Becoming Mindful

Starting to practice mindfulness and meditation techniques was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life.

I’ve received a lot of feedback from others who want to begin their own practice but don’t know where to start. Hopefully by sharing my story, you’ll consider taking the next step in your journey. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there for curious minds alike who are looking to uncover the benefits of becoming more present. I’ll spend some time at the end of the episode to provide you with some apps, websites, and podcasts that I’ve found helpful.

I’d like to rewind to this past summer. After my heart operation in August, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I had gotten home on a Thursday and the following Monday was when it peaked. It reached a point where every foreign feeling that I felt, threw me in the vicious storyline where I thought that I was going to revert back to my dangerous heart rhythms, that my pacemaker would go off, that I’d have to go back into the hospital and then I’d be there for another week. You can see how the storyline takes off pretty quickly and can send you into an emotional whirlwind. I remember being afraid to get out of my Dad’s chair because whenever I was walking around, I would be scared something was bad was going to happen, whether it be a palpitation or something else. During lunchtime, I went to the kitchen to make a sandwich and I couldn’t even do that because I was so uneasy and scared. After talking with my Mom, we decided to head into the ER to get my heart checked out to make sure there was nothing wrong with it. I left the hospital an hour or so later with a clean bill of health. Still, the reassurance didn’t seem to help matters. It still felt that nothing was being done to fix my anxiety. I couldn’t live my life like this anymore. It wasn’t healthy nor enjoyable. On the car ride home, I still felt sick to my stomach and didn’t really feel like talking to anybody. A few days later, I scheduled an appointment with the counselor that I had just began seeing prior to my surgery. I had spoken to her prior to our meeting to let her know exactly what was going on and how I was feeling. When I showed up in her office a few days later, she handed me a yellow flyer titled “Mindfulness Training.” She proceeded to tell me that there was a woman conducting mindfulness classes in the building next door. My counselor thought it would be a good idea for me to try it out. Her suggestion was certainly met with some hesitation, as I have a hard time just trying new things where I’d have to meet new people. In the end, I decided to give it a shot as I had briefly heard about mindfulness before.

When I showed up for that first time, it took me some time to even find the office. I was lost in more ways than one. When I finally found the office, I sat in a chair in the waiting room with some white noise machine humming. When her door opened, I was introduced to this woman named Val who asked me if I was here for Mindfulness training. When the session started, it was me and four other older women. I didn’t really feel like I belonged and my first impression was that this wasn’t going to work and it would be a waste of my time. The first session was just merely and introduction where we told a little bit about ourselves and why we were taking the class. A few weeks later I met with my counselor again and told her that I didn’t think it was going to work out. Because the class was 7 sessions, I told her that I would stick it out because I had already made the financial commitment to do so. During the third class, I had a major mindfulness breakthrough. First, we took part in a three part meditation about self compassion. The first part of it asked us to close our eyes, focus on our breathing for a couple of cycles, and to envision someone in front of us who embodied strength, love, and compassion. It could have been someone living or someone who we had lost. My mind quickly went to my Dad. It was extremely hard to fight back the tears and stay in the mindfulness pocket. Envisioning him right in front of me was a very heavy moment. Next, we were asked to envision an image of ourselves in front of us. This vision could have been of yourself at the present day or could be you at a younger age. Lastly, we were asked to envision someone who we had a difficult relationship with. We were told to envision what we would say to them at that moment if they were in front of us. Then, the story began to truly formulate. I went from feeling a sadness of the loss of my Dad, to feeling that he would be happy of me today. I then thought about someone who didn’t have a good relationship with his/her Dad. The hope was that I could impart the lessons that I learned from this meditation and my Dad to help this person. Later in the mindfulness session, we practiced a metta meditation technique which involves a repeating a mantra. The mantra that we used in this exercise:

“May I/You be happy
May I/You be peaceful
May I/You be safe
May I/You live a life of ease.”

Peace and ease were the two words that kept repeating and pleasantly resonating in my head. My overall life goal is to live with peace and ease. We all should strive to live in peace and with ease. Next, we were asked to pass that mantra onto someone else in our lives. Who would need to hear those words right now? In a strange way, I felt that being there in that room and in that moment, I somehow had a power to transmit that advice and positive vibes to those people I chose. My effort of transmitting it to all of you comes in the form of this blog post.

My new mantra:
May I live a live of ease
May I live a life of simplicity
May I live a life of honesty

I finally feel now that I’m at a place where I’m beginning to settle down and gain control of my life again. With the steps I’m taking, I feel that I’m beginning to live a fuller life with less anxiety. The mindfulness class as a whole has taught me to slow down and be more present in life. Meditation is only one part of it, the second part is applying mindfulness and what I learned to my daily life. I’ve developed a desire to try new things and take on new lifestyle challenges. September 1st was the day I began to start walking everyday. I’ve kept that up and I’m looking forward to keeping active in other ways during the winter season. October was the month of trying to dress better and improve my style. I wanted to be more professional and presentable. My November goal is to focus on my stuttering problem. My goal is to slow down my speech and thought process to be able to clearly communicate my thoughts and ideas. Clearly communicating my ideas will in turn allow me to have more meaningful conversations with people. There is no doubt that the stuttering is partly a product of my anxiety. I will speak slowly as to remain calm and speak clearly. I ask for your time and patience to allow me to complete my goal sparked by a clearer mind and outlook on life.

Week after week, the class began to continue tackle a lot of life’s hard questions, topics, and emotions. I began finding value in the class more and more. I realized that I wasn’t there to make friends and that I was there for my own personal benefit. The five of us actually ended up getting close as we were able to share some real personal revelations with one another. Without a doubt, Val was the one who single handedly made me a better person. Every time I see her, my face just lights up because she’s become my beacon of peace and well-being. Well all joke about the power of Val, her soft voice and kind nature, and her comfortable office that always seems to be a much needed sanctuary from the world.

Boston Heart Walk Awards Ceremony Speech

Last night, I had the honor of being asked to speak at the American Heart Association’s Boston Heart Walk Awards Ceremony. The purpose of this event was to reflect on and celebrate the amazing individual and team accomplishments of the 2017 Boston Heart Walk. Below is a copy of my speech:

Good Evening Everyone,

Thank you for the introduction, James. I first want to thank all of you for joining us tonight. This event has been a great celebration of all the amazing things that we’ve accomplished both individually and collectively. As a heart failure survivor, I wanted to share with you a little bit about my story, how I chose to become involved with the American Heart Association, and what all of your hard work and determination means to a survivor like me.

On October 5th, 2007, as a junior in high school, I unexpectedly suffered from heart failure and was subsequently diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Severe Arrhythmia. As an otherwise healthy teenager, my life threatening cardiac event and subsequent diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. On the day of my cardiac event, the doctors weren’t even sure if I was going to make it through the emergency procedure I had at Boston Children’s Hospital. After surviving that initial surgery and having another to install a Pacemaker/ICD device, my slow road to recovery began. I spent the rest of the month of October in the hospital as the doctors tried to figure out the best course of care going forward. They informed me that I would live with this condition for the rest of my life, which was a hard pill to swallow at first. Right around Halloween, I was sent home with a whole bunch of medications but mostly importantly, a new lease on life.

The next several years were spent trying to adjust to my new normal as a heart failure survivor. There were many things I could no longer do, including play rugby or row for my high school team. I had to find other things to occupy my time, which included writing, reading, and listening to music. By sticking to a regimen of medications and adopting a more heart healthy lifestyle, I began to make progress in my recovery. I really started to rethink my position and purpose in life. How was I going to turn my experience as a heart failure patient into a positive one?

As my ten year heart anniversary was approaching this past October, I wanted it to be a celebratory occasion instead of a somber one. I wanted to really capture just how thankful I was to be alive and for all the people who have been on the rollercoaster with me. I also developed an urge to share my experience with others. I knew that I wasn’t the only person affected by heart disease and I wanted to connect with others who also had.

This past spring I received an email from Anne Holden, where she told me she had heard a little bit about my story from my sister Jenni. She asked me if I had considered creating a team to walk in the Boston Heart Walk this year. After thinking about it for a little bit, I realized that creating a team to walk checked off all the boxes of what I wanted my ten year heart anniversary to be. What better way to celebrate than to gather with family and friends, all the while raising necessary funds towards a cause that I really cared about. With great excitement, I began spreading the word about Team Chris to my family and friends.

Walking is the perfect symbol for progress. It allows us to go at our own pace, and enjoy our surroundings, while maintaining a focus on what’s ahead of us. Walking is something that we all can do at our own pace but if we are all walking together, we can continue to make progress and make some amazing things happen. As we gather tonight, let us not forget that there continues to be work that needs to be done. It will continue to require an all hands on deck approach.

I’m proud to say that being involved with the American Heart Association has given me a newfound purpose and will to live. From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank you enough for all that you do. I’d like to end tonight by sharing with you one of my favorite quotes which I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Author Melody Beattie once said, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”