The month of June is like the month of December – wrapping up projects, functions, graduation festivities, cottage, and holiday preparation. Even if we no longer have school aged children it’s jam-packed.
June also takes me back to a time twelve years ago, when I began to explore the benefits of meditation. To this day, I remain a student of the practice: it helps me quiet my mind and be conscious of staying “present” as I move through many items in a day… and all the distractions a day can present.
As a born “worrier” and “type A” personality, I have a vulnerability to anxiety. I learned this the hard way – early June, 2005, in the middle of a Friday afternoon, I experienced an anxiety attack for the first time. It was very scary. How could this be happening to me? I am gifted with a wonderful family, a great career, a business practice of my own that I was actively building, a circle of dear friends, and my mom was recovering well from breast cancer – what did I have to feel afraid and anxious about? I was suppose to keep it all together and power through. I felt embarrassed as I sat in my doctor’s office. He told me, I had reached my body’s limit at that point in time.
We all have a limit. Some of us reach it, and some of us do not. It is our body’s desperate way of saying “slow down – be present, and quiet your mind”.
With the help of my husband, close family and a very dear girlfriend, I got through the following six months, accepting each anxiety attack as a learning experience. I embraced exercises from a workbook titled “Mind Over Mood” on cognitive behaviour therapy, and engaged in daily journalling and meditation. I made my way through what I refer to as a “black time in my life” – a dark and scary period where I felt like a shell of myself. As I write this, and as I reflect back on that time, I am actually suddenly overwhelmed with holding back some tears – (tears that have not come from this space for a very long time).
I’m happy to say I have not experienced that “dark space” since then – it has been years since an anxiety attack. Having said that, this “new phase” of peri-menopause and hormone challenges (which has occupied space in my life the last few years) has caused at times a re-surface of feelings of anxiety and also unexpected sadness. I have come to understand those feelings and know why they are there, and that they will pass. This takes patience and God knows a lot of positive acceptance of this “stage”. Because of what I was challenged with all those years ago – I developed coping skills to identify when I’m starting to head down that path – and know I have to listen to my body. Meditation has been a saving grace.
Meditation and mindfulness is a discipline with many benefits. It reduces stress and high blood pressure, boosts immunity, slows the aging process (yay!), helps manage chronic pain and inflammatory conditions, lessens the likelihood of recurring depression, manages and prevents anxiety, promotes good sleep, and enhances mental clarity and emotional resilience… to name a few. You do not need to be perfect in your practice. It is something I can do anywhere and for as short as a couple of minutes (at my desk) and for as long as 30 minutes (the longest I have ever done and not very often). My most common time frame is 10-15 minutes when I wake up each morning. Some days my mind just wanders the entire time and others I feel I am taken to a calming space I never thought I could get to. This goes beyond “Eat, Pray, Love”!
Two apps I have used in the past are Simply Being and Head Space – both are good. Today, I just follow my own routine. If you are considering meditation or are simply just curious, I encourage you to pick up the book Mindfulness is Better Than Chocolate – my copy has many ear marked pages! Another recommend is MBSR Every Day.
Each mediation practice begins with recognizing gratitude, and as we transition from June to July, we are always reminded of the celebration July 1st (or 4th!) represents. The gratitude of freedom, opportunity, respect, safety, good health, and adventure in our home country of Canada. This year, Canada celebrates its 150th birthday and #Canada150 seems to have rejuvenated spirit, optimism, and pride in communities from coast to coast. At a time when we unfortunately hear of tumultuous times across the world more often than we’d prefer, the privilege of being Canadian is something to sure be grateful for.
Summer is the perfect time to slow down. Find a quiet space (the outdoors is perfect right now), put on some comfortable clothing (MPG is my favourite!), close your eyes, set an intention for your practice, and begin with simply just focusing on your breath. Enjoy the time to yourself, and enjoy the time to reflect on your good fortune. We all have something to be grateful for.
Why? Because we can.
Happy Canada Day! And to our U.S. neighbours – Happy Independence Day!
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Photos: Scotch & Coffee