As I mentioned in my Big Reveal post earlier this month, I’ve been working on quite a few things for you, my wonderful readers at With Cheryl. Well, I am thrilled announce the last change for June…
CONVERSATIONS WITH CHERYL
Conversations With Cheryl is the newest addition to With Cheryl and will feature interviews with different experts in their respective fields on topics that are important to YOU, including mindfulness, job searching, and more. Each series will feature interviews with 3 different experts and will be go live on the last Monday over 3 months!
So, without further ado, I’m happy to announce the very first installment of Conversations With Cheryl…
The MINDFULNESS Series featuring Aaron B.
Aaron B. is one of my closest friends and mindfulness has changed his life, as you will learn below.
1 & 2. WHAT DOES MINDFULNESS MEAN TO YOU? HOW HAS IT IMPACTED YOUR LIFE?
I don’t know if I can fully articulate just how much it actually means to me. For all my life I’ve struggled with anxiety and at times depression. My mind would run rampant and would feel like my enemy. It would ruin the moments that I would expect to be joyous and leave me with tightness in my chest, lightheadedness, and an awful feeling in my abdomen. Though I was generally quite a happy person, and had a positive disposition, I would also have unpredictable mood swings and feel like I was living in the world of extremes at times. Some of you may be thinking I have bipolar tendencies based on what I described though I’ve talked to professionals in the past and I’m all good. I’m just a Batchelder. On both sides of the family there are familial lines of undiagnosed anxiety disorders, and just being human. Sparing you my full heritage, I’ll say that I always thought that was just how I was built and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Enter mindfulness and meditation.
After hitting bottom mentally about 12 months ago, I went to a few Psychologists to see if I could get some help. After seeing 3 different doctors and receiving 3 different diagnoses, I was confused and felt helpless. 2 of the 3 doctors wanted to put me on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications with a 12 month minimum commitment before I could even consider the process of getting off of them. I felt like there had to be a better way. I was afraid that the drugs would cause me to lose touch with who I am and my emotions. I loved who I was and I just wanted to go back to myself…though at the time it felt impossible. So, I said to myself, “before committing to 12 months of a prescription regiment, I have to exhaust my options”. My therapist at the time started talking about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and mindfulness meditation. Arriving at home that evening I went straight on Amazon and started searching for “meditation books”. The first result that came up at the time was “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story” written by Dan Harris. I thought to myself, “well fuck, I have an untamed voice in my head too. If a super successful guy like Dan Harris had demons and was able to tame them, why couldn’t I?”. I immediately clicked on “Buy Now” with overnight shipping so I could begin as soon as possible. I needed relief.
Fast forward to today and I’ve been on a journey of becoming best friends with the voice in my head (which Dan Harris refers to affectionately as the “Little Dictator”). I was able to avoid taking any prescription drugs, cancelled my appointments with my therapist, and have since come out of that dark place. Today I’m much more even-keeled and on average much happier and more present in life than I ever have been in my 31 years. That’s not to say it hasn’t been without difficulty. I wanted to feel better immediately but I said to myself “just take it one day at a time”. Eventually I started having strings of days in a row with no panic attacks, and eventually that grew to weeks and months. Today I still go through short periods of time where I don’t feel like myself, but staying with the practice I’m able to watch my mind at work. I can see how it tries to use fear against me, and with mindfulness I’m able to avoid being pushed around by the thoughts, a majority of the time. Rather, I watch them pass in my head like clouds in the sky.
In short, mindfulness and meditation have completely changed my life. I’m deeply indebted to Dan Harris. I’d like to thank Dan for having the courage to talk about his addiction and the difficult times in his life. It’s helped make me a happier and more compassionate person. To all of you readers, it’s quite a journey to get to know the voice in your head, but if you haven’t, you’ll be surprised by what you learn.
3. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MINDFULNESS TOOL?
I use the 10% Happier app on almost a daily basis for my practice. There’s incredible content from some of the best meditation teachers in the world. I’ve also been dabbling in mindfulness and Buddhism books as a way to supplement the teachings. I have quite a curious mind, the more I’ve learned about mindfulness the deeper I want to go to understand it more. The mind is one of the most complex biological creations on the planet and as a species we spend so little time listening to what’s going on in our head.
4. WHY IS MINDFULNESS IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO PRACTICE?
I’m not sure I’d say that it is important for everyone to practice. It all depends why someone wants to be more mindful. In practicing as I have over the last 12 months I’ve come to understand many things…but still am barely 10 feet up the base of the mountain. It’s going to be a lifelong journey.
Imaging a scenario where everyone on the planet was meditating I’d venture to guess that we’d have less war, greed, hatred, discrimination, and destruction of this beautiful planet. In meditation you don’t need to dig very deep to start seeing how our ego plays such an overpowering role in our lives, most times with us unaware. When I say ego, I do mean the “chest pounding, loud yelling, look at me Gorilla” we all have inside. It goes much deeper than that though.
As I’ve come to understand it, our ego has the best intentions. One theory is that it exists to protect us and in-turn “itself”. The fight or flight, those animal instincts that keep us on high alert played a role before modern civilization but now are less necessary. It’s the part of our mind that’s more primitive, and mainly invokes fear based emotions. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions that exists. It is the root of greed…”I need more”. Fear is the root of hatred…”you’re different and I don’t understand you” or “you’ve wronged me”. Fear is at the core of your reaction when someone cuts you off in traffic and you scream and pound your fist. Fear causes us to be violent, hurt others, and get revenge.
For all of the misgivings of the ego, it will do everything to protect us and will push away that which threatens it. We struggle as human beings with our ego wanting control. Meditation and mindfulness brings to light our ego and helps us to reflect on what we are feeling and why. In doing so we can come to better understand our impulses and with mindfulness have an opportunity to think before reacting.
I’d close this question in saying that the world would most certainly be a better place if everyone practiced “Love and Kindness meditation” in addition to mindfulness meditation. This practice in its most basic sense cultivates love and compassion for our fellow human beings both in our lives and around the world. Both of which we need more of today.
5. WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D OFFER TO SOMEONE WHO IS JUST BEGINNING TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS?
It’s hard to narrow to just one! So, I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice.
- Don’t set expectations for what you want to accomplish or what you want out of meditation as a whole. Instead, set an intention for each individual session. When you set expectations (e.g., I’m going to make my stress go away by meditating) you set yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Whereas when you set intentions, you’re putting forth the purpose in a more loose sense. For example, “I’m going to try to follow each breath as best I can and send the good from this session back out into the world”.
- Be forgiving of yourself. Meditation and mindfulness are not competitions–with yourself or with others. Instead, it’s an opportunity to get to know yourself and what’s going on inside your own head. If you’re like every other human on the planet, you’re going to find it challenging to stay focused as your mind tries to wander during your session. This is totally normal. Be kind and be gentle to yourself.
- Practice even when you’re feeling great. After practicing consistently for a while you’ll most likely start noticing small improvements to your life. Even when this happens, your practice shouldn’t change. Pick a consistent time you can commit to every day; even if it’s just 1 minute. The practice will serve you in both good times and tough times.
WITH CHERYL READER QUESTION: HOW DO YOU QUIET YOUR MIND FROM WORRY?
This is a really good question. A common misconception about meditation and mindfulness is that it will quiet the mind. Though this can certainly happen, it shouldn’t be the purpose of practicing. The epiphany for me after a short period of time was that being mindful isn’t about quieting the mind, it’s about changing your relationship to what’s coming up. Often the resistance and expectation around stopping thoughts from occurring will amplify them. The harder you try to stop your mind from thinking thoughts, the more thoughts you’ll likely have. It can result in the spiraling of your emotions as you start asking “why am I having these thoughts and why won’t they go away?” or “what’s wrong with me?”. Without going too deep, by changing your relationship with the thoughts coming up, you will be less bothered by them and as a result can begin to experience them less. If you’re like any other human, the thoughts will never go away though you’ll be less likely to be pulled around by them.