Learning to practice meditation has changed my life in immeasurable ways. Even in the times I am not meditating, I have learned to hold a different mindset: a mindset of awareness and openness in everything. I am always mindful (or reminding myself to be mindful). I am aware of my existence and the existence of every other being. I am aware of my body, of the things I see, feel, touch, hear, of my heart beating. I am aware of this moment, and that I am living in this moment. It sounds so simple but acknowledging this and making this change in my life has truly opened my heart and given me an overall sense of happiness and inner peace. Here are five ways that this has changed my mindset:

1. Acceptance:
I’ve spent so much time of my life wishing I was different, wanting to change certain things about myself, constantly frustrated with my insecurities and flaws. The point where I stopped wanting to change, stopped judging myself, and learned to accept myself exactly as I am was when I started to feel inner peace. I changed the way I looked at things, and stopped being so harsh. Instead of judging myself and creating this negative image of myself, I saw myself openly and freely. I understood that we all have our faults and our weaknesses but we also all have our strengths and our uniqueness. And it just so happens that sometimes the things that we see as weaknesses are the things others see as strengths. We may envy others for the way they are, but they envy us for what we are, too. Nevertheless, we are all living and doing our best to be the people we are in this moment, and hopefully trying to be the best people we can be and that’s all we can do.

Personally, I have struggled most with my social anxiety and shyness throughout my life. It’s something that frustrated me growing up, and still frustrates me at times. It is harder for me to be open and comfortable with people right away. Growing up, I had more trouble making friends right away and didn’t feel as confident in initiating conversations as others seemed to naturally be. I saw others around me, and I wished I could be that person that was so outgoing and confident in who they were. I felt that others were unable to understand me, and there was always something holding me back.

Although this is still something that I struggle with, through meditation I started to learn and understand a lot about myself. I learned the importance of being gentle with ourselves and extending that gentleness to others. In the end, I realized I am the only one truly judging myself. I am the one that I am most afraid of. Learning to be more comfortable in my own skin has allowed me to feel more comfortable and accepting of who I am and in turn allowed me to feel more comfortable with others. My shyness is a part of who I am, and sometimes it takes me a little longer to open up to people, and I’m pretty sure that will always be true. Ultimately, I have realized this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a part of who I am, and I am able to make peace with that. Sometimes if we change the way we look at things, we see them for something else entirely. And I’ve started to see the beauty in who I am and accept myself as I am, and in doing so have opened my eyes to the beauty in those around me for exactly who they are.

Nothing good comes from self-hate, and we can never get anything positive from being harsh to ourselves. In order to make any changes, we have to learn to be gentle to ourselves and see ourselves clearly for who we are first. I’m not perfect, I’ll always have my struggles, but I am who I am and I don’t wish to change that. I am at peace with myself.

2. Emotions:
I’ve learned to embrace my emotions. Feelings are things that make us human, things that make us feel alive. Not all feelings can be good ones or perfect ones. I’ve learned to accept my feelings, whether good or bad. I’ve learned to accept that some feelings are a bit more uncomfortable or even scary, but it’s necessary to stay with them and understand them instead of running away. When we learn to stay with our emotions in all things, we realize they aren’t nearly as scary as they seem. And by staying with them and accepting them for what they are we are able to understand that all emotions are a necessary part of life. By staying with the toughest of emotions as well as the best of them, we build the most strength.

I’ve realized that I am a person who often feels very deeply, which sometimes is hard for me. It’s harder when the bad side of that emotion comes in. I feel more attached to people, things, memories. I’ve learned to love this, even through the pain and sadness, the difficulties, the things I’m afraid to let go of. I’ve learned to love this, because it makes me feel so incredibly alive, and though it is what makes the pain hurt the worst, it also is what allows me to feel the incredible strength of love and light.

Emotions are everything, they are beautiful pieces of us that make us human. These pieces are able to connect all humans, they are something that we all share, experience, and express. By understanding our own emotions, we are able to start to understand those of others and start to build empathy. Awareness and understanding my emotions has allowed me to grow in ways I never expected.

3. Connectedness:

I am a firm believer in the idea of uniqueness and individuality. I believe that humankind is an incredible species, and that part of what makes us so incredible is the ways in which as individuals we are all able to think and interpret this world in our own different ways, the ways in which we can create and develop new ideas, the ways in which we each have our own views. I love the idea of people being themselves and expressing their uniqueness in everything from how they dress to how they choose to live their lives.

All that being said, I also believe that in our cores we are all the same. We are all humans, though each full of entirely different ideas and ways of thinking, the basics are all essentially the same. We all have emotions, we have joy, excitement, sadness, anger, pain, conflict, confusion. We all have insecurities, uncertainty, fear. We all have dreams and goals. We all have the ability to make choices, whether successes or mistakes. We all experience the forms of good and bad.

In this way we are essentially all the same. We have very different ways of expressing these feelings and thoughts but we all have them. In this way we can understand one another and the ways in which we are all connected. Instead of immediately jumping to a negative thought or conclusion about someone, stop for a minute and see them in the same way you see yourself. Even the people who we my think of as the most horrible or mean we can see them as a person just like us and try and understand them and where they are coming from. If we learn to look at people as we do ourselves, see that they have the same anxieties and confusions as we do, we allow ourselves to feel more open and connected with all people.

One particular practice I do quite frequently in my meditation has allowed me to greatly strengthen my feelings of connectedness with others. In the practice, I generate either a wish for happiness, compassion (freedom from pain/suffering) or openness. I start by making the wish for myself, then make it for someone I care about deeply, then for someone who is a friend or have mixed feelings about, then for someone neutral (maybe someone I talked to in the store) and finally for someone I don’t particularly like. I then make this wish for all 5 of us together, and further extend it to all beings everywhere. This is an incredible practice in allowing yourself to see how similar we truly are, that there is no higher or lower, in the end we all are the same. We are all strong and we are all weak. We’re all members of humankind, living this life. And in that way, in our cores we are exactly the same.

4. Empowerment:
It sounds simple enough, but truly taking the time to meditate daily and actually sticking with it for more than just a few minutes consistently is not always the easiest thing, especially in those moments of anxiety and restlessness. My energy is not always so warm and peaceful. There’s always days where I find it particularly difficult to focus and feel peaceful. Days where I struggle to stay still with my thoughts, and not get consumed by my internal distractions. Yet, I have learned to stay with it, whatever it is. I have learned to stay with the good and the bad feelings. Breaking through this barrier and learning to stay still in the moments that I most want to run away has been truly empowering. I have learned to face the things that make me the most uncomfortable, not fight them but just understand and accept them as they are.

There’s something about sitting still and just being there, something about allowing your mind to completely let go of everything outside of yourself that fills my heart with a sense of empowerment. I find a new confidence and acceptance in myself and in life just as it is each and every time i meditate.

Let it free you.

5. Change:

One of the most important things I’ve become fully aware of and started to embrace is change. Uncertainty. I always consider myself as someone who likes change, who likes to mix things up in my life, not stick to an exact routine. In many ways, I thrive on change. Yet in so many other ways change is hard and scary for me. Letting go has been one of the hardest things for me. Learning to let go of people, relationships, places, memories, it’s always hard for me. It’s hard for me to accept that people and situations inevitably change, and I find myself constantly questioning and second guessing things that are far gone. I become attached to these people and ideas and memories, and I find myself constantly trying to hold on to things.

I still let myself feel fully, experience, connect with people, even knowing I will need to let them go. I’m aware that nothing lasts forever, and it’s not meant to. Life is a fluctuating moving thing, something that is meant to keep going and changing. We are individuals that make up a whole human species. We move in and out of each other’s lives, but that doesn’t lessen the time together. Friendships, relationships, houses, schools, jobs, places, these are all things we become attached to. These are all things that become temporarily a sort of “home” to us. We gain a sort of connection with these things. We develop a sense of comfortability with them, one which we are terrified to let go of, terrified because it is uncertain what will happen if we do.

Letting ourselves embrace this openness, this uncertainty, this unknown, this can be freeing. We aren’t trying to force expectations or rules on ourselves, we aren’t trying to push or pull our lives in one way or another, we’re just allowing ourselves to exist in our lives, be present wherever we are. We are allowing ourselves to move through life without clinging to our pasts and future expectations. We are aware of who we are and what we want, and we exist each day moving wherever life takes us, in the steps toward where we want to be.

The trick is finding the beautiful peace of simplicity in this overly complicated world. Slowing down, and letting life take us where it may.

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