Let me start by saying I am by no means an expert on mindfulness and meditation. I have been practicing for roughly 2 years and as I’m sure you can image, there is still a lot to learn. But why not share what I have learned thus far? Why not tell my story and see if it relates to anyone else?
I used to think my story was special. I’d say things like “No one understands what I’m going through because no one lives my life.” WRONG!!! The truth is yes, our stories are unique but they are not mutually exclusive. Your story is dependent on millions of factors, including our ancestors and the people we interact with every day. The idea that we “stand alone” is a fallacy. Your essence and my essence is the same.
Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself “Holy crap, it’s like this author is telling my life story!” Why does this happen?? Well, I believe it is because the human struggle (or the blessing of human life) has been lived before—many times over. If you’ve happened to read any of Joseph Campbell’s books like The Hero with a Thousand Faces, you see that most stories and feats of heroic perseverance follow the same sequential path.
First, you live in this world. You interact with life and yourself the way culture has told you is acceptable. Then, something causes you to question everything you thought “you knew” about this world. A lot of times this comes in the form of a life event or tragedy. This leaves you seeking answers and looking for more. So, you start your search. Sometimes the search can take years but once you find what it is you’ve been looking for, you will have to put it to the test (for me, it was mindfulness). Life will then inevitably present you with an obstacle to prove your commitment to your new view of the world. At this moment, your job is to use the tools you’ve gathered during your journey to overcome your challenge. If you can persevere, you know that you have found your truth and now it is time for you to share what you have learned with the rest of the world.
This, in a nutshell is what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. Now, as I said before I am not an expert and I’m ever further away from being a hero. Nonetheless, what I have learned can be useful to you based on where you are in your “Hero’s Journey”.
So with that, let me tell you my story:
I’ve lived on the west coast my whole life. I grew up middle-class, played a lot of sports and lived with my mom, dad and brother until my parents got divorced when I was 12. My brother and I moved in with my mom and soon thereafter my mom started drinking heavily. My mother’s alcoholism displaced my brother and me for about a year while my dad was in jail for committing credit card fraud. Nonetheless, my brother and I pressed forward. We both graduated college and later received graduate degrees. In 2013 I met the love of my life and in 2016 we got married. I have worked in corporate finance since 2009 and by many people’s standard I was doing great. Well, I wasn’t…
That’s the buttoned-up version of my life’s story, but as you know life is much more complicated than a few sentences strung together. What I didn’t tell you is that my whole life I have been insecure. With a father who lived vicariously through my athletic achievements I came to believe that the only way to be seen as valuable to others was to be “the best”. With a mother who chose the bottle over her sons I never thought I was worthy of any of the amazing things I accomplished or received. I spent my whole life trying to prove myself and trying to be worthy of love. No matter what I did to impress others, it wasn’t enough to keep my fear, insecurities and anxiety at bay.
In corporate America my insecurities were actually conducive to career success. I started climbing the ladder rather quickly because I wanted to show people how valuable I was, all the while thinking to myself “you better not slip up or people will know you’re a fake”.
Just like a cheesy movie I think you know where this story is going. One day, during a presentation I had done many times in the past, I lost it. Whether “it” was control over my fears or the stories of my life that I held on to so dearly, it all came at once. My body seized up and I couldn’t breath. My hands started to shake and I was sweating profusely. I could see everyone in the conference room looking at me with concern because in that moment, they knew I was having an anxiety attack. The meeting halted as I gathered myself and eventually I was able to calm down and finish the presentation but once the cat was out of the bag I couldn’t go back. The gig was up!
People now knew I was an imposter. They knew I didn’t deserve what I had been given. Or did they? The truth is I was projecting those thoughts and even worse, I believed them. I was the one who thought I was a fake. I was the one who didn’t think I deserved my accolades. On the way home that night I felt more dejected than ever. If I’m not the person who succeeds at everything, then who the hell am I???
Little did I know the seed of mindfulness had already been planted in my heart. Months earlier I finished reading Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. I had nothing to lose so I decided to begin studying mindfulness to a greater extent which eventually led me to the traditions of the Buddha. The more I read, the more I knew I needed to start meditating. The more I meditated, the more I realized that the stories I told myself my whole life were a lie. The more I realized my stories were part of me but not who I was, the more of my true self I became. I now had the power to choose the ideas and stories I wanted to believe.
Today with the luxury of hindsight, I can tell you that I look back on my panic attack that day as a true blessing. Mindfulness has taught me that I am the aggregate of the thoughts I believe and the actions I take. This has been beyond liberating for me because for the first time in my life I feel like I’m in control. I get to be who I’ve always been and once I felt this, I saw the innate goodness that’s within me.
We are all capable of amazing things and mindfulness and mediation lets you hone in on what you want in life and what you don’t want. Meditation has made me more of me and has allowed me to live my life authentically.
My hope is that my story inspires those who are looking for answers to investigate mediation and find out if it’s right for you.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I would love to hear from you and find out what got onto the path of mindfulness..
Until then, many many blessings :)