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How did you get into meditation and how has meditation impacted your life?

I first became interested in meditation as a young painter at Art School in the early 1970’s. Sensitive by nature and quite shy, I felt uncomfortable being around large groups of people and was easily overwhelmed; as a result, I often found it hard to deal with stress.

I remember learning meditation from a book. Sitting quietly meditating by the canal that ran outside the noisy college canteen, I focused my attention on the sensation of slowing my breath and was able to create a pocket of calm for myself where I felt more at peace.

Meditation impacted my life in several fundamental ways. It gave me tools to manage my naturally sensitive system and calm my mind which, in turn, made it easier for me to deal with everyday stress.

From an early age I had a tendency for deep, rather intense reflection. Meditation gave me a quiet space where I could just be, and that felt like a blessed relief.

Meditation also taught me how to listen to my own needs and to honour them. As I’d grown into adulthood, I’d become a perfectionist with a tendency to be extremely driven and strong-willed. To the detriment of my health, I was always pushing myself beyond healthy limitations. I worked extremely long hours and developed an unhealthy lifestyle, drinking too much and eating high sugary foods. Meditation taught me to listen to my body and be kinder to myself.

This brings me to perhaps the most valuable gift that meditation gave me. Learning to love and accept myself unconditionally, allowed me to begin the process of healing long-standing self-esteem issues I’d struggled with for many years. Alongside the love of my family, meditation has truly been the biggest agent that’s shaped my life and changed it for the better.

How does it feel when you are in a meditative state?

For me, the experience of meditating is a many layered, unfolding process. As each layer opens, the experience becomes more spacious – giving me a sense of having more inner space. At the same time, it grounds me at a physical and emotional level that I find extremely calming and comforting.

When I begin a meditation, I focus on being present in the moment through my senses and this immediately calms my mind and triggers my body’s relaxation response. Neuroscience tells us that when we engage our senses, the part of our brain that governs our thought processes quietens.

As my mind begins to soften and relax, the pressure of all the to-do lists I hold in my head lifts and there’s just the present moment with the rhythmic sensations of my breath and the simple here-and-now around me.

If thoughts come, the practice of mindfulness helps me to see them as mere disturbances at my surface, and let them go without judging them or attaching to them.

My meditation practice is an opportunity for me to consciously practice self-care and develop a more loving relationship with myself, so I include self-compassion, self-kindness and self-appreciation. I’m always struck by how much this relaxes my nervous system and brings a sense of wholeness and healing. It just goes to show the amount of stress and tension our bodies and minds can hold through being self-critical and hard on ourselves.

I’ll also include the practice of gratitude and an affirmation or two as this never fails to give me a warm glow and lift my mood.

When I meditate, I’m not seeking a ‘bliss’ state. I’m simply surrendering to trusting that my body, mind and spirit naturally possess an innate wisdom – an inner template for balance. As I step out of my own way, this template automatically activates and begins to move the whole of my being towards equilibrium. This movement isn’t necessarily straight-forward.

A tension, sensation or emotion may rise into my awareness to be acknowledged and breathed with as part of the healing process. An attitude of acceptance helps everything to flow.

What is the top 3 most valuable life advice you can give from your life experience so far?

Over half way into the sixth decade of my life, my three most valuable pieces of advice would be these. :

#1 Invest your energy in what supports, nourishes and truly fulfils you as an individual.

#2 Be present in your actions and listen to your gut instinct to help you set clear boundaries.

#3 Believe in yourself – don’t wait for things to be perfect, life is what you make it!

What is your favourite quote?

My favourite quote is by Julian of Norwich and one I regularly use in my meditation groups.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

I find a real power in its gentle, positive energy.

What is something easy and simple that we can do right now to make the world a better place?

I think a good start would be if we all practiced simple compassion towards each other and looked at people through a more inclusive lense that recognizes we are all individuals doing our best within our given limitations. To my mind, we would do well to embrace open-mindedness.

What would you say has been the biggest benefit from meditation?

The biggest benefit for me has been learning how to live more mindfully in my day-to-day life. My natural tendency as a perfectionist is still to be rather driven in most things. Being mindful means I’m more likely to notice when I’m pushing myself too hard and take a break when necessary. This has enabled me to look after my health better as I’m more in touch with my own needs.

Mindfulness has also been an invaluable tool for managing negative and anxiety thinking patterns. I used to exhaust myself by imagining worse case scenarios and I no longer do that!

Mindfulness has taught me the value of accepting things as they are in the moment, no matter how challenging.

What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome? How did you overcome it? And what lessons did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome was becoming chronically ill with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for almost a decade some years ago.

Various factors contributed to the break-down in my health, including the death of my father, the break-up of a long-term relationship and half a life-time of pushing myself too hard.

It was a real wake-up call for me. Because ME/CFS was, and still is, such a misunderstood condition, I had to dig deep and learn to support myself at an emotional level rather than look to others to do this for me. I remember feeling isolated and quite desolate at times.

Meditation was my ‘safe place’ where I felt at peace, empowered and held. It had already provided me with a framework to explore my own spirituality for some years and now that spiritual journey became synonymous with my journey towards wellness.

In order to become well, I needed to do some inner work that included healing old issues I’d carried with me for a long while. Meditation allowed me to develop my capacity for acceptance, unconditional love and hope – which in themselves can be immensely healing.

On a physiological level, meditation provided me with a means to calm and stabilize my burnt out, and by now highly reactive, nervous system so my body could get on with the business of healing itself and respond to the treatment protocols I was following. I began using the practice of mindfulness, along with other meditative techniques such as grounding, through-out my day to modulate my body’s hypersensitive stress response. This slowly but surely supported me towards my eventual recovery.

The experience of living with chronic illness and making a commitment to my recovery, taught me the importance of respecting and honouring my own needs. It showed me that if I believed in myself and drew on my inner resources, I would have the capacity to get through just about anything. It taught me to respect and trust in my body’s ability to heal and I also learned the immense value of patience. Above all, it taught me that even the darkest times hold a ‘gift’: to see the challenges that life presents, as opportunities for learning and personal growth.

When you think about happiness, how do you define that for yourself?

I believe that, in the main, we can choose to be happy or not – it’s a question of how we decide to see ourselves and our situation. I’m naturally a ‘cup half full person’ and choose to invest my attention and energy in things that nourish and support me rather than things that may undermine me.

For me, happiness isn’t a transient state but something profoundly deeper and more meaningful in the core of my being. I’m reminded of a beautiful quote from Albert Camus that speaks volumes:

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer”.

It’s that invincible summer that sustains me through the ups and downs of my life.

Do you have a message for our Mindbliss Community?

“Learn to be consciously present in the Now, because what happens in the Now decides your past and your future.”
~ Love, Linda.