Struck By Living

Coping with depression and living life to the fullest.

Finding Balance in May Madness

Meditation helps one mom survive the onslaught of May

May. Most parents of school-age children say the word with the dread that is only matched by that other month packed anticipation, celebration, and choreographed moments of breath-taking importance: December.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you happy moms, all giddy from the moment chocolate bunnies pop out of Easter baskets and boxes of matzo teeter on the special display aisle at the Tom Thumb at Preston/Forest. Not me. I start to fantasize in May about 20 mile hikes on Trailrider’s Wall, by myself, or with a good friend who can stop talking long enough to hear the soft click of Aspen leaves.But in May, there are too many commitments to feed my introvert’s thirst for solitude. I love my family and community, so my introvert side bucks up and shows up (most of the time). But try as I may to be in the moment for these momentous occasions, I find myself longing for June. Just call me the Ebenezer of Springtime.

Trailrider's Wall in Pecos, NM from a hike in 2012

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This year, anticipating the mad rush of Hallmark moments, I decided to try something different. I visited a swami. I’ve been meditating regularly for about a year and had visualized some things in my meditations I didn’t understand. I hoped he’d enlighten me. I came prepared with a list of questions: What is my dharma (there is not an exact translation for this word – life path or purpose is close)? How can I distinguish my dharma from my own wants? What is this strange electrical diamond that keeps appearing in my meditations? I was feeling pretty darn deep.

As I drove up to a rather plain, suburban house just off Preston Road in Dallas, I double-checked the address. I’d never thought about where a swami might live, but  a single story ranch house didn’t mesh with my expectations. I guess I assumed there’d be more color and curves, perhaps an intricate screen with the sound of trickling water from a hidden fountain in a courtyard. Not Swami G (as he is affectionately known.) He did have flowing robes and a kind face, a very kind face.

He asked me a few questions for background information. How much do you sleep? Do you exercise? What are your eating habits like? I felt like the Swami G had read my Top Ten list for Staying Well and was reading it back to me. He then gave me some breathing exercises. 11 quick breaths, 11 breaths holding down one nostril, breathing out the other, 21 breaths chanting Om. Then minutes of stillness – as much as I could stand.  He gave some instructions. Sit on the floor, place a mat beneath you to absorb the earth’s energy. Use pillows to be comfortable. When I reached the point of 15 minutes of uninterrupted stillness; that will be meditation.

me on fluffy pillows

In the beginning, the breathing exercises felt completely ridiculous. I wondered if he gave me the assignment, just to see if I'd do it. I did my breathing exercises early in the morning before anyone woke up to avoid my 17 year-old’s caustic stare or my husband’s slightly worried look. Note to self. When you’ve been locked in a psych ward, family members get a little skittish when you sit on fluffly pillows and chant “Om.”  Along with my breathing exercises, I try to read something positive to set my intention for the meditation. A book by Susan Salzberg, Faith, has been my book of May.

So now that May is almost over, did it work? Like any practice, some days provided more than others. One a particularly bad day, when I woke up with my chest tight because of all the self-inflicted important things I had to do. I felt the negative grind of depressive thought. Why do you do this? It doesn’t matter. What’s the point?

I opened Faith to start my meditation routine and found this passage:

“Doubt is usually considered to be the force that opposes faith. . .Faith is the ability to offer our heart to the truth of what is happening, to see our experience as the embodiment of life’s mystery, the present expression of possibility, the conduit of connecting us to a bigger reality.”

After I read that, did my nostril breathing and Oms, I looked at my to do list for the day. Somehow, even with the same amount of tasks, it looked a little shorter. I rearranged a meeting so I could sit through “Ring Day” for my daughter’s Junior High School year, followed by “Yellow Shirt Day” the next morning. The day before I’d grumbled about two school events back to back with less than a week’s notice.

Ring ceremony

Once there, however, something happened. I noticed the light through the stained glass in the chapel as the she and her classmates whispered in rows. The next morning, a glint of sunlight caught her hair. I remembered what it was like to be 17, to be so certain, with a life so full of potential.

My daughter Rachel and her friend Christina on yellow shirt day

I smiled.

I didn’t even need three ghosts. Maybe May isn’t so bad. Those Oms are paying off.

Julie Hersh is the author of Struck By Living: From Depression to Hope.

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