Follow the breath
Settle slowly in to the depths
Go under, where you can find it
What endures in the heart
Focus on your heart
The Heart Center
Focus on your breath
The breath is the thread that connects us to what is above and below. It serves as a rappelling rope between the surface of our senses and the depths of meditation. Follow it down, down, down to settle into the space that is not cluttered with thoughts. This is the goal, and so it is difficult to sense the work happening until after it is finished.
The remarkable thing about this kind of meditation is that you quickly discover your breath is always there. It is a remnant of the experience. It is evidence that the deep is accessible. This discovery is one of the most significant of my life thus far.
Lately, I talk about meditation to almost everyone. There is a reason for it, though. It is changing my life.
A few weeks ago I started something I never expected to go through: treatment for postpartum depression. At six months, I thought I was out of the weeds. PPD was not on my radar. I experienced other very demanding seasons in my life that I managed with various anti-stress tools. Life is difficult, but I knew what to do when I felt overwhelmed.
In November my husband, son, and I prepared to move to our new home – freshly built in the perfect neighborhood, after many hours of deliberation and work with a talented builder and architect. Everything in our lives was “perfect.” Our baby slept through the night and was incredibly healthy. Our marriage was always strong, based upon a deep friendship. Our finances were secure. I was at a point in my career where I was finally experiencing the fruit of my labor – the development of a dissertation that I was thoroughly excited about. Soon after the move, I began facing debilitating anxiety and would stress over the smallest trigger. Through the first six months I often exclaimed “I have never been so happy in my life!” It was later replaced with,
“Why do I feel so sad?
I feel isolated. I feel alone.
Why is it so difficult for others to understand me?
I feel like I cannot talk to anyone.
I feel guilty for not being happy right now.”
Certainly, I have loving people in my life. I have a network of incredible family members and friends. They say, “Let me watch your baby so you two can have a night out!” Or, “Just call me when you need something.”
But that is not what this is about.
PPD is very different for each sufferer. For me, the constant and overwhelming emotions were not alleviated through the generous assistance of our parents or long talks with my close friends. In fact, I became more anxious when I would prepare for Arlo’s time away from me – pumping breast milk, making his little meals, or packing his bag. Thoughts of going out with friends were quickly shot down by my own internal voice telling me that it was “not possible.” Keeping Arlo with me was just easier. It also kept thoughts at bay of what might happen when he was out of my care. I was on edge. I sensed my days passing by and I had nothing to show for them. My once very productive day turned into a nightly lament of all the things that I could have done, though I felt frazzled and in constant motion. An underlying sadness crept in…
Soon, I found myself waking to the thought each morning,
“Will it be like this the rest of my life?”
At ten months postpartum, Dave and I both realized I needed to talk to someone. My exterior façade was not in line with my interior life. I was in denial and thought that these anxieties were all part of the game. Of course a mother worries about her baby! Of course I am stressed! We had big life changes this year and it will all even out eventually…
After speaking with a wonderful midwife that I trust, I finally felt like I could breathe. It was the first step toward healing.
Why did I begin this post with an explanation of my meditation practice?
It is because I began in the midst of the darkness. Though I did not acknowledge the PPD at that point, I knew something was “off.” So, I sat in the darkness searching for the light.
The rector at my church recently gave a message that challenged the idea that “God does not give us anything we cannot handle” – the common, over used, and sadly clichéd line offered to sufferers. She explored the idea that this might not be true, but God actually might set in place a difficult experience in order for growth to happen. A Lenten sermon, the reading was on Jesus’s temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Following this dark point, Jesus went on to perform miracles.
Dark points can coincide with the light. I do not find it odd that I was able to establish a meditation practice while simultaneously suffering from PPD. Meditation is not a magic bullet or similar to taking a pill for a headache. The emotions I currently battle that stem from overactive anxiety and changing hormones are also a part of this new emotional experience I have as a mother. I do not believe it will always be this way, but I also do not disregard it as unimportant or take it on as my identity. I insist on living in the light.
My daily meditation is the place I can go to find peace. I am also learning to take the breath with me throughout my day. It is not the solution to PPD, but is an important part of my life. Feeling my breath enter and exit my body gives me a sense of relief, stability, and a feeling of connection to the divine – to a source of strength.