How did I get here?
There is a lot about my life that would have surprised a younger version of myself, but pretty high on the list would be that I would find the 40 year old me pouring over books about meditation and Buddhism, and contemplating the logistics of going on a 10-day silent meditation retreat.
I grew up in a conservative West Texas town, to a conservative West Texas family. Where I grew up, the question wasn’t whether or not you went to church, it was where you went to church. The evangelical church that I grew up in lumped meditation in with listening to Ozzy Ozzborne, having sex outside of marriage, and participating in black masses as signs that you were on the highway to hell. Of course, watching The Smurfs and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were on that list as well, so it wasn’t a very hard list to make.
By the time I found myself approaching my 40s, I had accumulated a massive guilt complex, a mountain of insecurities, and a marriage that was falling apart due to a number of factors, not the least of which was a lack of attention on my part, and the strain of my personal baggage. The voice in my head was a dick who constantly cataloged my inadequacies and failures. Between all of this and an increasingly stressful work life, I had begun to experience a steady stream of anxiety that was punctuated by a series of full on panic attacks.
I would like to say that I immediately turned toward healthy coping mechanisms for my stress, but that was not the case. I dove headlong into a pattern of self-medicating, which given the fact that my career was in the beer and wine industry, was a pretty easy route to take. I had already been drinking more than I should for some time, but I really started ratcheting that up as I tried to numb myself to cope with a life I didn’t want to face. Things were spiraling out of control, and I was just going along with the downward flow.
In the midst of all of this, I was fully aware (okay, maybe not FULLY aware) that I needed to find a more healthy way to deal with my anxiety and the stresses that I was facing, but I am not really sure what it was that made me think, “maybe I should try meditation.” I probably read an article, or at least the title of an article, that said something about meditation being useful in working with anxiety. To be honest, I barely even knew what meditation was, but for some reason I thought it might be helpful to me. I found some instructions online for basic breath-based meditation (previous programing still had me creeped out by mantra-based practice), and started trying it in 5 minute chunks.
By July of 2018, I had been playing around with periodic meditation for a few weeks when I saw that one of my high school friends had posted a review of 10% Happier by Dan Harris on her Goodreads feed. For those who don’t know, Dan Harris is a news anchor for ABC who had an on-air panic attack, and through a round about journey discovered meditation. He wrote about his experience in a memoir with the full title of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story. I found both the subtitle of the book and my friend’s synopsis intriguing, as Harris describes himself as a natural skeptic, and I was still a bit skeptical myself. I jumped on my Audible account and downloaded the book and started listening to it. I plan to write a post about my experience with the book soon, but suffice it to say, I owe Dan Harris a lot for starting me on the journey I am on now.
10% Happier introduced me to a cast of characters whose work has become instrumental in founding and growing my practice, including Dr. Mark Epstein, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzburg, and others. Additionally, Harris’ candid descriptions of his various struggles in the establishment of his own practice were incredibly useful when I encountered many of the same hurdles on the cushion and in everyday life.
In the year following my initial experiments with meditation, I have developed a daily meditation practice, and have ventured into studying Buddhism. I have been working with a meditation teacher named JoAnna Hardy, who I discovered on Dan Harris’ 10% Happier app (thanks again, Dan.) I am currently sitting for about 45 minutes every morning, which would have been unthinkable to the me of a year ago, a man who couldn’t stand to be sitting still and silent for 5 minutes at a time, let alone 45. I am doing better in some aspects of mindfulness than others, and I do better at some times than others, but I can say that the old bouts of sitting for hours while my inner critic excoriates me for various misdeeds and shortcomings have almost completely disappeared. Oh, I still hear that voice pipe up from time to time, but I find myself breaking out of the cycle much more quickly, rather than attaching to it and spiraling.
So now you know where I have come from. As I continue to post on this blog, I will share some things that I have learned and experienced in the time since I started meditating, and will be sharing some of my current experiences. This blog is not written by an “expert” meditator, but by someone who is still early in their practice. I hope that reading about my mindfulness journey will be useful to others, and I hope to also learn from some of you who might find yourself reading my posts. A big part of my motivation for writing this is to pursue interaction with an online community. Feel free to comment below, or you can email me or send a tweet anytime.