How did I begin a mindfulness meditation practice?
Every journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step. I have a daily mindfulness meditation practice and I am often asked by curious family and friends, “how did you begin a mindfulness meditation practice?”
This is a fair question and I think it’s best answered by sharing my personal story of entry into mindfulness. You will notice that this post deviates from my recent writing on “resilience.” However, please note that mindfulness meditation is a resilient practice, with several studies linking mindfulness meditation to resilience.
Firefighting, my previous career, consistently ranks as one of the top ten most stressful careers in the world. CareerCast ranks Firefighting as the number one most stressful job in 2015, above Enlisted Military Personnel. Forbes corroborates this ranking, ranking Firefighter as the most stressful job in 2015. Several other studies share the same results.
In the population at large, the expected post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rate is around 8%. Meaning, through the natural living of life, 8% of the population will experience PTSD. In the fire service, PTSD rates are 22%- 30%. There’s also a phenomenon that the longer a firefighter has been on the job, the higher the prevalence of PTSD symptoms. Here is a great read if you are interested: PTSD and Coping Among Career Professional Firefighters.
Stated simply, Firefighters experience higher rates of PTSD and the effects of cumulative stress because the job of firefighting is stressful. Makes sense, right?
Beginning a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
Toward the end of my twenty-five year firefighting career, I was experiencing the effects of cumulative stress from firefighting. In retrospect, I had several symptoms but the primary symptom I experienced was anxiety. I disliked the way anxiety made me feel, and if you have experienced anxiety, you know that it sucks.
During the last two weeks of my career I attended a week-long training course titled, Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training; pronounced “M-fit.” This course was designed for personnel who work in high-stress operational environments, like firefighting. I attended the training because I knew I needed solid tools to work with in managing my personal stress and anxiety.
Prior to participation in MMFT, I had zero exposure to mindfulness meditation. During the week-long MMFT training I was introduced to a variety of mindfulness-based practices and then, following the week-long intensive, given an eight-week curriculum to follow while at home; which I completed.
The course, MMFT, then the eight-week follow up instruction, led to what is now a daily mindfulness meditation practice. Since my initial introduction to mindfulness, I have participated in several training programs, including attending a week-long silent retreat at Spirit Rock: An Insight Meditation Center.
Continuing a Mindfulness Meditation Practice
A very stressful and long career in firefighting led me to a course in mindfulness meditation and the results that a regular mindfulness practice have had on my system are what keep me continuing with the practice. I can’t speak for everyone and what their result might be, but for me, the proof of mindfulness meditation is in the pudding.
Stated simply, mindfulness meditation has led to significant healing, calming, and regulation of my mind-body system and has made me a believer in the power of the practice. It is through fire department retirement and putting some time, distance, and shielding between myself and my former career, and the daily practice of mindfulness meditation, that I have healed, found body regulation, and feel great today.
Mindfulness Meditation Practice Takes Practice
Mindfulness Meditation is like any other worthy endeavor in life, it takes time, effort, persistence, and gumption. It takes grit to sit quietly by yourself for 20-40 minutes per day. It’s challenging because these days life moves so fast that most people find it incredibly difficult to sit still with their thoughts and not move.
I believe that I am realizing the wonderful results of mindfulness meditation practice today because I stayed with it, meditated even when I didn’t feel like it, and made mindfulness meditation a top-priority in my life. I also believe that it was my diligence in daily prayer, long periods of contemplation, that primed the pump and prepared me for mindfulness meditation.
In closing, beginning a mindfulness meditation practice begins with practice and a continued commitment to the practice. There are hundreds of resources on online about mindfulness programs. I would recommend Mindful Awareness Practices I (online) through the University of California Los Angeles Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. It’s a solid, research-based program.
By all means, listen to yourself and care for yourself. Beginning a daily mindfulness meditation practice may be the best decision you ever make. It was for me.
*As a note, MMFT is no longer conducting courses.