I didn’t start meditating to gain enlightenment or have mystical or out-of-body experiences. I started meditating to get my life back.
About 10 years ago, on my way home from work, on a conference call, I had a panic attack. I know that’s what it was now, but at the time I thought I might be dying. My chest felt tight. I was lightheaded. My vision narrowed and became fuzzy. My whole body began to shake.
Anyone who’s experienced some form of panic or anxiety disorder is aware that knowing that this panic is simply a construct of your own mind, doesn’t make the panic or anxiety go away. Instead, you live in fear of having another episode. You are anxious about being anxious. Afraid of being afraid. And the more you worry about having a panic attack, the more likely you’ll have another one. For the next 8 years, I experienced anxiety and panic every day.
Driving became terrifying. I was afraid of losing control of my car during a panic attack and injuring myself or someone else. So I stopped driving my daughter to school and only drove when I had no choice. I avoided other situations where my panic seemed more likely to surface or have consequences.
I don’t think many people knew I was struggling. I’d told a couple of close friends, but from all outward appearances I was outgoing and confident. Leading a department, new business pitches, facilitating workshops, and giving presentations to intimate gatherings of high-level executives and auditoriums full of people. I was doing a decent job of hiding it, but I was dying inside.
It took years of procrastination, poring over websites, reading book after book, therapy, and medication, before I found something that seemed to click. It was a book entitled, The Mindful Way Through Anxiety. This book describes clinically-tested mindfulness practices that bring awareness to anxious feelings without letting them escalate. I learned that much of what I’d been doing over the years to try and avoid or stop anxiety and panic, only made them worse.
I began to practice the techniques from the book, and slowly I began to feel the grip of my fear weaken. Over time, the episodes became less frequent, until eventually the panic attacks stopped altogether. Despite the relief I felt, and clear evidence that these mindfulness practices were a big reason why, I got complacent, and stopped being consistent with the exercises.
During this process I had also begun to dabble in meditation, primarily through books, and eventually through apps like Mindfulness and Headspace. Like most people, I had heard of the life-changing benefits of meditation, but I had trouble making the practice stick. I’d be consistent for a day or two, and then get frustrated and stop. I didn’t feel like I was doing it right. I felt like my mind was too busy, or too distracted to meditate. I kept meditating sporadically over the next several years, eventually taking an online Introduction to Meditation course taught by Charlie Knoles though mindbodygreen. This changed everything for me.
I began to meditate for 20 minutes, twice a day, every day, and I started to open-up to my life. The longer I practiced, the less reactive I became. I was slower to anger and quicker to love. I became more present with the people in my life. It felt like a long, slow exhale after decades of holding my breath.
Then, just after Christmas in 2017, my wife Leeanna was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. We went through all the usual grief and fear, but her doctors were confident of a cure, and that gave us all strength. Leeanna endured a full year of treatment that included chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and infusions. After years of imagined fears, this was something very real. I have never experienced the lows we journeyed through together. Our lives became distilled down to their essence. Day after day. Month after month.
During this time, my meditation practice became a source of strength. Rather than blunt the experience, it helped me to open to the totality of it. I was able to be truly present for all of it, and that made a real difference. My priorities and values became crystal clear, and eventually, a crazy idea began to surface. When all this was over, I would dedicate myself to helping others learn the practice that I had found so transformative. I would become a meditation teacher.
I sought out the same teacher I had from whom I’d taken my earlier course, and enrolled in a 200 hour teacher training program. Charlie Knoles is a wonderful guide and teacher. His non-dogmatic approach, sense of humor, and embrace of modern scientific research resonated with me deeply. I completed the training last year, and here I am, ready to help you become a self-sufficient meditator. Especially if you don’t think you can. If this connects with you, I look forward to working together and learning from one another.