A Beginner’s Journal Part 3 – Deep Relaxation & Meditation

My first meditation class was a surprisingly emotional experience.  The mechanics of the class seemed simple enough – some gentle stretching, some deep breathing and a lot of lying on my back in a darkened room.  With the dulcet tones of Annemaree guiding and lulling the class into an ever-deepening state of relaxation, I then succumbed to silence – and lots of it.  Pretty straight-forward really.

So why then, when I “came to” did I feel like someone had cut my boat adrift from the jetty?  Let go of my rope?  Why was I experiencing such an overwhelming feeling of loss and grief?  Why did I feel like a huge balloon was about to burst in my chest into the ugliest, wettest, snottiest tears ever?   Hadn’t I been feeling quite chipper on the way in?  To the naked eye, all I was doing was sitting in a dark room with my eyes closed, breathing and being silent while Annemaree spoke gentle words about letting go. There was no bolt of lightning – the earth didn’t move.

In the following days I reflected upon this a lot.

On a superficial level, I think I found the SILENCE overwhelming.  Being a mother of two small children and after years of corporate tight-roping, I have been conditioned to be on constant high-alert.  With my disaster–radar finely tuned, I am ready for anything and expecting the worst – always having to think around corners, watch my back, think for and protect everyone around me, keep doing, keep going, keep moving at all cost.

Corporate bumper stickers had been plastered all over my brain. “You Snooze You Lose!”, “First is Always Best!”  “It’s The Quick and the Dead!”  But there in the darkness, in the silence – it was just me.  “Nothing to worry about, nothing to do, nothing to think about, just…be.”  For an hour and a half.   One quiet hour and a half to offload 15 years of baggage.  That’s enough to make anybody weep.

On a slightly deeper level,  just BE?  Just ME?  What the hell did that mean?  That used to be easy – it was written right underneath my name on my business card, next to the company logo. That’s who I was. Leaving work to stay at home to raise the children left me struggling with my identity, but under my imaginary business cards I’m sure it says “Devoted Wife & Mother”.  (The one I would show people anyway).

Up to this point I am the result of all of the labels and bumper stickers I have stuck on myself or had stuck on me by well-meaning others.  Good Girl, Good Student, Good Daughter.  I did what I was told to do (okay, not ALL the time).  I followed a career path I was told I should – following my head and not my heart.  I did all the “right” things.  I met and married My Beautiful Husband, we bought a house in a nice suburb, we renovated and we reproduced – twice!  Until one day, I found myself in my early thirties on the corporate “Out Tray”, on anti-depressants, squashing ugly feelings and emotions with wine each night and having a major “Talking Heads” moment – well, how did I GET here?

Common sense or that nagging voice in my head kept yelling “But look at everything you’ve got! What have you got to be miserable about? Just SNAP OUT OF IT!”  And so, embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone other than my divine GP about it, I took the battle inside.

So there I lay, in a dark room, in stillness and in silence – letting all of this go. In the darkness and the stillness it felt like laying a loved one to rest. This was who I WAS. Letting go of that to which I had held on to so tightly, for so long, was like waking in fright from one of those falling dreams. Without all that – who or what the hell am I?

The next morning, in the daylight, it felt different.  I enjoyed one off the deepest sleeps I had had in a long time and woke not feeling loss, but lighter. Rather than feeling like someone had cut me adrift, it felt like someone had kindly pulled up my anchor.

The changes I’ve noticed so far have been small but significant. I didn’t realize how ANGRY I was all the time. Now, as I move from room to room each day making beds and picking up yesterday’s discarded underpants I’m not conducting an internal, raging monologue. I’m not keeping a mental tally of “everything I do which goes unnoticed and unappreciated”, ready to unleash it on My Beautiful Husband if he dares to question me on, well, ANYTHING.

Now, I can find a small smile on my lips, rather than a clenched jaw. I can slide from one task to the next calmly and methodically and there is less mental chatter. Maybe some of those monkeys in my mind have packed up their bananas and nicked off. I can find small joy in the mundane and I am truly grateful for my husband, my children, my home and my life. Yes, A life which now feels a little bit larger, slightly less claustrophobic and ripening with possibility.

I wake each day quite happy.  Calm.  Looking forward to what it may hold. I can answer the phone rather than letting it go to voicemail to be dealt with later. My skin seems clearer. My lower back pain has gone. I can focus on one thing at a time and I’m not white-knuckling it through the day to 5pm when I can claw open a bottle of wine. We also have nightly visits from rats while we’re sleeping but I put that down to wet weather and cookie crumbs, not some mystical “Pied Piper” vibration I am emitting to all creatures great and small as a result of meditation.

What I had thought was going to be a process – through yoga and meditation – of losing weight and learning to put my leg behind my head is actually, for me anyway, an exercise in letting go. I certainly feel lighter – but the bathroom scales don’t show it (I don’t feel the need to even get on them anymore) and I am definitely more “flexible” – but I can’t get my leg behind my head.  In my last Cool, Calm & Collected class, Annemaree informed us that there are thousands and thousands of  yoga postures.  This is a challenge in itself for someone who is used to putting her head down and bum up (I think this is called Downward Dog in yoga) for a few weeks of intense study and getting an A+.  There is no end – this is life.

I have an idea for some new bumper stickers too: “Meditate Don’t Medicate!” and “Yoga! Embrace The Underpants”.

AQA xxx

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).

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A Beginners Journal: YOGA & MEDITATION

(By contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).

I have been threatening to do Yoga for around 15 years and now, finally, am about to start. No more excuses. Believe me, there have been plenty. At 35 years of age, my well of excuses has dried up so it’s time to “feel the fear and do it anyway” to walk the talk and see what all the hoopla is about.

I need something. I’m not sure what. My divine GP diagnosed me a year or so ago (after years of career and lifestyle-induced anxiety and mild depression) as a “highly intelligent, over-achieving, perfectionist, control freak” – which are my STRONG points.

From my early 20s I pursued a high powered career in Marketing of which all of my key roles left me with heart palpitations, cold sweats, sleepless nights and a hangover that lasted for 10 years. Ah, the Good Old Days. During those heady days I preferred to worship at the altar of booze and fags and spent most of the late nineties and early ‘noughties’ either drunk or hungover– all in the name of ‘stress-relief’. It was medicinal and therefore okay.

In 2005 I had my first child. With the arrival of “God’s Handbrake” as I referred to my darling Sam at the time, recklessness had to take a back seat. I still thought I could do and have it all though. Sam went into childcare at 10 months old and I resumed full time work and encountered a whole new set of anxieties, which all fell under the caps lock, bold, italic, underlined heading of GUILT.

Combine Mother’s Group, childless co-workers, long hours, early drop-offs, late pick-ups, development milestones, deadlines, mix well and let sit for about three years. The boozing and fagging of my 20s at the hottest joints in town went underground. Instead, we entertained at home – a LOT.

Still racked with anxiety (Perfect mother? Fail. Perfect wife? Fail. Perfect employee? Fail. Perfect body, spirit and mind? EPIC FAIL) I went back to my GP and explained the new anxiety paradigm and was prescribed marvelous little pink pills called ALPRAZOLAM. For me, a miracle pill. Loved the stuff. No really. I LOVED it. The peace I sought in my mind and body had arrived, along with a mildish addiction to a highly addictive drug.

By the end of 2009 I had a second beautiful son – Gus (also in childcare from 10 months old – one must be fair), experienced my first professional redundancy and ensuing court case, lived in a dream home we could no longer afford on one income, a discreet bottle of wine a night – or two – habit; something had to change.

From that point my husband and I have made some monumental changes. We moved house, Sam started primary school, I had a delightful dip into Pilates (cut short by not only the change of address but also a series of short sharp expulsions of air from the nether regions while carrying out the Rolling Ball manoeuvre) which stripped off kilos and had me feeling fitter than ever. We decided that I would stay at home with the kids and work freelance with a select group of close clients.

So here I am at the end of 2011 about to embark on my first Yoga class – this Sunday in fact. I am on a constant spiritual quest. I read voraciously – Buddhism for Mothers is always at my bedside. I seek peace. I want to bring a peaceful me to every situation I face. I am fearful that I won’t be good enough; that I am not fit; that I am not bendy; that my beer-swilling, AFL loving husband will reject me; that the change might overwhelm me; and most importantly on the social quotient – that I will expel air sharply from the nether regions.

What am I expecting from Yoga? Not much.

What am I hoping for? Weight loss (emotional and physical). Bendiness. Quieting the monkeys in my mind. Inner peace. That Buddha smile. Energy. Enthusiasm. Finding my purpose. Emitting light. Yes. A full-on miracle.

Wish me luck. AQA xxx