Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
I wish I could say that the reason I started meditating was to better myself. It wasn’t.
Meditation was introduced to me by an ex-lover, one whom upon our first meeting prematurely spat his story, his secrets, and his mental illnesses all over my lap. I decided almost immediately that I was brought into his life because I was meant to help, and that his mess was now my own.
Soon after that encounter, he had asked me to accompany him to a mindfulness group led by his therapist, and I obliged. We sat apart, on caddy-corner walls in a dimly-lit room where we all faced each other. His therapist introduced the practice, talked about X, Y, and Z, and rang his bell to commence a meditation session. For the next 20 minutes, I tried with pure and genuine intention to be still.
It hardly rains in California, but on this summer evening, as the sun disappeared behind the trees, rain pattered on the concrete outside. I felt myself run away with the raindrops, lost in my thoughts, and when I caught myself somewhere else, I mentally kicked myself. I wondered how I was supposed to feel, or if anybody else would be thrown off by my slight agitation. My body felt anxious, so I consciously tried to relax. At one point, I sneakily opened my eye and scanned the room for my person, who sat seemingly at peace. Eventually, when I started to accept that there was nothing I could do to be more comfortable but wait for the time to pass, the session ended.
After we left, I felt a lingering discomfort. I didn’t quite understand what I was supposed to do, or why I was doing it wrong. However, he stressed the importance of mindfulness as part of his treatment, so it very quickly became an important part of my life as well.
My ex suffered (and sometimes thrived) with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the beginning of our relationship, he’d respectfully look to me for insight and perspective as an entity who brought value to his life. We shared a connection that would often bring me to spontaneous tears of joy with its intensity, authenticity, and infinite essence. As time passed, however, his view of me undoubtedly shifted.
Our relationship seemed destined to breed toxicity, infesting both of our lives with an underlying scent of control, manipulation, and guilt. He was massively critical of himself, of me, of our time together, of our relationship, and of life in general. If outside situations, my actions, or his moods didn’t smoothly align, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy our time together. The common thread was that it always felt like my fault.
I started to recognize these recurring patterns, and my daily focus shifted to setting up the pieces properly to avoid conflict and stimulate connection. Our raw and authentic relationship had spoiled into a constant power-struggle, where he would simultaneously demand my constant strength, consistently attempt to make me smaller, and pull away at any sign of my weaknesses, and I would respond by manipulating outside circumstances to give him whatever I thought he needed in the moment.
For a while, I told myself that I was happy. As long as my thinking mind was ready, always preparing for the worst, always setting the stage for the best, and always anxiously waiting to tackle any unexpected bumps in the road, then everything would be fine.
Until I hit a wall I could not push through.
I hadn’t previously prioritized meditation, but the commitment became crucial when I was in deep emotional peril. I was lost, exhausted, and lonely. Nothing I seemed to be doing was enough. I regularly felt that, because of my shortcomings, I was undeserving of love, and that if I could just perfect myself, or convince him that I was worth it, I would finally and ultimately be happy. I knew that things couldn’t continue the way that they were.
Using Headspace daily became non-negotiable for me. In moments of great turmoil, I would gravitate toward the SOS meditations. At first, Headspace was the “me” time that I desperately looked forward to. It gave me a pause from the continuous stream of dialogue that—unbeknownst to me at the time—ran my life. No matter what was going on in the world, Headspace always seemed to relay exactly the message I needed to hear in that moment. At first, I didn’t quite understand what I was supposed to be getting out of it, but over time, I realized it’s lifelong benefits are just as powerful and infinite as the love I once clung to.
At first, meditation gave me the gift of space. It gave me a break from a life I had built for myself that didn’t serve me. Over time, meditation began to shed light on my mind’s insistent analyzing, anticipating, thinking, over-thinking, stressing, and worrying. It gave me an awareness of my habitual cycle of stress-and-preparation I lived by. Finally, meditation gave me the beautiful acknowledgment of separation between myself and my thoughts.
When my relationship finally came to a (well-deserved) end, I initially experienced massive heartache and suffering. Meditation gave me a safe space to acknowledge, feel, separate from, and naturally let go of my thoughts and feelings. Meditation guided me to feel my pains thoroughly so I could allow them to pass naturally, encouraged me to feel my joy as I moved through the transition, and gave me the space to reconnect with myself and with my passions. Meditation helped me learn how to be kind to myself, to respect my journey as part of my human experience instead of as the outcome of who I am.
I started meditating because I wanted to help someone I loved. But meditation helped me learn that the only way I could help others is to love me first.
The biggest lesson that meditation continues to teach me daily is that we are not our thoughts. We are not our emotions, or our experiences, or our stories. We are not the endless chatter in our minds, nor are we our hardships or our successes. We are infinite love, infinite forgiveness, infinite compassion. How we treat ourselves is how we allow the rest of the world to treat us, and meditation helps me treat myself with the highest level of human integrity and grace.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was not paid for their writing.