A high achieving person, who was struggling with high ambition and high anxiety, wrote to me and asked if I could help him manage overwhelming feelings of stress. I suggested that he begin with mediation and he tried it. It began working for him, but stresses continued.
He wrote again, asking me to help make sense of all the various spiritual practices and advice that we are exposed to in our searches. In response to that I wrote, A Simple Practice. He tried it. It continued working for him, but stress continued.
His meditation and mindfulness practice and searching nature identified a fundamental cause of his suffering to be a difficulty with self acceptance. I reposted Loving Yourself, How to Love Yourself and Judging Yourself from the archives. He found the posts helpful, but stress continued.
He wrote again, suggesting I write something to help people who are struggling with the pressures of setting off on a college/career path. I wrote: What To Do With the Rest of Your Life? He also found that one helpful. Stress continued.
The thing about meditation and mindfulness is that it is a lifestyle, a process, and a skill. It does not make stress go away. It does not prevent stressful things from happening. It allows us the freedom to work with it when it comes. Meditation builds the skill of focus, of noticing and releasing thoughts, of remaining still and clam in the face emotional activity. Mindfulness carries that practice into the non-sitting part of our lives, as life and thoughts create new and compelling stresses for us.
Because stress is so compelling and confusing, we need something we can rely on to be there for us when we need it to guide us through our confusion. Our breath is that force, our anchor, that tethers us to the present moment and brings us back again and again. Once we are aware in the present moment, we can remember to be compassionate and kind and notice our judgements. When we practice using it in the face of real life crises, we find that it works. When we practice it enough, it becomes our habit. It continually works, again and again and again. Our skills continue to improve.
We often imagine that these skills and practices might work for other people, but we don’t think they can work for us. We never know if we don’t try. It is satisfying for me when I see people try meditation and mindfulness to work with their difficult emotions. After less than three months of practice, in the midst of a tremendously busy life, my friend wrote:
…I have been doing great. Meditation, returning to my breath and mindfulness in general is a frequent practice. The peace I feel once I return to my breath is amazing! I’ve used it in stressful situations and it calms me down instantly. For instance, at work I felt myself being rushed by others and a little stressed and once I returned to my breath, I realized how pointless it is to rush around and how peaceful the present moment is.
I found this note to be an elegant testimony about how meditation and mindfulness can work and a beautiful description of how and when to do it. I hope this person’s success in practicing how not to worry so much about being a success can inspire others to try it and find that peace in the present moment. Try it now. It may work for you. Breathe.