Maggie Kelly, Holistic Lifestyle and Spiritual Wellness Educator. Founder of Satsang House™
I spent several years of my twenties and thirties in middle management in corporate America for one of the largest media companies in the world. I travelled four days out of five and mostly came home with enough time to do my laundry and head back out on the road once again. The never-ending stress was certainly taking its toll on me and I never quite felt settled or at ease. I was definitely on the treadmill many of us believe is the road we're supposed to be on to be "successful." In my mid-thirties, I traded my briefcase for a stroller and happily left it all behind to become a full-time mom.
I hit a wall about eleven years ago when I found myself completely and totally overwhelmed with the stress of raising kids and this nagging feeling underneath it all that there simply had to be more to life. I was certainly conflicted with the way I was living my life. Of course I wanted to be there for my kids but somewhere in the mix, I felt like a piece of me was missing or had vanished. This internal conflict left me feeling anxious, frightened, on edge all the time, quick-tempered, and impatient. And oh so very lonely, isolated, scared and alone. I truly felt as though I was living by my "to do list" basically just surviving each day. In my mind, it was as if I was asking myself every minute of every day "what's next? What do I need to handle next?" The struggle was tangible.
Something had to give. I thought meditation might be a way for me to calm my mind (and my stress!) and the never-ending thoughts that pervaded. I wasn't really sure how this ancient practice was going to help me rediscover myself or jump-start the next chapter of my life. I just had to put my skepticism aside, trust the process, and at least give it a shot. Heck, what did I have to lose?
The journey toward creating a regular meditation practice was at times, a very difficult and awkward path. I fought the silence, the stillness, the restorative rest. I held on to what I thought was the "right way" and my way and at times, let my practice wane. I felt guilty for taking time out for myself because I had been so conditioned to be on the move all the time. But after having had a taste of the restful awareness, tranquility and serenity that meditation gave me, I ultimately returned to my twice daily practice. What I discovered over time, was a deep and very intuitive sense that everything is going to work out however it is supposed to and all I need to do is let go of my attachment to the outcome. I'm sure this sounds rather obvious as you read it but in practice, it never is as long as we are grasping and holding on to our own limiting beliefs.
The change in me began, quite literally, within almost a few weeks of starting (or restarting) to meditate. It was subtle yet quite profound. I can describe the shift in me over this past decade as almost like a slow and meandering volcanic lava flow that has truly transformed who I am. This process in Buddhist texts is described as "purification." It's not a religious or moral term, but rather it describes an experienceof release in body and mind. One of my students said it was as if he had been "inwardly put through the wash." It's a bit like reorienting or refurbishing the mind. Today, scientists would suggest that it is because of neuroplasticity that our brains can actually grow, shift and change and be altered no matter what our age.
This idea of "purification" means the release of tension, conflict, distraction, sorrow, and anxiety. When I started to meditate, within the first few minutes, I felt uneasy, distracted, restless and found it extremely hard to concentrate.My mind wanted to dart to that “to do list” and other thoughts. But I was blessed to have had support to allow me to see that this is the way most of us feel when we first experience meditation. This is the actual practice of meditation...slowly quieting that internal dialog and reconnecting to our innermost selves. As we continue to practice meditation and make it a habit, our thoughts, conflicts, plans and unfinished emotional business will want to surface and get in our way.
Restlessness, tension, memories, fears, instincts and urges will repeatedly interrupt us. The purification comes from the release of each of these distractions until the mind settles down and becomes still, content and unwavering. As we continue to practice meditation and repeatedly release tensions, thoughts and memories, the body and mind gradually feel clearer and more at peace.
As I settled into a routine of meditating twice a day every day, I started to notice that my life was starting to settle down along with it. I wasn’t as quick to anger, I became a better listener, more patient and understanding. I started to feel more compassion and joy, more peace and tranquility. The things that used to bother me most days no longer seemed to stir me up. My awareness heightened about all things - nature, others, the daily business of living. I noticed that on the days when I didn’t meditate, I felt unsettled. It became apparent that as meditation became a part of my daily routine, the benefits were tangible. It became a new part of my daily routine that I looked forward to and never wanted to miss. People in my life started to notice that something about me had shifted and settled down. Meditation was ingrained in my daily life and had become the key to establishing my awareness and sense of peace.
This is where clarity came in for me. Instead of feeling as though I was surviving each day, I began to feel a clearer sense of direction for my life. In this newfound stillness, I was able to feel and listen to the power of my intuition and act from there as opposed to reacting to everything as it came up. It was as if I had a new built-in pause button that began to naturally become a way of life I'd never experienced before. For someone like me who had been consumed by all the “doingness” of daily life, this was a very new and refreshing way to live. I was able to begin peeling back the layers that had stifled my personal growth. I could then confront them head-on with an intuitive sense that in doing so, there would be (and was) freedom on that other side.
Some students find it difficult to settle down in meditation. Others need to work through traumas and difficulties before they can truly settle in and let go. Success in meditation doesn't come from trying to ignore or push away these feelings but rather by acknowledging each distraction and each conflict mindfully - with attention but without attachment - and letting go until it finally loses its power and influence over us. This is where true freedom, true peace and true happiness arise.
Much of the success of twelve-step and other programs comes from the power of the support found in a community coming together to share and support one another. In Buddhism, this type of community is called a "sangha." My vision for Satsang House™ is to create a conscious and thriving meditation community full of like-minded individuals searching for a respite from the stress and chaos of daily life and looking to enrich their spiritual lives. In short, our own little “sangha.”
I invite you to join our beautiful community at Satsang House™ and make it your community. Start with an Introduction to Meditation, gather with us for a retreat, coaching workshop, Community Meditation or event or for Mindful Mondays. Feel free to bring a friend and make it your new habit.