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Finding Ways to Open or to Keep Open

I’m going to share a secret with you: meditation comes easily to me. I don’t share this often because I know it’s really annoying. I get it, but it’s just the truth. I naturally breathe slowly with long exhales; my mind is typically pretty calm and it’s relatively easy for me to slip into a state of meditation.

Unless it’s not. Like it wasn’t for about five years from ages 45 to 50. During that time, I was moving a lot and I was learning new skills. I switched careers and went from working in a beautiful, pristine yoga studio to working in a publicly-funded mental health center, and then into the unknown of opening a private therapy practice in a strange city. I’m not even going to mention the hormonal ups and downs I was experiencing. Or the fact that my husband was also starting a new job in a new place. And that both of us have aging parents. You get the picture.

Of course, I had my yoga practice to turn to; but it was different. I didn’t want to move as much or as deeply as I had loved to in the past. Fortunately, I had enough wisdom and good sense to observe these shifts in my physical practice with curiosity, not judgement. But sitting alone in silent meditation was just unbearable.

My typical practice involved settling into my chosen seat and observing my breath. I’d notice thoughts as they arose and let them move through until something would lift and time would stand still. But the thoughts that were rising didn’t go anywhere and they weren’t so great to be with. It was painful to sit with them without the support of a teacher or sangha. I just didn’t want to do it.

Fortunately, some of the new information I was learning at the time came from the field of Positive Psychology, which was pioneered by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s. The mission of the center he established there was then as it remains today: to scientifically study how people can “cultivate what is best with themselves” and to define and measure well-being and create replicable pathways toward it.

I was grouchy and frustrated and pretty much done with trying to help myself at the time, but I had clients to work with. And so I read articles and did continuing education sessions and ultimately remembered some of what I had known but had temporarily forgotten:

  1. Loving Kindness Meditation is amazing. Of course! I had been so fixated on my meditation staying as it had been, it hadn’t occurred to me to move toward this more structured, heart-focused approach which has been found to be the most effective mindfulness-based practice for building compassion toward self and others (Boellinghaus, Jones & Hutton, 2012). [There’s a recording of a Loving Kindness (Metta) meditation in the Thread Meditation Challenge archive from 10/24/21].

  2. Gratitude is as much a practice as it is a feeling. Whether it’s encouraging your family to name things they’re grateful for each day, journaling about it yourself, or writing thank you notes to people several times a week, increasing your gratitude quota has been shown to increase the amount of dopamine in your system (Carter, 2009).

  3. Affirmations really do work. Forming and repeating positive statements to yourself about yourself has been shown to lower stress and rumination (Koole et al., 1999; Wiesenfeld et al., 2001).

This work felt familiar. These were elements of many of the yoga classes I had led for years. These were things that made my heart sing. And this re-membering of my strengths made me a more confident therapist and gave me the boost I needed to get back into some of the positive habits I had lost in the move. I started seeing a therapist, myself, and I found ways to stay connected with longtime yoga students through online classes.

May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be full of ease.

May I remember to show compassion to all of the parts of myself and to remember to celebrate wonder each day.

May you find ways to open or keep open your heart.


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