Recently I had an epiphany–for the second time–that there are really no problems; that the thinking about/dwelling upon our ‘problems’ is in fact the only real problem. Of course if I’m hanging from a cliff or have a gun pointed between my eyes, then yes, that’s a real problem. But the uncertainty of the future, the lack of a relationship and dwelling on debt are not actual problems—at least in the exact moment they are not problems.
I suppose it’s not really an epiphany if I’ve already had it once. What I mean then is I’ve recently experienced this evolution in my thinking again in a deeper manner.
I’m a worrier. I worry about class attendance. I worry about popularity on social media. I worry about my own livelihood. I worry about the livelihood of my family and friends. I worry about what I’ve said—or didn’t say. I worry about my appearance. I worry about ageing. I can’t seem to stop myself from worrying—about everything. Always.
Just under three years ago, I lost my friend Glen to suicide. Shortly thereafter, I began the undertaking of writing manuals and producing materials and curriculum for my first Jock Yoga teacher-training. Then I got an offer for a lateral move to a sweet new apartment which I had to begin packing for.
I knew I was going to go nuts trying to do everything along with keeping up my yoga practice and workout regimen while teaching 15 classes a week and grieving the loss of Glen. From years of being coached by my guru Brian, I intuitively knew I had to calm my mind.
I had dabbled in meditation a few years before when I had first gotten into yoga, and even though the ‘time out’ I took to do it was beneficial for my busy mind, my real motivation back then was for everyone to see how meditated and spiritual I was. I like attention.
This time was different. I knew I needed meditation so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. So I began the practice with quite a lot more fervor. Twenty disciplined minutes daily of bringing my thoughts back to my breath, over and over. And if my thoughts drifted off a thousand times, I would bring my awareness back to my breath a thousand times.
That summer, I gradually began to recognize beauty in my waking moments and that my anxiety was caused by letting my thinking drift off into worrying about the future. Like my seated practice, I began bringing my everyday awareness back to the moment—back to my breath—over and over, and I began to realize that by coming back to the moment, I didn’t really have anything to worry about. The future was going to happen whether or not I worried.
Not surprisingly, I wanted to share my findings with my social media following, to help others who may be struggling—and in turn, to receive the accolades of having inspired people to make a positive change.
I’ve been seeing a psychotherapist, and he helps shed light on my motivations for everything. For a little while this was depressing as I became aware of my desire for attention being a chief motivator—and with that awareness, I lost a lot of motivation to keep doing the things I was doing. I also came to the understanding that I might not be doing what I actually want to do.
For me, depression leads to anxiety and vice versa. So here I was unmotivated and slightly depressed, and I knew once again that I needed meditation.
I had actually been meditating semi-irregularly since my last stint, but couldn’t seem to get into a groove and a place where I was receiving ‘awakenings’ and ‘epiphanies’. I watched a Russell Brand video my friend had posted where Brand was singing praise for transcendental meditation. My regular practice of Vipassana meditation—or mindfulness of the breath—didn’t seem to be working for me anymore, and I decided to call up the TM centre in Toronto to register for an intro course.
Before attending the course, I shared my earnest intentions with my therapist. He asked me what I was doing and why. I told him I needed something new to bring me to the place I had been before, because what I was doing wasn’t working anymore.
“Michael,” he said, “Just continue your practice. You’re trying to get somewhere, or trying to get a ‘spiritual high’ from meditation. You’re not going to receive insights if you’re meditating with expectations of receiving them. Just continue your breath practice without expectation—doing that in the first place is what allowed your realizations to occur. Why do you believe you need to meditate?’
I answered that it was because I needed to calm my mind.
“Then do it simply for that Michael. No expectations.”
He was right. I hadn’t expected the lessons I learned when I first began to meditate.
So, I’ve once again begun to meditate twenty minutes per day—I’m only allowed twenty minutes by my psychotherapist so it’s genuinely therapeutic and not an attempt to get a spiritual ‘high’!
I’ve also started dedicating the merit of my practice to someone else, so I’m not focused on the results.
And it’s working.
More profoundly this time I’ve realized that it’s not dwelling on specific ‘problems’ that begins my snowballing anxiety, rather it’s negative thinking as a whole. My practice, therefore, is to now recognize that although my negative thinking can be like a freight train running through my head, I can still—sometimes with all I can muster—bring my focus back to my breath—back to the moment. Even if it’s just one time.