Someone who comes to my meditation sessions shared an experience they had recently. On a busy day, they had a doctor’s appointment. While they were sitting in the waiting room, they started to feel stressed. As soon as they noticed that, they remembered the calm feeling they often get while putting their attention on their breath in meditation, so they started doing that, and in a few moments, the stress mostly dissipated, and they felt much better.
That’s a great pay-off from meditation—a technique you can learn and use to reduce stress. There are many techniques like that, and they can be very powerful. When this person told their story, though, I saw an even more profound pay-off. This person, who has worked in very stressful environments and has also managed some very stressful family and life situations over the years, was able to recognize and interrupt the stress just as it was coming on. They were then able to come into the breath to keep the stress at bay. That is not an easy thing to do for most of us. I can’t count how many times in my life I've gotten swept up in stress, worry, anger, etc., wallowed in it for too long, and only then realized I might be able to manage it with breathing or other techniques. Other times I have been in that kind of disturbed state, and even though I knew I could try to get myself out of it, I felt so indignant or resentful or powerless or whatever that I couldn’t bring myself to even try to let the disturbance go—righteous indignation is very seductive. And there have also been countless times when I’ve been in a difficult conversation and realized afterward I had forgotten to make an important point, or didn’t even think of the point during the conversation and afterward it felt too late to bring it up. Meditation has changed all that for me, and it seems also for the person who shared their story.
When we get caught up in stress or other disturbing feelings, our minds are in charge. They tell us stories from the past in a way that makes them look like they’re happening in the present, even though they aren't. It’s very difficult to see through that, and even when we can, it can be even more difficult to let go of the feelings the stories elicit. The expanded consciousness this person developed through meditation enabled them to be aware of the stress as it was coming on. In that moment, they were able to see the truth—that the stress was a product of the mind that served no good purpose at that time, and that there is a way of being in life that is not bound by the mind and its stories and that they can access using a simple technique. That was the moment of truth, and they showed up for it spectacularly.