Over the weekend, I attended a retreat at the East Bay Mediation Center that was focused on discovering your life's purpose. I found out about the event from my friend Teresa who knew I had been struggling with finding excitement and passion at work. We both had tried signing up for the retreat in December, but were both wait listed. It wasn't until Friday, the day before the event, that we both found out we were in. (We later found out that there were 80 people who were wait listed! Guess it was meant to be that we got in!)
Now at first I was skeptical and a little apprehensive about attending. I know that mindfulness meditation is an excellent way to curb anxiety and stress. With all of the self help books I've read over the years, I knew how mediation works with deep breathing, clearing your head, and allowing yourself to recognize thoughts that come into your mind with no judgment and then letting them pass. I'd never meditated for more than a 5-10 minutes at time though, so I was a bit intimidated about attending this all day event. I was really afraid that I wouldn't fit in.
I was SO surprised when I got to the event and discovered that the attendees were from all walks of life, of all ages, and most of them were NOT the stereotypical "hippie" that my mind automatically conjured up. Instead it was a group of people who I identified with! People who weren't happy in their current careers, who were reluctant to make a change for fear of failure, and some who also had issues with anxiety. These people were like me! How comforting to know that I am NOT alone!
My favorite part of the event was where we explored our dreams by reflecting on what things or activities in our childhood brought us joy and put a smile on our face. We formed groups and were required to talk for 4 minutes each about whatever came to mind. At first this seems like a LONG time to talk, but once I got started I remembered more and more things that I hadn't thought about since I was a child.
I remembered that I loved reading. I loved reading so much that I would read textbooks, even when it wasn't required. (Below is evidence of my love for reading...me reading a book upside down when I was barely 1 year old!) I loved going to school and was upset anytime I was sick and had to stay home. I loved learning new things and worked really hard to master any subject I was studying. I realized these are things that I still love doing today, although I don't really get to do any of them daily. Now I'm going to try to find ways to incorporate these loves either in my work day or in other activities I choose to participate in.
What was more interesting were the things I had not remembered I loved....
When I was younger, I was bossy, REALLY bossy, so bossy that my Kindergarten teacher told my parents that sometimes it seemed like I thought I was the one running the class. I liked being a leader. I loved dancing and performing in front of groups of people. I was the girl who always want to do solos or duets, even if I wasn't the best dancer in the class. While remembering these things, I realized it seems I have lost these "loves" as I've gotten older. I now shy away from being a leader and although I still like getting up in front of people it is not with the same level of inhibition as I did when I was younger. After contemplating why this was, I think it has to do with being conditioned over the years to know the sometimes HUGE consequences of failing when being a leader or in a high profile position. I also don't want to look stupid in front of a group of people. My fear of failure has caused me to step back both in my professional and personal life and not take risks that I might have taken when I was younger, something I really want to address in 2011.
We also practiced visualizing what it is we think we'd love to do if there was nothing stopping us and we fully believed in ourselves. We explored our fears and what was holding us back from truly soaring. The fears activity was intense as we partenred up and required to ask our partner continuously "What are you afraid of?" and only respond to their answer with a "Thank You" for 7 minutes straight! It really caused each of us to get deeper to the root of all of our fears.
Now I don't think I found my life's passion in this one day retreat, but it did give me a lot to think about and provided me with some excellent techniques for exploring my core values - the first step to finding your passion. I also learned more about mediation and hope that I can continue use mindfulness as a way to deal with my common overreactions, constant worry, and stress.
Have any of you tried meditation? Did you find it helpful in either dealing with stress and/or anxiety? Have you used meditation as a method of finding your core values and determining what you were really meant to do?