The news came just as an article I wrote—Meditation: Neuroscience Shows How It Can Change Your Life for the Better–was chosen to be the cover story for a regional publication. I had been meditating for about two years, twice a day, about half an hour to two hours in a sitting.
Two and a half years earlier, I had also lost my job. I had begun meditating about four months before.
Now this was a poignant moment to experience my own brain on meditation.
In both events, the situation was out of my control and I was essentially “laid off.” In both job situations, I felt it coming. Something didn’t feel right and had to give.
No matter the reasons, our brains perceive and evaluate losing one’s job as a big threat. It ranks among the highest stress events, right up there with death of a loved one, divorce and serious illness. It is a blow to our base chakra, survival senses kick in. Most people go through an emotional cycle of denial, fear, anger, blame and eventually adaptation.
I went through this same cycle both times. But the speed at which I cycled through these emotions to adaptation was radically different the second time, after two years of meditation.
On the first round, I had been the sole source of income for my family for over 10 years, and that career had a substantial retirement fund. I felt I was carrying everything for my family’s survival on my shoulders. I had moved my family to this new place for that job. I knew no one and no one knew me; I had no support network there. I reached out to strangers, some of whom were kind and helpful, and some who betrayed me for their own sense of security. I feared that I had really messed up making this move. The constant scanning for the source of threat was living in a soup of anxiety.
We know that under stress our brains release stress hormones and chemicals, like cortisol. I experienced all the signs of too much stress: anxiety, aches and pains, difficulty sleeping, etc. I started meditating, and praying, just to deal with this stressful daily scene.
In neuroscientific and psychologic terms, I was ruminating. My brain’s Threat Center and Me Center were in close cahoots to evaluate threats. They were turning events over and over in my head, trying to understand myself vis-à-vis everyone else.
Trying to understand seems like a logical route to solutions, but in a threat-induced loop, I was susceptible to taking things personally, all input was evaluated in a self-referencing loop. That’s not objective or balanced. My Me Center was over-riding my Executive Center, the part of my brain that actually can help me understand in a balanced way.
Rumination plays a big role in depression, and in the worst-case, suicide. It can lead us into the illusion of a tunnel without options.
When we meditate, we continually return our attention to a chosen focus, like the breath or a mantra. The meditative state helps to release chemicals in our brains that diminish the connection between the Threat Center and the Me Center, and to strengthen connections with the Executive Center.
As a result, we’re better able to focus. We can choose to focus on the good stuff, to see situations in a more balanced way. Meditation quiets our mental chatter, gives us an exit ramp from the rumination freeway. I find that I’m also more open to hearing uplifting and intuitive thoughts and ideas.
After two years of meditation, when I was told I would be laid off, I had an immediate rush of inspiration, relief and compassion. (As a manager, I know it’s hard to tell people “bad” news.) All the things I had been inspired to do—take my son on outings, write, ride my horse, start a small business—became do-able. Instead of pushing them aside, I could now see these inspirations as fun solutions waiting in the wings.
That night, I still had an hour or two of self-blaming thoughts, but after meditating that night and the next morning, I felt a rush of joy and inspiration. It was a moment of grace.
This time I had full confidence everything would work out for the best. After the first layoff, I was immediately hired into this job. We made several changes, lowered expenses, and actually our life finances improved. By all evidence that I was able to analyze, life would get better again!
I felt so grateful for what I could see now as gifts along a path of rising consciousness, developing my ability to live more through my heart, and in the flow of divine grace.
Today, I practice Kriya Yoga, a series of meditation techniques, really a complete spiritual lifestyle, but I began by just breathing and counting, starting at a count of 4 and slowing to a count of 10. Simple.
It was, and still can be challenging to keep my focus in mediation. No matter how disturbed by thoughts my meditation can sometimes seem, I’ve learned not to judge my meditations. I am ALWAYS morefocused, balanced and happy in the day after I meditate.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, and you’d like some relief, here’s a good place to start: a video on the Hong Sau meditation. Hong Sau is Sanskrit for “I am Spirit”. Practicing combines the mindfulness basic of watching the breath with a mantra.
Blessings on your journey!
Jacqueline lives at Ananda Village, a modern ashram community of yogis in the Sierra Foothills of California. Since 2015 meditation has re-shaped her brain to put her heart in the lead of a joyful life. Jacqueline writes for various publications, and blogs about the journey from infertility to parenting, horse whispering and home cooking, all woven with spiritual awakening at www.conceptionstory.com. You can reach her at [email protected]