When I started a meditation practice and introduced mindfulness into my life, I had no idea it would change the way I dealt with absolutely everything.
The experience of arriving home late one night to find my home had been broken into was the perfect test to fully experience mindfulness in action. How I dealt with it and how I felt about it surprised me.
As my husband and I entered our home we knew that something was wrong. We weren’t too concerned about it because the alarm was still set. We couldn’t explain, however, why there was music playing in our master bedroom. When I went upstairs to turn it off, I noticed that a drawer in my bedside table was open and that a book was lying on the floor. There was also a light on in my walk in closet.
In that moment I could feel my fight or flight response kick in.
I was very mindful of how it felt as my senses became really sharp, my breathing became rapid, my heart was pounding, and my reptilian brain was kicking in as I froze on the stairs not wanting to go in the room.
I noticed that I couldn’t think rationally or clearly and felt a sense of panic. I took a few long, slow, deep breaths and felt I was beginning to get my wits about me.
My husband came up the stairs and I told him “something is wrong.” As we peaked around the corner we could see that the glass door had been shattered and my husband said, “Our home has been broken into.”
In that moment, one of Dan Siegel’s phrases came to my mind: “Name it, to tame it.” I had gotten in the habit of naming my feelings when I was reacting to something and feeling scared, mad, frustrated, intolerant or anytime I felt like I was “losing my mind.”
The practice of naming what you’re feeling is a powerful practice in shifting from mindlessly reacting to mindfully responding.
This one step enabled me to quickly shift back into a feeling of calm and peace. I felt a sense of inner resilience and knew that my brain and body had shifted out of the flight or fight response and was back in a balanced state. In this state, I could begin to think again.
I knew without a doubt that my meditation and mindfulness practice that I did diligently every day made a difference in how I dealt with the “stress” and how quickly I shifted back to a state of balance.
As I crawled into bed in the wee hours I began to reflect on the role that mindfulness played in the whole experience. I thought about our neighbor who had also been robbed and what he said: “ I felt like a victim and like I’d been violated.” I asked myself if I felt that way and this is what came to me: “ I am not a victim because the robber didn’t do anything to me. He may have broken a window and taken some jewelry but I am not my house or my belongings and so he didn’t do anything to me.”
I assumed this person must have been hurting to do something like this and so I felt a sense of compassion for him/her.
We all do things when we’re desperate and have lost our way and so I found myself sending him/her love. I was reminded of a scene in Les Misérables where a priest caught Hugh Jackman stealing. Instead of punishing the thief, the priest offered to give him more.
I went through all the things that I was grateful for about the experience. I was grateful that they didn’t go through the whole house because the alarm was set. I was grateful that I wasn’t feeling attached to my jewelry. Sentimental, yes, attached, no. I was grateful that they didn’t leave a big mess for me to clean up. I was grateful that I was in the middle of reading a book about a Buddhist philosophy that reminded me that the majority of our suffering comes from attachment.
I had also just spent the past 10 days away getting rid of “stuff” in our Phoenix home getting ready to sell it, and realized I wasn’t “attached” to it.
As I gave things away I realized that I had more joy from giving it away than I ever did from owning it.
As I laid there in the wee hours a principle from Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements popped into my mind: “Don’t take anything personally.” This principle reminds us that, “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering” I knew that if I created a big story and drama around this, it would contribute to my own suffering. My mindfulness and ability to pause and choose my story enabled me to be peaceful and accepting.
The last thing I did before I drifted off peacefully to sleep was my forgiveness practice. I was perplexed by the fact that I really didn’t feel any anger but then realized that anger and compassion don’t co-exist.
When I chose compassion I closed the door on anger and restored an inner peace.
This experience enabled me to draw on the many tools and practices that have become such an integral part of my life. Having a meditation and mindfulness practice doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience stress or have difficult times, but it does enable us to be more resilient, mindful and a whole lot more peaceful in the face of adversity.