By Jackie Rainford Corcoran
EBS Health Columnist
Raised in the American culture, I’m prone to preferring shortcuts and quick fixes if it means getting faster results in an ethical way or avoiding pain. That said, I recently gave a TEDx Bozeman talk which stressed me out so much that as I was walking down the steps from the stage I wondered, “Should I have taken a beta blocker before doing that?”
The idea to take a pill to help my performance shocked me. I’m not sure where I heard that beta blockers help reduce anxiety in public speakers; I’ve never spoken to anyone about using them and I didn’t even really know what they were.
I soon learned that a beta blocker is a class of medication used to lower blood pressure. They’re not only used by speakers but also by musicians and athletes like archers and pistol shooters to reduce performance anxiety—or at least the outward symptoms of it. While mental nervousness is usually not reduced (this is not a psychoactive drug), physical symptoms like shaky hands, a cracking voice and sweat on the brow are diminished. This, in turn, helps people feel calmer.
However, as with most drugs, beta blockers can also have terrible side effects like severe cotton-mouth, dizziness and diarrhea. For me, this is not a risk worth taking.
So I asked myself, “What could I do instead to calm my nerves before my next big speaking engagement?” My inner voice responded, “Really? You have to ask? Meditation!” I wondered why I hadn’t been meditating regularly all along.
I’ve co-taught a “meditation to reduce stress” class and written about the incredible benefits. Knowing that I could naturally reduce stress, blood pressure and insomnia while elevating my mood, intellect and compassion without any harmful side effects, I wondered what was keeping me from maintaing a consistent practice.
Here’s what I discovered: First of all, meditation is the opposite of a shortcut or quick fix. And then there’s the cultural disconnect. The way I’ve been trained to think about meditation is not in alignment with my American values. Meditation practitioners teach that we need to get comfortable with “doing nothing” and “not being attached to the outcome” while doing this “effortless” exercise.
But I’m a doer. The practice of doing nothing without a greater purpose doesn’t work for me at this stage in my life. I appreciate and welcome challenges. Simply sitting still without desiring benefits while emails, texts and tasks are pinging away seems like an exercise in futility. While I realize that learning new skills as an adult often requires unlearning old ways of being, I’m not motivated to let go of my drive to get things done.
It gets even worse. When I’m really amped up and force myself to sit on a cushion to calm down, I become acutely and painfully aware of just how crazy my mind is, how it darts from thought to thought. Self-awareness can be a deterrent to growth and behavior change. Who wants to witness their own mania? Yuck!
So I’ve decided to incorporate this ancient Eastern practice into my contemporary American mindset. I’ve given myself permission to think of meditation as “doing” something very important. I’m “attached” to the outcome of improved health and I realize it’s OK that it’s not “effortless.”
In fact, I’ve reframed it as a challenge that requires a tremendous amount of courage—apparently even more, in my case, than getting up on a TEDx stage. This reframing suddenly makes meditation more appealing to my American mindset. I now embrace it. It excites me. And when the phone rings, I can more calmly ignore it because I believe I’m doing something extremely important from which I will reap incredible rewards.
If you’ve been trying to develop a meditation practice but it just isn’t sticking, perhaps reframing can help you as well. While it’s out of alignment with traditional teachings, if it gets us to the cushion on a regular basis and helps us build a consistent mediation practice, I believe that’s OK.
Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant and public speaker. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.