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03 April 2024

Meditation brought me out of a dark place

Jo Whatley

Blog Photo - 1

Feeling the pressure

I came to meditation when I was in a very dark phase of my life. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was experiencing high functioning depression and high functioning anxiety. I also wasn’t sleeping well, barely a few hours a night; when I did sleep, I had unpleasant dreams that woke me up startled. I was travelling a lot for work, in and out of Melbourne from Sydney each week and I did this for about 6 months. I couldn’t establish a routine of exercise or eating properly and the job I was doing required me to work an average of 10-12 hrs per day Monday to Friday. I always felt physically and emotionally exhausted yet I also felt wired and jittery because of the pressure to perform at work and deliver high quality results in short timeframes.
The only way to describe how I felt is to imagine that you are walking through quicksand and trying to get to the shore, but you have a frantic monkey sitting on your shoulders screeching at you to help save it from drowning. And then somehow you morph into the monkey’s skittishness while at the same time unable to push through the sludge of the quicksand.

No time for self-care

During this time, when I was in and out of Melbourne, I would scoot out to get some lunch in the busy streets of the city. I used to regularly see a sandwich board sign about lunchtime meditations and it had a blue Buddha image that would always catch my eye. I recall vividly thinking, “I need to go there…” but I never found the time. For months, I would see the little Buddha image on the sandwich board, and I kept thinking “one day I’ll get there…one day…”
After a number of months I finished the project and returned to Sydney full-time. I had a realisation that I was really unwell and that I needed to seek help sooner rather than later. I was not in a very good way and was watching myself spiral further and further down.

A busy city street in rush hour with commuters passing by. Long exposure motion blur urban scene.

Signpost to meditation

I found an amazing counsellor who I started to see weekly and we quickly moved to discussing how I could start to support myself better by committing to a sleep time routine, cooking food for myself again, starting to go for walks etc. Another topic that came up was the concept of meditation and I quickly agreed with my counsellor that I knew it would help me because I had tried different types of meditation over the years and it always seemed to make me feel better. So she set me some homework of researching some meditation classes that were close to me and to bring them along to our next session so we could look at them together and work through, gently, what would be a good one to try and how I could slowly introduce this into a new routine.
Always the overachiever, I went home that night and googled “meditation class near me” and the first one that popped up was “Meditate in Sydney” with the little blue Buddha symbol sat alongside it! I felt like a lightbulb turned on and I knew that this was the class or group for me. I saw that they had a class in Balmain, which was the next suburb over from me, and that it was being held every Monday night.

Meditation is like surfing the waves

I attended my first class and I still remember the teacher explaining how breathing meditation is like watching a surfer as they try to go out through the ocean; they need to duck dive and go under the waves that try to work against them, but they keep persevering until they arrive out the back of all the breaking waves. It is only once the surfer has patiently and purposefully worked through the disturbance of the crashing waves that the surfer can sit out in the ocean where it is peaceful and calm. We were encouraged not to be discouraged in our breathing meditation if, like the surfer, we experienced distracting thoughts that took our attention away from our breath. We just patiently persevere and have confidence (and faith) that we will reach the peaceful and calm ocean once our mind settles.
This scenario resonated with me significantly, because as a teenager and through my 20’s I was a surfer and spent most of my days at the beach. I felt as though the teacher was talking directly to me in a language that was only meant for me to hear. And it has stuck with me ever since.


A sense of hope

From this day onwards (in early 2018) I turned up to meditation class every week and never missed one for well over a year. For me, even after this first class, I started to feel as though I had a sense of hope again. And by hope, I mean hope that I really could control my mind to stop or reduce what was going on for me.
For a few months, I made every effort, each week, to ensure I went to this class; and it didn’t matter what came up from a work or personal perspective, I was not going to miss it. It was something that I looked forward to because it gave me refuge and a sense of calm and peacefulness that I just couldn’t seem to find anywhere else. Then I started to look into the other classes that were offered out of the main centre – day courses and retreats; and I started to go along to these as well.
It took me a few months, but soon enough I started to find time to meditate every day. I started with simple breathing meditation. I bought the “Meditations for everyday life” box set of guided Kadampa meditations and I would work my way through them, gently, every day.

Meditation has transformed my life.

What also started to happen for me, which for a long time I didn’t think was possible. is that I started to laugh again. I started to feel laughter and joy come out of me in a really authentic and light way. And I started to see my thoughts for the first time in a way that was not fixed or tight or panicky. I had space in my mind and I was able to watch, observe and start to make decisions around which thoughts I would follow or not. I didn’t always get it right, but I felt a sense of control over them and it generated peace inside of me in a way that I never knew was even possible. And after not much time at all, even my friends and family started to see these changes in me. I wasn’t as quick to anger or to react negatively, I wasn’t as highly strung and jittery and I started to look healthier because I was sleeping better and my eyes started to brighten up.
To say it very simply, meditation has single-handedly transformed and changed my life in ways that I could have never imagined or anticipated. And this self-actualisation all started because I attended one Kadampa meditation class and made a decision to follow the instructions and keep persevering through the turbulent waves of my thoughts, until I reached the peaceful, calm and tranquil waters of the depth of the ocean.
Jo Whatley

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