At some point last year, I parted ways with my daily mindfulness meditation practice. Although I know I’m a more mindful person than I used to be, I’ve gotten used to a certain level of mindfulness and I suppose at this point I’m starting to take it for granted. That’s not to say I never sat in stillness. I did and I did so several times a week, but it was only reluctantly and when I finally did sit down to practice, I didn’t find the same kind of satisfaction I’d been getting from the practice when I first began to meditate seven years ago. Some of this restlessness with my practice stemmed from a bad silent retreat experience I’d had and some of it probably came from having a mostly daily practice for seven years, sort of a seven-year-itch.
But something happened that helped me make peace with my practice and recommit to a daily practice as an integral part of my life. This renewed commitment arose out of a difficult situation. My husband was having some serious medical issues and one of the doctors made a decision to test him for cancer. My nervous system reacted the way my nervous system has been trained to react every time a doctor expresses concern over a potential cancer diagnosis. When a problem is difficult to diagnosis and it’s been going on for a while, it ALWAYS turns out to be cancer. But this time, as my mind was racing toward all the terrible possibilities and all the strategies I could implement to deal with the terrible possibilities, another part of me witnessed the way I was catastrophizing and counseled me to stay in the present. Future problems, if they indeed manifested, would be dealt with in the future. That’s not to say there weren’t moments when my breath grew shallow and my guts coiled and kinked, but I witnessed those moments and appreciated the temporariness of it all.
My husband’s medical test (which, by the way, did not reveal any cancer) was a high-tech scan that used a radiological drug to image the functioning of his tissues and organs. There are no easy metrics, high or low tech, to gauge the effectiveness of a mindfulness meditation practice. It’s not possible to get on a scale and notice a decrease in the weight of the worries you’ve been lugging around or the lightness that happens just from noticing the bright yellow wing of a goldfinch that flits by. But there are, from time-to-time, substantial instances of awareness and appreciation for the temporariness of life moments like my ah-hah moment in the doctor’s office when I noticed the running narrative in my brain, disrupted the harmful narrative and intentionally brought myself back into the present moment.
Through my mindfulness meditation practice, I train myself daily to pay attention to the present moment. This training allows me insights and choices that otherwise would not even exist. It gave me the freedom to recognize my urge to worry and allowed me to make a choice to limit the worry and thereby to make a very difficult situation a bit less difficult. That was enough to convince me to continue on in my daily practice.