The pandemic tested many of us on every level: mental, physical, emotional, and financial. Whether it was the endless hours on Zoom, the extended periods of isolation, not being able to do the things we loved or see the people we cared about, the past year and a half has taken a toll on all of us. As a meditation teacher, I have noticed one kind of challenge in particular: For some people, this was the most time they had actually had to spend with themselves without external distractions. Understandably daunting, for those who have kept busy enough to avoid being alone with themselves for most of their lives.
Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and breathwork all became desired tools to get through each day of lockdowns. I continue to be inspired by the shift I have seen in so many of my clients—Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, soul seekers, and conscious leaders—during this period. And my own mindfulness path has taught me that challenges can always be a portal to growth if we can take a moment to pause, reflect, and develop practices to build inner strength and resilience that nothing outside of us can disrupt.
My mindfulness practice came to me when my life was crumbling and in crisis mode. Like most of society I had learned from an early age to lean on everything outside of myself to define my happiness and success. So, in a period of my life when I was stripped of work, relationships, goals, and personal timelines for accomplishing a number of things, I crumbled. It was one of those moments where there was nowhere to go, but in. This moment was a not so gentle nudge to start exploring what it meant for me personally to “journey inward” and discover tools and practices that could aid me on my journey.
Making Mindfulness a Way of Life
Since 2007 I have trained physically to climb mountains. For me, not being a naturally skilled athlete, climbing is 20% physical and 80% mental. When I summited peaks like Mt. Everest, it was mindfulness that was the game changer in my training, that got me up the mountain. My daily practice truly developed after my successful summit in 2013. Before that, I was using my mindfulness practice only as a tool to get out of a “hot mess” state or to accomplish major goals—mindfulness needed to become a way of life. Otherwise, I would simply keep arriving at the same place with nowhere to turn, but inward.
When my life is chaotic, mindfulness provides an almost instantaneous relief. For those few seconds or minutes when I practice, I can feel a sense of deep inner peace. In moments of heightened stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, or fear, it’s easy for me to practice regularly. But, when life eases its grip, my practice can fall lower on the priority list. When the urgent need for relief dissipates, I can get lulled into thinking my practice is less important.
We will continue to encounter those peaks and valleys in life, and so having a tool to help us remain centered and well at either end of the spectrum and everywhere in between remains critically important. I look at this as an aspect of prevention. We exercise our bodies, eat well, and get adequate sleep to remain healthy and keep our immunity levels high—it’s best not to wait to start these things only after a major health crisis. And I’ve realized it’s the same with keeping my heart and mind well. Both according to research and anecdotally, mindfulness can help people manage depression, stress, anxiety, compulsiveness, aid in better quality of sleep, keep better focus, and the list goes on. While a life or work crisis can be the spark of inspiration to start practicing mindfulness, a new crisis or challenging moment doesn’t need to be the reminder to keep practicing.
Coming Home to Yourself
With mindfulness practice, I’ve come to realize I always have the choice to not get swept away with whatever is going on outside, but to reconnect with myself—to come home to myself, as some meditation teachers say. This is something available to us with every single intentional breath we take. I value my practice not only because it’s comforting or calming; it also helps me let go of the idea that joy, peace, and success are external. The more I practice and connect with inner peace, the more I take back my power, instead of depending on external things, people, or factors to provide this for me.
Beginning to emerge from the pandemic, I face a new decision: Whether I’ll continue to lean on my practice as the world begins to open, or drift away from it in the excitement of returning to former ways of living and working. The reality is that who I was pre-pandemic has changed. Having grown through this global challenge, I know I have an opportunity for reflection, before diving back into the way things were—into who I was—to decide who I will be going forward.
Let Your Practice Guide You
When training for my climbs, my mental training was increasingly more important than the physical. 100% of how we respond to extreme environments and unpredictable circumstances depends on our mind, on our ability to cultivate inner calm and come home to ourselves, despite the intensity that surrounds us at times. As we move forward to create a new normal—a world that is more aware, compassionate, and interconnected—let’s continue to lean on our practice to consistently remind us of our inner home, not only for our own benefit, but for those around us.
I invite you to reflect on these prompts to clarify your intentions around self-care for this next chapter:
- What did I learn about myself over these past 16 months?
- What practices helped me most in my overall well-being?
- What shifted most for me during this time?
- How did I better prioritize self-care and compassion during this time?
- How can I lean further into my practice, now that life seems to be going back to a normal I once knew?
- Did I discover a hidden gift about myself, life, work, during this time?
A 12-Minute Meditation for Coming Home to Yourself
When we start to build a mindfulness practice that brings us home to ourselves, it helps us let go of the desire to seek a sense of comfort or stability outside ourselves. Explore this variation on a loving-kindness meditation to feel more grounded and at ease, no matter your external circumstances.
- Find a quiet space where you will not be distracted. Take a seat on the floor or on a chair. Keep your spine straight. Place your palms on your lap facing up. Close your eyes or simply lower your gaze. Ease into your seat.
- Start connecting with your breath. If your mind is busy, you can count your breaths as above to refocus and slow down.
- Connect with the rhythm of your breath. With each inhale ground yourself a little more into your seat. With each exhale let go of any tension, worries, doubts, or fears that arise.
- As you inhale next, feel the beauty of the breath moving through your body. Connect with a sense of renewal and ease.
- As you exhale, release any remaining tension a little bit more, embracing a feeling of lightness come over you.
- As you inhale, softly mentally affirm, “I am safe, I am home.” As you exhale, softly mentally affirm, “I am well, and at ease.”
- Continue with these affirmations and cycles of breath until you feel a shift within you. Feel your sense of safety, joy, ease, and peace and with each breath come home more to yourself.
I revisit this practice weekly to ground me and feel safe, regardless of what might be happening around me. It’s a beautiful way to start your day. I also have practiced these affirmations while climbing intense sections on peaks or in the midst of stressful or fearful situations, reminding myself I can always come back to the safety of my home within.
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