living up to it was adding stress to my life. This led to a change of career, and a well-needed change of lifestyle.
Self-knowledge gives us more choice about the thoughts we decide to entertain and the actions we decide to perform.
Choice is freedom.