This is my first post since graduating. I’ll be doing more on the job front soon, but for now I wanted to re-invigorate HTK’s posts by creating one for a friend. He contacted me this morning because now that the bar exam is over, now that he has obtained employment, now that his life is really taking off, he is leaving anti-anxiety medication behind. What he is wondering is, where does he start in his journey of using mindfulness meditation? What’s my advice on beginning a practice for stress relief that does not rely on pharmaceuticals? As someone who has used mindfulness at two major junctures of her life to transition out of pharmie use (the first time getting off anti-depressants as a teenager, the second getting off of stimulants as an adult), I have some perspective to offer…
My first response to this is a simple congratulations. It’s a HUGE deal to allow oneself to separate from a substance that has brought relief in the past. It’s almost like a re-invention of yourself, and it requires a willingness — a sense of bravery — to embark on such a journey. There are probably many reasons for this, but one anyway is that change does not come easily for most of us. Generally we initiate change in our lives because we feel we have no other choice. Something isn’t working, in this case, pharmaceutical medication. Perhaps it did work in some ways, but ultimately, it is not enhancing the quality of our lives anymore.
It’s that recognition, that awareness I think that deserves acknowledgment. The part of ourselves that is ready for change emerged enough to look the other part(s) square in the eyes and say, hey, we’re done with this. We want to feel different. We want to try something else. Again, it’s brave for your spirit to say that. And it’s even braver for you to listen.
My second response is that leaving any substance behind, any addiction or dependency or just plain old every day habit, is a process. We know this. We see it when we try to abstain from consuming certain foods or when we try to keep ourselves from buying certain things that we like to buy because it feeds the dopamine receptors in our brains. Even think of when you try to stop seeing certain people — it can be hard to re-program what we perceive we need and the ways in which we go about attending to those perceived needs.
So it takes awhile. It requires patience. More than that even, because it’s a process, and because it is often a fairly uncomfortable one (physically as well as psychologically), it can be hard to let go of having something that satiates us, or offers us the illusion of satiating us. It can make us question other aspects of our lives or relationships we have with other substances, habits, even people. My point is that this process of separating ourselves from a pharmaceutical can catalyze a transformation of how we view our lives in the abstract. It can cause a revolution in our consciousness. Thus being brace enough to embark on such a journey of separation is not for the faint of heart.
The great thing about this though — the fantastic thing — is that because we are opening ourselves up to such vulnerability, to such capacity for change, who we are is able to evolve very quickly. Our mind-bodies (our “selves”) are hungry for a method to the madness that is being a human being in every day life. We are ripe for re-programming and as we find techniques that bring order to the brain and body again, we are able to settle very deeply into healthy habits if that is what we choose to do.
This brings me to mindfulness & the top ways I recommend someone go about replacing their medication regime with meditation:
- Find a place you feel comfortable — whether you are beginning your practice by yourself or in the company of a group, make sure you feel comfortable wherever you have chosen to be. For example, if you prefer to have natural light nearby, do not put yourself in a windowless room! Or the reverse — if you find that shadowy corners help you re-charge, don’t put yourself in a sun-filled room. This may sound like common sense, but sometimes we assume that once we are “doing it” right, we will suddenly experience enlightenment and our normal preferences and proclivities don’t matter. I say, they do matter. A lot. YOU must feel comfortable wherever it is that YOU are meditating.
- Know that it may be scary to start, that anxiety may come up, and that this is normal — while it’s important to be comfortable where you are meditating (where you are physically situated), this is not to say that the activity itself will not likely bring up fear. This is actually why how comfortable you are to start with matters so much. What is this fear coming up thing I’m talking about though? Well, think about when you try anything new. Fear of not doing it right, especially for individuals who are inclined towards careers in law, can be overwhelming. Beyond that, it is also scary because when you settle into a meditative state, you are essentially traveling into the recesses of your consciousness. You’re sort of exploring a whole other world that in every day life, most people refuse to visit. There is trauma in there. There are memories and previously learned reactions to thoughts and moral judgments about who we are and how we live. There are many voices in there and when we meditate, we allow ourselves to be aware of all of that. If you’re asking, why do we do this, you’re right on. It’s a critical question. And the answer is, when we are able to face all of that which is within, we are prepared that much better for facing that which is outside of our own minds and bodies. Meditation enables us to experience the rest of our lives with even more strength and stability.
- Find a basic practice that you LIKE. This means, find something that, again, feels within your comfort zone. If mantra work feels extreme for you, if keeping your eyes open feels too weird, no worries! You just need to figure out a practice that works for you. Maybe it’s with your eyes closed. Maybe it means sitting in a chair; maybe it means sitting cross legged on the floor. Maybe you use a meditation cushion so that your hip flexors don’t cramp up. It could mean having relaxing music playing or having no sound in the room what so ever. All of these are aspects of your practice that you can control and that you’ll benefit from experimenting freely with. Because the bottomline is, you are only going to continue practicing if you like how you feel when you do it. NOTE: this does NOT mean it won’t get uncomfortable or scary, but it does mean that your practice does not have to make you suffer. There is a middle ground. Also, this is just the start for you with meditation. Once you find what works for you, tweaking and changing is part of the process. Part of the journey. Starting somewhere though is important, and liking where you are at will help ground you & allow the practice to become habit-forming.
- Reach out to others who can relate to your practice. Check out The Anxious Lawyer by an amazing young lawyer named Jeena Cho. She’s created an 8 week program to help lawyers get going in their mindfulness practice and isn’t afraid to talk openly about anxiety in ways you don’t hear very often . You can also check out Warrior One, an in-person or online training course for lawyers & law students that teaches a classical approach to learning mindfulness meditation. And, feel free to share your experiences on HolisticToolKit.com — part of what allows us to continue our practice is by finding our sanghas, or communities, of action and spirit.