My Master’s capstone project focused on reducing stress levels in working women through meditation. I recruited 25 nurses from several area hospitals and led them in guided meditations over their half-hour lunch breaks. Over the course of the intervention, more and more women dropped out, until I was left with only four. It was something of a disaster, and I worried that my capstone would not be accepted. The four women who remained were very positive about the intervention, and they did have a big improvement in their stress levels from their baseline. Still, I knew four women were not sufficient to determine whether or not the intervention really worked.
It seemed to me that the most significant part of the intervention was the large group of “lost to follow up” women. I decided I wanted to find out why so many had dropped out, so I interviewed them. Each woman’s reasoning was along the lines of:
“I just don’t have the time to do something like that. Too much is going on.”
“I felt guilty leaving my unit and the other nurses.”
“I’m not used to taking time for myself. It made me uncomfortable.”
“I felt selfish.”
The faculty found those results quite fascinating and my capstone was accepted. I, on the other hand, found the results troubling. Why is it so difficult for us to allow ourselves the gift of time to do something that makes us less stressed, more relaxed—happier, even?
I have been guilty of always putting myself last most of my life. There’s a nice name for that: selflessness. It is seen as a positive trait, a sign that you are a good person. But, selflessness taken to the extreme is damaging—and not just to that wonderful, selfless person—but to everyone around them.
Selflessness can mean working yourself to exhaustion, buttoning down on your emotions and your stress. It can lead to resentment, even bitterness. It can also cause destructive self-behaviors like addictions. How does this help anyone?
Taking time to help yourself emotionally and physically shouldn’t be a luxury that happens when all the other work is done, when everyone else’s needs are met. Starting my day with exercise tells me I am just as important as the other people in my life. Doing something pleasurable; being vigilant about caring for and about myself gives me more capacity to be giving and caring to others.
Some people find it hard to meditate. As much as they try to clear their minds, stuff just keeps popping in. A guided meditation is an easier way to intentionally relax. I hope you will try this one. I wrote it for my twenty-five nurses. I guess I wrote it for you as well!
Finding the Light
For this meditation, you need two small stones or something similar.
Close your eyes and assume a comfortable position with the stones positioned within reach of one of your hands. Breathe in and out through your nose, and deliberately slow your breathing. Be aware of your body, how it’s positioned, how it feels.
Concentrate on your feet. Curl your toes and flex your feet for ten seconds. When you release them, feel how relaxed they are, how perfectly content. Tighten your leg muscles the same way, then release. Work your way up your body, tightening each of your muscle groups, and then letting them relax completely. Hips. Buttocks. Stomach. Chest. Back. Neck. Face. Shoulders. Arms. Hands. Fingers. Feel how pleasurable it is to have your muscles completely relaxed.
Pick up one of the stones and turn your eyes inward to your emotional self. What are the emotions inside of you? Where are they hiding? Look for the negative emotions, throughout your emotional being. Fear. Resentment. Guilt. Anger. Frustration. Impatience. Sadness. Worry. Anxiety. Wherever these negative emotions are, sweep them up together. Imagine they come together in a big, sticky, knotted ball. They are all together. Continue to look for anything negative hidden and sweep it all up. Then imagine pushing that ball, pushing it down your arm, out your fingertips and into that stone. When you are sure you have pushed them all out, put the stone down. Those emotions are separate from you now. They have no power.
Allow your inner eye to look at what is left. You feel lighter. Cleaner. Lifted up. There is beauty here, and peace, in this new self.
Pick up the second stone. Allow your inner light to fill you, to shine through your whole being. Your inner beauty radiates. Imagine it radiating into the stone you now hold. Can you feel the stone warming to your touch? Imagine it responding to your light, your being. This stone doesn’t remove your light from you, but radiates it back, so that as you warm it, it in turn warms you.
Listen to your breathing again, feel your muscles—relaxed, patient. Gradually turn your thoughts outward, to your surroundings. To the sounds around you. The smell of the air. You can slowly come back to this world and still feel the light inside you, the light that is you.
Count slowly from ten and then open your eyes.