If any of you have been keeping up with my blog posts lately (thanks Mom!) you will have noticed that I am living and working in Shanghai, China. Although I have not posted as much as I would like, the writing that I have done has been an emphasis on how much I love it here. While although relatively true, this last year and a half away from home has also been a not-so-pleasant learning experience for me.
Before arriving in Shanghai in August 2014, I was (somewhat vaguely) diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome in my right tibia. CRPS is a neuropathic pain condition, which is really and truly different for everyone who experiences it. It generated a lot of added stress and anxiety, and even caused my moods to dip quite low for long periods of time. After tapering off a medication that I was on to alleviate pain symptoms, I wanted to search for a more “natural” way of coping and managing my stress and anxiety, as well as my pain condition.
My mother had taken a mindfulness meditation course awhile back and had me practice meditation with her a few times over the years. I will be honest in saying that I never bought into meditation at first, mainly because I did not give it an honest shot. My practice was sporadic and non-committal. You could say that I was using guided meditations as a way to fall asleep faster, not necessarily to reap the healing benefits. But now, things were different.
I was living in a foreign city with no idea where to look for emotional and mental support (besides the support from my loving boyfriend, who has been there for me through thick and thin). So, I did as anyone would do living in a foreign city. I googled “Meditation”.
As a side, it is funny how serious you become about trying something new when you are desperate.
And that I became, desperate.
Three books and countless websites later (see “BOOKS” and “RESOURCES” below), I was finally using guided mindfulness meditations. One of the first things that seasoned practitioners say is that with mindfulness, emotions and anxiety often get worse before they get better. I was definitely in denial about this when I first started practicing. I thought I was on the road to clarity and stress-free living, but when you really begin to pay attention to the present moment, you realize that you cannot block negative thoughts or distract yourself from them. It is really all about acknowledging and recognizing all of the disturbing, stressful, ruminating, negative thinking, but then letting these thoughts go. Mindfulness is not about “changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts”, nor suppressing negative thinking. “Acknowledge, Not React” – a common saying in Mindfulness. No big deal, right?! Wrong.
It is a total mind *&$@ to be consciously aware, but non-nonchalant towards all of your deepest, darkest, negative thoughts.
Needless to say, there were many (and still are many) times in which I felt totally lost and out of control. I really enjoyed when I meditated on good days, and I did notice a difference in how patient and more relaxed I had become in social situations, but when I was feeling especially anxious or low, meditation was like opening the door to the underworld.
After having practiced mindfulness almost daily for a solid month and a half, I felt like I hit a plateau. I knew that this was not a lot of time to expect to see results, but I still felt as though I had more to learn. I wanted to find a group meditation center in Shanghai so that I could ask questions and experience different forms of meditation. So, I did as anyone would do living in a foreign city. I googled “Meditation in Shanghai”.
Luckily for me I found a fantastic studio called CSL Shanghai (Center for Spiritual Living). I immediately saw “Monday Night Zen Meditation”, and I told my boyfriend that we had a date planned for Monday night (or so he thought).
Naturally, I was nervous about attending group meditation because I had never experienced anything like it before. Turns out, it was the best thing that happened to me this year. My instructor is fabulous (I am still attending every Monday evening), and very easy to talk to. Group meditation brings a kind of indescribable energy into your meditation practice, which in turn allows me to focus in ways that I never felt comfortable doing alone.
I continue to practice meditation almost daily, and I have recently signed up for an 8-week mindfulness meditation course at CSL. Next spring I hope to attend my first meditation retreat, and I have also started a Meditation and Yoga club for foreign and Chinese teachers, as well as for students at the high school I am working at. This Meditation and Yoga Club (MYC) was founded for purely selfish reasons. I was feeling the need to meditate during school hours but felt embarrassed to do it in the office surrounded by my colleagues. My best option was to start the MYC.
As some of you may know, our Chinese students deal with a lot of pressure from their parents to succeed. I have students coming up to me regularly to talk about their recent panic attacks, stressors, and general anxieties. I was not sure how well it would be received, but I decided to open the MYC up to students and staff alike.
The MYC has been open for business for two weeks now, and seems to be quite successful. If anything, it has provided myself, a few other teachers, and some students with a positive outlet to relax before afternoon classes. My students are curious about meditation, and they ask me many questions I do not know the answers to. I am learning just as much from them as they are of me, and teaching meditation has motivated me to take my practice more seriously.
I have not reached “enlightenment”, nor do I think I ever will, but meditation has made me a little bit more relaxed, a bit less anxious (at times), and I have dealt with my chronic pain more effectively than crying my face off every night. I’m going to stick with it for awhile, and see where this journey will take me.
Good luck to you on yours.
*I did a LOT of research prior to beginning my meditation practice, as I am the type of person who needs concrete evidence before trying something new. Here are a few gems that I feel are worth sharing:
This is an article I found very interesting, which backs meditation with scientific research –
Headspace – Meditation APP for iPhone and Android
Insight Timer – Timer APP for iPhone and Android