Peechaya Burroughs for TIME
Wellness

How I Used Meditation to Turn My Life Around

Aug. 16, 2016

Meditation helped me deal with loss and stress, but getting started wasn’t easy

My career was in a shambles. I was a wreck. I had been going through infertility treatments for years, hoping for the elusive ‘two lines’ on my home pregnancy kit. Disappointment after disappointment, until I felt I had no choice but to try IVF.

A few months later, I was put on bed rest with a high-risk pregnancy due to early contractions from the twins I was carrying, coupled with my high-stress lifestyle as an importer dealing at all hours with suppliers in Asia and customers in North America. Try as I might, I couldn’t slow down. My bed was converted into an office. I took meetings and entertained from my bedroom.

I went into labor right before my sixth month. After several days in the hospital, I delivered twin girls. They died within 24 hours. I was devastated.

During this tragic period, my mother had been diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. She had always been my pillar of strength: I couldn’t imagine life without her. Still in her early 50s, she was determined to live her life as fully as possible, notwithstanding her terminal illness. She went back to school to become a psychotherapist, knowing full well she would probably die before she graduated. She took her mind off her own worries by helping other people. She even traveled to Africa in her final year, attached to a morphine pump.

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I was desperate to have a baby before she died, so we decided to adopt. We went through nine failed adoptions until we were blessed with a baby boy.

I had been back at work trying to keep my mind off my own worries but I was unsuccessful at best. Caring for my mother as well as a newborn baby made it hard to focus on anything else. I was frazzled, sleep deprived, scared about my lack of income and watching my marriage deteriorate from the pressure. It was no surprise when I was asked to leave.

At one point, my mother’s doctor suggested that she try meditation. I was so stressed and at the end of my wits that I figured I would try it, too.

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At first, it was difficult. My mind was a flurry of activity and my mantra was, “How much longer. How much longer…” After a while, I started to feel a bit more relaxed and calm, yet I still couldn’t force myself to do it on a regular basis. I was what I call an “emergency meditator”—only doing it when I was at the end of my rope. I still preferred my old tried and true method of calming down—a glass of Chardonnay—knowing full well it wouldn’t make me feel as good.

But with regular practice, my attention muscle grew. After several weeks, I could sit without feeling the need to distract myself so regularly. I gave up the need to “be good” at meditation and knew that some days would be better than others.

Eventually, I was able to make my practice more regular. Even though my mind was still crazily busy, I stuck with it. Pushing my thoughts away was like trying to hold a beach ball under water. Trying to quiet my mind seemed to have the opposite effect. Thoughts and feelings kept pouring in.

But, as I persisted, something counter-intuitive happened. I began to sit with the uncomfortable thoughts rather than trying to push them away. They began to lose their power over me. Rather than swallowing me up whole, the edges became less sharp, more bearable. The unthinkable became manageable. The hysteria that was always there under the surface was replaced by a sense of calm. Kind of like, “I’ve got this.”

Read more: So You Want to Meditate? Here’s the Simple Way to Start

I realized that meditation wasn’t about trying to control my mind; it was a time to just allow whatever was going on in my mind to just be. This simple shift was an enormous source of peace for me, lifting the burden I always felt of having to “make things happen.”

I found that the way I had been taught to deal with things made little sense. In our culture, we are taught that the harder we work, the better we will do. In my meditation, the less I did, the more I could let go of. We assume that the goal is to make our minds blank, that we are meant to get rid of all of our thoughts, yet by simply noticing that we are having thoughts and then not pushing them away or doing anything we can simply watch the ebb and flow. We notice the thought and then come back to the object of our attention.

Our culture teaches us to give away our personal power. We look to others to fix whatever is wrong. We have a “pill for your ills” mentality, and we mistakenly look for our happiness outside of ourselves. As my mind started to naturally calm down, I began to find the solutions within myself. It was like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, realizing “there’s no place like home.” The peace I was looking for was within me the whole time.

Ten-plus years later, I am a new person. People who’ve known me for years can’t believe the change that’s taken place in me. I still have stressful situations in my life, but I don’t suffer from them anymore. Meditation has been the single greatest thing I’ve done in my life toward becoming a happier, more pleasant and less self-absorbed person. My biggest pleasure now is helping others do the same.

If you’d like to start a practice of meditation, here are my personal tips for beginners:

• Try our app, OMG. I Can Meditate!, which is free to download and features several time based and specialty meditations.

• Start with just 10 minutes a day.

• Try to meditate first thing in the morning.

• Always set an intention.

• Don’t stress about your thoughts.

• Keep expectations realistic.

• Just breathe.

• Find a routine.

• Be consistent.

• Build your attention muscle.

• Don’t give up!

Lynne Goldberg is a certified meditation coach and the founder of OMG. I Can Meditate!