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Koutoulas: Meditation is making a difference

People who only know me casually may think of me as an easy-going person; for the most part, I am. But ever since I can remember, I have had a tendency to “go off” on occasion.

I get to the point where anger boils up in me, and I lash out at people — and then immediately regret it. But in that moment, I seem to lose control of my own actions.

It doesn’t always manifest as a full-blown meltdown. More often, it’s a minor irritation to which I overreact. Someone being a jerk in traffic. A perceived insult from a co-worker. Dealing with those devilish self-checkouts. Someone doing something — anything — that I find annoying.

I react to these daily events not by blowing a head gasket, but with a range of lesser actions — from an icy stare to a word or gesture unbecoming a gentleman.

I believe these responses come from the same place: an ego-centric view of the world that assumes anything that inconveniences me is a direct attack on my personal identity. The more I sense it as an attack, the stronger my response.

Through the years, I have recognized this as a problem I needed to deal with. But I never gave any serious thought to coming up with a solution. I did talk to a counselor once and discussed it with family members.

But in the end, all I ever wound up doing was vowing not to let it happen again. Just “will it away.” That strategy failed miserably and repeatedly.

After trying several things, I landed on something that is actually starting to show promise — meditation.

If you are not a practicer of this ancient art or have never looked into it, you might think it’s some weird mystical practice. To be sure, there is a mystical aspect of some forms of meditation.

But I learned there are many types of mediation. I finally settled on a simple practice that basically involves little more than taking a few moments of being still. I focus on my breathing and learn to notice and accept whatever happens during meditation without judging or reacting.

You can do this for as little as 10 minutes a day and experience almost immediate changes.

As you practice, you learn to accept without judgment little things like hearing the furnace kick in as you’re trying to focus on your breathing.

Admittedly that’s a trivial thing. But as you exercise that mental “muscle,” you discover to your amazement that it becomes easier to similarly dismiss without judgment more significant annoyances that manifest throughout the day.

Your brain actually begins to rewire itself. You gain not only a sense of acceptance but also of control. You learn that external events don’t have to drive your responses; you have the power to decide how — or whether — to respond.

I began my new practice shortly after the new year began, so I’m still very much a novice. But already, I am seeing changes. I’m starting to feel a serenity that wasn’t there before. I feel calmer, more in control of my emotional responses. In meditation circles, this feeling is known as equanimity.

I believe this practice will not only improve my relationships and help me feel better about myself but will also benefit me physically. There is scientific evidence that a regular practice of meditation can lead to lower blood pressure, among other health benefits.

Everyone knows how important health is. Mental health is wholly intertwined with physical health — they are, in fact, the same thing.

Whether you struggle with an aspect of your personality you’re not proud of, or simply want to feel better, why not give meditation a try?

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Facebook at fb.me/PeteTheSun.