I am probably one of the most high-strung people you will ever meet. I have a plan for every eventuality, have a very difficult time sitting still, and am always thinking several steps ahead. It should be no surprise to hear that meditation has never been on my list of priorities. That all changed around 2008 when I enrolled at Saybrook University to earn a PhD in Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology.
As an undergraduate I always knew that I wanted to attend Saybrook. I remember requesting information and cherishing the glossy brochure and catalog they sent me. This school was a very strange choice for me, simply because it is not in my nature to be “humanistic” or “transpersonal.” The kind of psychology Saybrook teaches is very holistic, and it encourages students and practitioners to go deeper than the DSM-IV diagnosis and see the human side of the client. For some reason, Type-A personality that I am, this appealed to me. It could also be that Saybrook is located in San Francisco, and I had always felt drawn to California, but I think location is just a coincidence.
Saybrook requires me to travel to San Francisco a couple of times a year for residency requirements. While there, I participate in classes and workshops designed to enhance coursework and train me in the art of humanistic psychology. At one of these residencies, I enrolled in a workshop about spirituality that required me to participate in a guided meditation. Every time I’d tried to meditate in the past, I got restless, irritated, and instead of actually meditating made to-do lists in my head. This time I decided to actually give it a try.
Interestingly, the guided meditation was about letting go, which is something I struggle desperately with. We were invited to picture ourselves in a favorite place, with a favorite person or pet, and as we walked in this place we were invited to symbolically “let go” of things that were weighing on us. The exercise was meant to free of us these burdens so we could move forward confidently with our studies and our lives without some of the worries that hold us back.
I found it very easy to fall into the rhythm of this particular mediation, probably because it was guided and gave me something to focus on other than my breath. I decided to visit Kettle Cove Beach, where I had spent a lot of time as a child. It is both a happy and a painful place for me- happy because I love the sea, but painful because I spent a lot of time alone on the beach while my father was out in the ocean or off drinking in another part of the beach. I envisioned my dog Oscar with me on this journey to the beach- he loves me unconditionally and I knew he’d just be there to support me. As we walked along the beach, I began to pick up rocks and throw them in the ocean. Each rock symbolized something I wanted to let go of- a past hurt, anger, resentment, etc. It was very emotional and vivid, and by the time the meditation ended I had tears on my cheeks.
I was absolutely amazed that I was able to immerse myself so deeply in meditation, considering I’d never been able to do it before. I felt so calm and peaceful afterwards and wanted to be able to replicate that experience as often as possible. Now I use guided meditation CDs and iPhone apps to help me practice meditation everyday. I meditate at least once a day, and it has helped my anxiety and tension levels tremendously. The more I practice, the easier it becomes to let my thoughts go while I focus on my breath or on some image that calms me. It has been an invaluable tool for my recovery.
I encourage you to find some healthy outlet for anxiety, anger, depression, or whatever else ails you. In addition to healing qualities, time made for yourself will help to increase self-esteem and compassion for yourself and others. We all need some kind of healthy way to release tension. I finally found it in meditation. Had I not enrolled in Saybrook, I never would have seriously tried meditation on my own. I don’t think it was an accident that I was drawn to Saybrook. I think I am right where I am supposed to be, personally and professionally, because of that instinct.