Where I Wasn’t Looking

Sean Oakley - Acadia Night Sky

For me, 2019 was a series of severely traumatic events. The final year of my 30s, filled with heartbreak, betrayal, rugs pulled out from underneath me and setbacks that blindsided me and knocked me to me knees. On paper, it was horrible.

Yet, amidst all the suffering, I grew and fundamentally transformed myself more than I had in any other year of my life. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was a choice I made early in the year, a choice I was determined to see through. 

Early in the year I read a book called What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Post-Traumatic Growth. It tackled the question of why many who suffer trauma get stuck in the suffering, while for some the trauma is the impetus for exponential personal growth, While historically psychology focused on helping trauma victims recover and get back to status quo, new psychology is beginning to instead focus on helping the victims find growth through their trauma. 

I made a determined choice to grow. I didn’t want to go back to where I was before the trauma of 2019, I didn’t want another 2019 ever again…I didn’t want to be who I was. I wanted something different, I wanted internal peace. So, I opened my mind to new options, paths and practices…because I was determined to grow.

Never Thought I’d Meditate

Meditation had always been something I was intrigued with. Yet I’d always resisted it because the notion of “not thinking anything” seemed so foreign and unattainable to me. My mind is constantly racing, it never stops. It seemed impossible to stop it, even though I intrinsically new that the racing itself was causing me so many problems and the subsequent suffering. 

But with my newfound determination to grow, I stopped resisting and approached it with an open mind. As I found out, it was nothing that I thought it was. 

I downloaded the app Calm. I freed myself of expectations and simply committed to taking 10-15 minutes a day and using the app. That’s it. If I missed a day, I didn’t beat myself up, I just focused on getting back into the daily consistency of 10-15 minutes. I focused on the consistency, and not on any expected goal or destination. I didn’t have a mat, or a meditation room, or incense, or any of that. I simply sat in a chair in my living room, connected my phone via bluetooth to my stereo, and let a session on the app play. Simple.

I did many different things in 2019 to grow (as I’ll be writing about). Of all those things, meditation was one of the two most impactful, and dramatically changed my life. It had a myriad of benefits I didn’t even consider, and all of the benefits were cumulative. I didn’t feel any different after week 1. But 6 months later, in my day to day life, I recognized dramatic changes in my perspective, thinking and attitude toward life. 

I learned (and continue to learn) tons of lessons through meditation. But there were two core ones that changed my foundation:

We Are Bigger Than Our Thoughts

Contrary to what I thought – meditation wasn’t about suppressing thoughts or feelings, or “not thinking anything.” It was instead about using a focal anchor, I use the breath, to identify, acknowledge and explore whatever thoughts and emotions arose – without following them. This didn’t come immediately, and took consistency in practicing meditation. Like any muscle, my attention and focus became stronger the more I worked on them, and my ability to identify thought patterns without following them grew with it. 

We are not our thoughts or emotions. That alone changed my life. The moment I identified a repeating pattern, or a emotionally painful rumination, I stepped outside of it. I became bigger than it. 

Meditation didn’t suddenly make negativity, pain or suffering go away. What it did do was teach me how to identify the negative thought patterns and emotions, acknowledge and process them, explore where they came from and finally, let them pass through like clouds.

Look Inside, Not Out

I’ve always mocked the “positivity” crowd. Simply thinking positive thoughts doesn’t manifest positive outcomes. Meditation didn’t change my mind about that. And life can be very hard, and very traumatic. Suppressing your emotions can actually be invalidating and damaging to processing your own experience in a healthy way.

However, meditation did teach me that the answers come from searching within, not externally. There are too many coping mechanisms to list here, but whatever external coping mechanism we seek peace in, only leads us to a game of perpetually unfulfilling leapfrog. Whenever we attain whatever it is we think will make us happy, we want whatever’s next. 

For me personally, I’d spent my life helping and healing others – yet always feeling isolated and frustrated that no one could emotionally heal me in the way I could them. I’d justify my internal suffering as the silver-lining roots of the help I could offer others, and work harder and harder to help and heal others in hopes that I’d one day earn the right to be healed myself. 

I rethought all of this – what if I stopped focusing on everyone else, and stopped hoping for someone to heal me, and instead focused on healing myself. 

Through meditation I listened to my own thoughts and experience with the same empathy which I’d listened to everyone else. Through meditation I offered myself compassion the same way I’d always offered everyone else who I’d lended my ear. Through meditation I reminded myself of the good in me, amidst the horrible storm. Through meditation I learned how to treat myself the same way I’d treat one of my best friends. 

The impact and growth was as immeasurable as it was dramatic. 

Meditation…

When I talk to friends, or family, or just random people in my day to day life who are going through a hard time…the first thing I recommend to them is meditation. Just download an app, and don’t focus on a destination or goal – just focus on doing it consistently. 

I made a determined choice to find inner peace, but I never imagined how good it would feel if I ever did miraculously find it. Meditation was one of the main guides through which I did. 

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