I knew about meditation before this years’ diagnosis, but I didn’t take time to do it. I was already aware that my life was moving too fast. I’d hear a voice from time to time amid the frenzy of parenting, building my dream project, Fastlife.tv, being a wife and supporter of my husband living his dream, trying to be it all for my extended family and friends. No matter what I did, it didn’t feel like enough. The voice would say, “Breathe, Brooke, slow down Brooke.” I chose not to listen. I even actively defied that voice until I couldn’t anymore. My body decided to stop working overtime for me. It told me that I was going to lay down and that was it. This is a story about how meditation and breathwork are my most valuable healing tools.
Without going into a bunch of heavy details about being sick, I will just say that now I am awake and there’s no turning back. I totally understand why some people don’t do the work to fully learn how to be present at the moment. It really requires courage. It’s not easy to face our habits, thoughts, and old patterns, our shame, skeletons in the closet, mistakes, hurts, and disappointments. It sucks! I added to my own stuff by trying to help everyone else avoid the pain I had felt, so the load was a hundred times heavier and impossible to carry long term. I’ve cried more tears in 4 months’ time than I have my whole life. Things have surfaced for me as I work on healing that I never even knew I needed to deal with and all the things I did know I needed to deal with are right there staring me in the face every day.
I’m not ready to talk about all of it because at the point I do, I want to have tools to share with you. Tools that you can use to get to the other side of hard things emotional and physical. I’m doing my work so I can heal and also so I can share. I’ve experienced trauma, living with a family member with PTSD, bullying on several occasions including threats to my life and character, abandonment, and many failed relationships.
Most of us anesthetize ourselves of our pain. We drink, we spend all of our time with people distracting ourselves from any work or depth in life, we might even do drugs, gamble, or shop too much, we watch too much television, gossip, blame, or judge others. We do all of these things instead of looking at ourselves and doing the “heart” work that would actually make us a healthy, functioning person. We get away with it because most people are doing it. It’s just like peer pressure in middle school. If it’s so common, it’s all over the media, your family does it too, why would you do anything any different? Our politics reflect it with the constant bickering and blaming, it’s everywhere. That sense of disharmony and a constant state of unrest plague most of us. This combined with technology use and a lack of stillness is why I believe 18% of America have anxiety disorders and Millenials are now being called the “Most Anxious Generation”.
After getting sick and my body wasn’t cooperating, my doctor talked to me about my stress level. In one appointment while sharing the experience of living with a family member who had a terrible trauma when I was a young child, I sobbed. It felt so heavy and I didn’t want to carry it anymore. He looked at me with such kindness and said, “It’s like you’ve been carrying a deep, dark secret your whole life and you’re finally ready to share it.” He explained that there is research happening right now about the effects of childhood trauma, even when it doesn’t happen directly to the child, if it happens to a caregiver or in the home it can be debilitating. He explained that we are adaptive and my survival to was to go full force at life, being the strong one to hold it all together. Unfortunately this is not sustainable. I got pretty far…44 years! His kind approach helped relieve the shame I felt for carrying this heaviness and being so hard on myself and others for so long.
Here I am. Four months into the healing process. The prescription other than temporary medication was to make this the “Year of Brooke.” To get massage, acupuncture, lower the stress, eat healthy, and rest. I received a prescription to take care of me. One of the easiest tools in my toolbox now is meditation. It’s the easiest and the hardest at the same time. Easy because it requires nothing but you and a few quiet minutes. Hard because our society as a whole isn’t quiet and not very slow…it’s not encouraged to sit in silence. It’s beginning to catch on over the last several years, but with electronics devices and mass media there is information coming at us all of the time.
I’ve found that patterns help with habit formation. I do a few things the same most days. I awake before my family and spend a few quiet minutes in meditation first. I use the app Headspace. I love the sound of the narrator’s voice and I learn something helpful each time. Right now I am going through a lesson on acceptance. I’m learning about what we focus on grows. This lesson asks you “What are you resisting?”, teaching that what we resist actually grows. It follows the lesson by talking to you through sitting still, listening to the sounds around you, focusing on your breath, deep, slow inhales and exhales, watching your thoughts, and encouraging you to let them come and go without feeling like you need to take any action. It has been such a powerful training tool for me to pause, think, and be quiet before I do or say anything in all sorts of situations.
My old self would react immediately to slights or any perceived injustice, attack, or cruelty. Why would I have done it any differently? I had been attacked, treated cruelly, as had other very important people in my life. It became a way of being and surviving. It kept me safe, or so I thought.
Come to find out our body isn’t supposed to be in a constant state of fight or flight. I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing. I wasn’t aware. I will speak more on this later as I study childhood trauma, but you can imagine that a four-year-old child wouldn’t have tools to know how to process trauma except the innate instinct to survive. How do animals survive when being attacked? They fight back or run! That’s our instinct!
As a result of not being able to run and fight, I learned there was another option. To slow way down and get quiet. Meditation is a tool to use to get quiet, notice what you are thinking, essentially awaken. Once you are awake you become aware. Once you have awareness you have the power to choose the third option, find safe people, and healthy alternatives to all of the things we choose when we are running. Meditation has done that for me. It took some time and I started with just 3-5 minutes. My mind still wanders but I am getting better at watching my thoughts and doing it more often. As a result I’m more aware of my thoughts throughout the day. That’s the awakening. I like the guided meditation because it’s teaching me at the same time that it’s walking me through the act of doing it.
If you are struggling to find your way, feel generally anxious, or have a hard time slowing down, meditation is something that could transform your experience. A book I’ve found particularly helpful given to me by my acupuncturist, Clark Zimmerman LAc, MAcOM at Middleway Medicine is The Untethered Soul. It is about our minds and awareness of our thoughts and how meditation works and how to become an observer of our thoughts instead of blindly going with them in every direction. I use Headspace and have tried the Calm app. Here is a great article about the top mediation apps of 2018 by Healthline. I hope, if you haven’t already, you’ll give meditation a try or just take a few more quiet moments throughout your day to be present.