When did you first start practicing mindfulness and why were you motivated to do so?
I first began practicing mindfulness when I was diagnosed with a mood disorder in 2006. My thoughts were out of control then—picking out the negative in any situation, setting unrealistic goals upon myself, feeling guilty for all the mistakes I've made. After spending many years in bed, hiding from the world, I stumbled upon the practice.
Mindfulness gave me the option to get out of my head and into the world. It took reaching rock bottom before I took my mental health seriously. Fearing getting sick again, I embarked on a new way of approaching my life. The options at that time were obvious—either continue living a horrible lifestyle and end up in a psychiatric ward, or begin practicing mindfulness and befriend myself.
Did you take a class? If so, what sort of class did you take?
My first experience with mindfulness was listening to Gil Fronsdal recordings online. Much later I went to a Shambhala Meditation Centre to get formal training in meditation. It wasn't until I began a group practice, twice a week, that I began to gain the insight necessary to change my life. I've done a couple of programs at the Shambhala Centre which deepened my practice. I'm currently in the 4th week of a formal MBSR program.
How has mindfulness made a difference in your life?
Mindfulness taught me that my mind literally has a mind of its own. I didn't have to be my immediate thought or emotion. In fact mindfulness taught me my real nature is calm, clear, and peaceful. The negative thoughts were just clouds in what was really a summer's day sky. Suddenly I had the inner fortitude to start going to the gym (I lost 35 pounds), making my home a place of peace instead of distraction, and actually listening to my friends. Before mindfulness I would look for ways to hide from the world, but breath by breath I am now working with it, going through it, and using it as my teacher.
What do you do for your livelihood (ex: homemaker, teacher, firefighter) and does your practice of mindfulness affect that?
I am a pre-employment counselor for my local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. I take the hard lessons I learned in my own recovery journey to help people with a diagnosed long-term mental illness. When working with adults with special needs, mindfulness is essential. I have to be aware of body language, speech, and behavior to head off problems and sometimes just be OK with atypical behavior.
One of the hardest things for someone with a mental illness to do is learn something new and be okay if something is not perfect. In our art class these two aspects constantly come up requiring mindfulness of breath to lower levels of anxiety, sitting with imperfection, and breaking down large problems into small, manageable goals. It's not uncommon for someone to freak out. I have to be aware and know when that's coming in order to work through their barrier.
Is there anything else you would want people to know about mindfulness and you?
Mindfulness is a lifestyle—a path of engaging with everything around you. It's not a solution though. Sometimes just being with a problem and getting through, moment by moment, is enough.