Long time readers may remember that the tender month of May is something like kryptonite for me and my family. I (un)wisely crowded the birth of my children 9 days apart, on either side of my own birthday. Coincidentally, Semester One also finishes in May every year, which means that my final assessments are due in the middle of all of this. In addition, I usually have some other snafus – last year I took on full time work in May and developed bronchitis – this year, I am also taking on a few weeks of full time work. Again, coincidentally, this period of full time work begins on the week that my assessments are due.
Why does this happen? I can’t really say. I’m sure I’ve written before on the power of this month for me and my family (when you’ve been blogging for five years, and written over 250 posts, it’s easy to lose track of what you have said). All I know, is that big things happen at this time of year for us – big moves, house purchase, births, deaths, new jobs, redundancies, further education – you name it, it all squashes into this little segment of the year.
So, how do I normally cope with May and all of its stresses? Errr…not that well to be honest. I want to surf the wave, I really do – but my tendency to want to do everything perfectly, combined with my control freakish micro managing tendencies, means that I am less surfing and more frantically bailing out the dinghy with a sieve. Hence the bronchitis, conjunctivitis and the high distinctions last May :).
Something is different this year, however, and it’s not the amount of potential stress. It occurred to me the other day that I feel quite calm, deep within my very being. I have moments of stress, sure, but they are like clouds passing across a vast blue sky – here, and then gone again. It’s not that I feel more ‘on top’ of it all – I don’t. I have two major assignments to do in the next week, working full time is likely to be very challenging, and there is a 13th birthday to be organised and presents to buy. Still, all of this is not generating the neuron frazzling anxious buzz that it normally would. Why?
Winding the clock back to the beginning of the year to when I got my new job, I decided that in order for this new addition to my life to work for me, I would need to be serious about my self care. In addition to eating well, addressing any health issues that arose and being very mindful and discerning about the things and people I engage with, I decided to implement a daily meditation practice, as well as to practice yoga 4 – 5 days a week.
I came across the Headspace meditation app at about the same time as I made that resolution, and used it to guide me through a 40 day practice, which again, as long time readers would know, is a technique that I use to create a new habit. At the same time, a friend told me about the Gaia website, that offers yoga videos by amazing yoga teachers all over the world for a great introductory special. So, since the beginning of the year, I have been meditating daily (give or take a day here and there), and doing a home yoga practice of some description 3 – 5 days a week.
Yoga is a no-brainer for me – if I don’t do it I suffer, and if I do it, my suffering is relieved. But the benefits of a daily meditation practice are harder to quantify. Yes, a 20 minute meditation is usually pleasant, I feel relaxed and connected. But then the day starts, and the benefits seem to evaporate with a lost shoe, or a squabble about emptying the dishwasher. All of the mystics and sages, from the present day back into antiquity, insist that a daily contemplative practice is essential, but the doubts still remain. Does a daily meditation practice actually make a difference? The answer is, yes, over time.
What kind of time? Well, longer than a week or a month, or even 40 days. I would say it takes about 90 days of a regular meditation practice before the cumulative effects start to be felt. That time frame makes it hard for us humans, because we tend to want to see the result of something quite a bit sooner than that, and for many things we do, like diet or exercise, the benefits are quickly seen. A widely accepted exception to that is education, where knowledge is accumulated layer by layer over time, and we accept the fact that this process takes time. It may be helpful to think of meditation as a process of education with a similar time frame, where the benefits are intangible – all the way up until you suddenly realise that there has been a shift in the way that you see the world.
So. This morning I have two 9 year old girls that will be just waking up from my daughter’s birthday sleep over. I will make them breakfast and clean up. The Bear will take our son to buy him his birthday present, and hopefully I will be able to hit the books sometime this morning. I’ve taken a couple of days off work this week, so that I can finish my assignments before full time work starts. I will also be making time to meditate and do yoga, to eat well, and get plenty of sleep, without which everything goes to shit. Establishing priorities and boundaries are a must – I will do only the things that I have decided are essential for this month.
And then, May will be over, and I will rest :).
Have you stayed with a meditation practice over time? How does it affect your life? What kind of meditation do you practice?
How do you cope with stress? Are you a wave rider or a frantic bailer like me?