June 27, 2013

Mindful: Tales from a Meditation Rookie. ~ Amber Howe

Things look different from here, I thought.

My therapist had given me her ever-more-comfortable chair and was sitting in my spot on the couch.

My mind drifted to the first day I sat there, trembling and nervous, over four years ago. I tried to picture myself the way Dr. King saw me, watching me heal over a two-year period of weekly sessions.

I wonder what it felt like to witness a sad, broken girl transform back into a laughing, confident woman, right here from that very chair.

We’ve switched spots so that I could more easily relax. I’d recently resumed my visits with Dr. King, but I wasn’t there to snuggle into the now-familiar couch and have one of our talks.

Dr. King was introducing me to something called Mindful Meditation, a technique she felt would be beneficial for me as I processed recent life changes. And despite the ease I feel with my therapist (I frequently refer to her as my Fairy Godmother), I was anxious.

On cue, my thoughts started to spin like a top. This feels strange. What if she wants me to chant? It’s too hot outside. I hope the new garden is ok. What should I make for dinner? Tacos sound good. We need more cheese. This chair is so soft- wait, it reclines! What is about to happen? I’m NOT saying, “Oooohhhmmm.” Why didn’t my friend call me back? I need an oil change… And so it went: the ever-evolving list in my head of things to do, dates to remember, fears, memories, songs I heard last week.

I stifled a giggle as the image of therapy-addicted Bill Murray in the movie, “What About Bob?” popped into my busy mind. I silently repeated his calming mantra: I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.

If I couldn’t shut off the buzzing in my brain, this was going to be a long hour.

Truth? The reason I was so anxious about meditation was because I secretly believed I couldn’t do it.

Dr. King knows me well enough to anticipate my fears.

She allowed me to find my own comfort zone and simply began to read to me. Her soothing voice has become a security blanket to me over the years, a source of calm that prompted me to close my eyes and breathe deeply.

In with the good, I thought. Out with the bad.

With each breath, I felt my heartbeat slow down and my muscles unclench. And then, I just listened.

The reading, taken from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, was essentially a vivid description of a mountain. Any mountain, really, as long as it was large and sturdy.

My imagination took over as Dr. King’s sing-song description brought the monolith to life in my mind: green grasses, blowing in the crisp breeze; colorful pops of wildflowers; the bubbling flow of a snow-thaw mountain spring. I knew she selected this particular visualization with me in mind; we share a love for the rugged Utah wilderness. When I had a clear picture of “my” mountain in my head, we switched gears.

Instead of the gazing at the mountain, the mountain and I became one.

External forces of all kinds may affect the mountain—storms, the change of season, even the sun’s rays as the day progresses into night. Lightning may suddenly strike it. Unexpected fires may burn it. A rainbow of wildflowers may blanket it. Even an earthquake might shake it to the core.

But (quoting my favorite line from the reading), “It’s all the same to the mountain.”

I’m not sure how or when it happened, but I got caught up in my imagination. I related deeply to the mountain analogy. I’d experienced a few harsh storms recently, dealt with unexpected shifts in the seasons.

Good or bad, those things happen around me, even to me—but they are not me.

Like the mountain, I can remain grounded, rooted, solid, strong—regardless of the external situations that unfold in my life.

During the reading, I was aware of my surroundings.

I heard the air conditioning system shudder to life. I felt the cool air on my face, blowing down from the vent. I heard an ambulance’s loud siren whine toward us and then away. I felt present—and yet, when Dr. King prompted me to slowly move my fingertips and open my eyes, I had that groggy feeling I get when I’ve just emerged from a light nap.

Blinking in the bright, sunlit office, I felt calm and relaxed. Sure, the list of things to do was still there in my head, but it felt manageable. The anxiety—about now, today, tonight, tomorrow—was gone.

We talked about how to use this relaxation technique in daily life, and Dr. King got up from the couch to reach for her appointment book. There was no chanting, no lapse from reality—simply a “time-out” that brought me back to center.

I sat there in her chair, savoring the clarity I was feeling.

And again, I thought, Things look different from here. But it meant something different this time.

I am the mountain.

Amber Howe lives and writes in Park City, Utah with a mountain man husband and a crooked-eared dog named Cholula. She chronicles their adventures in Utah and beyond on her blog (www.theusualbliss.com) where her mantra is, “TODAY is the happiest day.”



Ed: Elysha Anderson

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