My first attempt at a meditation happened today (7/09/12) during the last 30 minutes of a 21st century communication class at The New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. Before our class was lead into a mindfulness meditation we were shown a couple of PowerPoint presentations that gave an overview of the basic concepts of mindfulness.
I am 26, male, and born into an upper-middle class family. I grew up in a suburb of New York City in a town called Ardsley. My parents are not native to New York; my father immigrated to the city from Greece when his was a young adult, and my mother came to the city from Wisconsin (she grew up on a farm). They met while they were both doing a residency in a hospital in New York City.
I find it quite strange how two people from completely different backgrounds who were born thousands of miles away can find each other, maybe that is why my mother left the farm and traveled to New York City in the first place. I can’t truly say what force was behind it but they fell in love, got married, had me, and moved to the suburbs to raise me in a friendlier environment. My childhood was your typical suburban kid’s lot of sports, sleepovers, and videogames.
Then in second grade something changed during a practice spelling test. Up until that day I was practically an honor student who was well behaved (in 1st grade I won an award for having the most professional “Hall Walk”) and a recipient of the Presidential Fitness Award (7.01 on the mile run!). When I took the spelling test, I found I just couldn’t spell the words. I knew that I could, it was as if a part of my brain was missing or just wired wrong. I panicked and cheated; my teacher caught me and gave me a yellow card (the second worse one!).
I felt humiliated; my punishment was to spend a week in detention. It just got worse from there. My school started to notice my declining work and overall attitude and I was given counseling. In my sessions I was told to think of the “old” me and the “new” me. Apparently if the “old” me found a bullet he would try to set it off by hitting it, but the “new” me they were trying to make me into would contact an adult and make sure the bullet was brought to a safe place. I didn’t understand why I had to go to these sessions but I just said whatever I thought the counselor wanted to hear.
One day my parents brought me to a lady’s house; there I was given a series of tests. I found out I had a learning disability. In middle school I started to put on weight, my friends from elementary school now made fun of me. I was in therapy trying to learn how to defend myself from it and in remedial classes trying to get over my learning disability.
I try to block out most middle school. In high school I started working out feverishly. I also got into punk rock. By 11th grade I was in great physical shape, had a shaved head and hung out on Saint Marks Street with a group of skinheads and street punks. My classmates didn’t bother me anymore out of fear. I was full of resentment; I gave up at school and seldom went. My so-called punk friends ended up using me and I left them. In 12th grade I was alone again. I gained back the weight and was a complete recluse. In my year book I was awarded the title “space case” voted by my classmates. My second year in college I started using drugs, first pills, then heroin; the drugs shut my mind off and just made me feel good.
My mind became my ultimate enemy, mostly from self-deprecation from years of feeling worthless. I eventually believed it and my mind started to want me dead. Drugs were my escape from it all and I moved through various kinds. At my worse I was eating half a bottle of sleeping medication at a time and inhaling cans of dust off. I should be dead.
One night after a typical dosage I blacked out and woke up in a hospital. I had no clue how I got there. My bracelet said I was a 16 year old female with a Latin-sounding name (this is not an abstract metaphor; it is true). I freaked out, ripped the I.V. out of my arm and ran down the hallway. The nurses grabbed me and brought me back to my room. I asked what happened to me, they said they found me in a car wreck and I had no ID on me so they didn’t know who to call. I gave them my home number and my parents picked me up.
That was my wakeup call. It was either shape up or die. I stopped using drugs and got into craft beer. I became obsessed and I got a job managing my local supermarket’s beer section. In my 3 years working there I won a best of Westchester award for best beer section and got a write up in the New York Times.
I started to feel worthy; I finally had something good to give to people. I outgrew that position and decided to try to take the next step and enrolled in New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. It was the best decision I made in a long time.
People I met Vermont are much nicer than the people I grew up with. I finally felt accepted and part of a community.
I went back to New York the weekend before the meditation. After only two days with my friends I felt like I was slipping back into my depressive state. My time in Vermont has given me a new perspective on life and I felt out of touch with my New York friends, who are too negative, too smug or too insecure. I hated being around them after being in a more positive place. My perspective had changed.
While my teacher was going through the slides on mindfulness I felt like everything he was saying was connecting with me on a deep level. I started to breath heavy and felt like my mind was leaving my body. I had to check myself a few times so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. It was too real.
“No matter how hard you pursue pleasure and success, there are times when you fail. No matter how fast you flee, there are times when pain catches up with you. And in between those times, life is so boring you could scream. Our minds are full of opinions and criticisms. We have built walls all around ourselves and we are trapped within the prison of our own likes and dislikes. We suffer.” –Mahathera
- Openness to experience
- Freedom from compulsion
- Ability to give / receive
- Sense of purpose
- Ability to cope with setbacks
What mindfulness meditation “delivers”:
- Ability to experience the present moment
- Clear awareness of thoughts / emotions
- Ability to relate to one’s experience with compassion/understanding
- Ability to experience/transform emotional distress
- Space where creative solutions can arise
Sample of mindfulness goals:
- To learn to focus on things, to concentrate and relax and focus on one thing
- To be less anxious, not to fear negative thoughts and run away from negative thoughts…
- I want to be more aware of where my head’s going. Just to be where I am.
- I just want to able to concentrate, to be able to appreciate the good stuff in my life – I have so much but I have no respect for it.
- Letting Go
- To give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes from allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in the attraction/rejection of them.
I started to choke on my own breath at first, and then just listened to my breath as if it was the only thing that existed. My mind wandered to my past and then back to my breath. I closed my eyes and felt a stinging pain going through my head. I focused on breathing and it went away. I bounced back between the past and the now and after about 20 minutes I was only in the now. When I came too I felt a sense of deep relief. My past is just that, the present is the place I live in and is what I finally am starting to focus on.