While keeping fit is obviously important, it is fundamental that we also accommodate for our soul and existential concerns, writes Sandy Macken.
I have always had an appetite for adventure and wanted to be an explorer when I was young. I recall becoming quite depressed as a little girl when I realised that the world had already been discovered.
My thirst for adventure was largely satisfied in my first few years working in the inner city of Sydney as a paramedic. I loved the fast pace, the roadside trauma, the injuries and mishaps that occur in the young and reckless. I was in my early 20s, an adrenaline junkie burning the candle at both ends fast.
By the time I was 25, however, the bucket was becoming a little full; maybe it was one too many deaths or one too many drinks, it doesn’t really matter. I was at one of the lowest points of my life, but outside, I looked like I had it all.
And so it was, my initiation onto the spiritual path came after I uttered a three-word prayer, crying and inconsolable, alone and chain smoking, having had my last drink three days prior.
I had been accustomed to drinking way too many beers after work “with the boys”, and so for me, the journey began with sobering up. I had to learn to live without a beverage to wind down, to wind up or to get me off to sleep. I had youth on my side, but I was destroying it with little to no self-regard and way too many cigarettes.
When the cigarettes went two years later, it was really apparent that I needed to find something to sooth my spirit. Mostly, I felt hyperactive, anxious, dissatisfied and empty. It must have been written all over my face too, because a near stranger approached me one day and suggested I learn to meditate.
One of the great benefits of feeling so desperately low is that we sometimes become open minded and willing to try something new. I remember my first meditation class, it was held in the lounge room of a wonderful man who taught mindfulness.
There were around 15 people in that room, all of whom I assumed were having a much easier time of it than me. I was the fidgety one opening my eyes every minute or so to check my watch. Every time I closed my eyes, a scrambled mess of images and sounds would come crashing towards me.
There was no peace inside me and 15 minutes of silent meditation was excruciating. In any case, I persisted. I wanted what my teacher had, something intangible and very desirable. He seemed peaceful and content.
In the years that followed, I was to come to realise that I could not outrun or ignore the trauma I had experienced and embodied, in my life or in my career as a paramedic. There was no gym session intense enough to shift it, no mountain tall enough to help me conquer it.
The spiritual path became a means for me to eventually access peace within. It was a spiritual solution for a spiritual problem.
I have been fortunate enough to find incredible teachers along the way. At the core of what I refer to as my spiritual path is meditation. The sort of meditation that stimulates the mind and senses and catapults my consciousness into fields of grace that is indescribably beautiful and rich.
Today, my spiritual health is just as important as my physical health. The spiritual path for me is about the endless exploration and expansion of consciousness. It is the path that I yearned for all along.
Sandy Macken is the author of Paramedic: One woman’s 20 years on the front line.