Wednesday 23 August 2017
2013 is the year that I was diagnosed with HIV. It was also my 20th anniversary year being committed to practicing meditation. We all take different approaches to dealing with life’s many and varied challenges. Meditation has played an important role in mine. When it came to processing my HIV diagnosis, meditation offered me a framework for reflection, self-forgiveness, forgiving others and moving toward a place of acceptance.
I remember my first big meditation experience 25 years ago so well. It was day four of a ten day Vipassana retreat and I was 18 years young. After a gruelling few days of silence and teenage angst, in this particular session, suddenly I felt like the knowledge of the universe flowed into me. There was so much stillness, bliss and euphoria. I was completely hooked!
Beware, once meditation hooks you in; that’s when the real work begins!
Meditation opened me up to a powerful (and often challenging) world of self-inquiry. I was confronted with the shadows of my mind. This is common to almost everyone who regularly meditates and invariably leads to a crisis of self-judgement – it’s not easy to observe the mind free from filters and distractions!
The reality is that we are our harshest critic. It doesn’t take long if we sit silently with our thoughts to figure that out. Self-judgement is so painful that the only way to keep meditating is to learn how to journey through self-forgiveness and arrive finally at a place of self-compassion. Only then can we offer an informed forgiveness and compassion to others.
Following my HIV diagnosis, my inner critic flared up in a major way. I learned about HIV stigma first hand – and if I’m honest, most of the harsh, punishing words were self-inflicted as thoughts rather than coming from the outside world.
I knew, though, that judging myself and being filled with self-punishing thoughts was ultimately harmful. The only thing that would bring me peace was to forgive myself and move towards a place of acceptance. Meditation had taught me this. And so, I began the journey of meeting myself with acceptance and compassion – over and over again in meditation.
Painful, stressed and panicked feelings and thoughts still arise. That’s the human predicament after all. But, I know that when I get on my meditation stool and move through those emotions, I’ll find comforting peace, love and acceptance in my heart. This is my happy place.
Written by Seb Stewart, Programme Manager Community Engagement, NZAF