Whatever’s in the way is the way.
I had heard this often in my meditation journey. But it never really sunk in until I lived this knowledge first hand.
Let me introduce myself, my name is Mimi Cooper and I’m a closet type A personality. I’m one of the sneaky ones that pretends to be all chilled on the surface, but underneath I have a deep need to be successful, to prove that I am exceptional.
I first became interested in meditation when I lived in Jo’burg. My Art Director was in the process of finding himself. He had been trying out a series of new experiences from speed dating to group therapy. When he came back from doing a Transcendental Meditation course, I noticed something different about him. There was an underlying sense of ease, of joy. It seemed that life felt smoother for him, like a banquet of delights rather than a daily grind.
I convinced my skeptical husband to come to the introductory lecture with me. As we walked into the TM centre I felt a deep sense of peace and wellbeing. I felt it physically, as if the cells in my body were reacting differently to a different type of atmosphere. We learnt the technique and right from the beginning I experienced moments of a certain type of quiet bliss during the practice. It wasn’t all joy and wonder though. There were plenty of boring, frustrating “Why am I doing this” moments as well.
At first I dipped in and out, trying to maintain a daily practice, but things were pretty hectic around that time. We were working hard, partying hard and finally we came to point where my husband, Brendan and I made a decision to change our lives. We moved back to Cape Town, where we first met. We remained in high stress jobs in advertising and media, and eventually we had a daughter.
I loved being a mum, but my biggest concern was always how to juggle parenting and work. A lot of my ego was tied up in proving myself through my creativity. Sometimes life seemed to be a constant battle, so I made a real effort to become more regular with my meditation, attending day retreats and I definitely saw the results.
Life became much more enjoyable. I felt happier, less stressed and working with others became easier and smoother. I gradually became more interested in the idea of becoming a meditation teacher and less interested in my advertising life. At a silent retreat I realised that I needed to resign from my full time job.
It’s an amazing feeling doing something that you think should terrify you, but actually feels right. I was completely calm when I resigned, even though I didn’t really have much of a plan.
The first few months, I threw myself into it. I put together a presentation, went to see a lot of different people, I held free meditation classes wherever I could and even landed a gig at a co-working space. I started teaching courses at a yoga studio.
All the while I was still doing freelance advertising work, luckily it was remote and I could work flexibly, but the idea of bringing in hardly any money was pretty terrifying to me.
Even though I tried my best, it was hard to get more than one or two paying customers per course. Eventually I had to face the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy, that just because I’d always been successful in school, university and work up until now, didn’t mean I was going to automatically be successful again. I was plagued by doubts. Was I doing the right thing? I started comparing myself to other people. Should I do more on social media? Less on social media?
I felt that it wasn’t fair. Now that I had finally found what I wanted to do, I wasn’t succeeding in it. This wasn’t part of the plan! It wasn’t how my life story was supposed to go. I wished that I’d studied psychology at university, maybe that would give me more gravitas. I felt myself scrambling, worried that I wasn’t going to make it.
In fact, having to face the fact that I was failing, led to one of the biggest breakthroughs of my life. At the time I was completing a 6 week online course by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. This course really helped me to start to get in touch with emotions that had been repressed or numbed. It also taught me the huge importance of self-compassion.
I realised that I needed to face the fact that I wasn’t succeeding at something that was really important to me and still be able to love myself. I had to learn how to be supportive of myself, instead of accusing myself and judging myself. Just because I wasn’t instantly successful, didn’t mean I had to throw away my dream.
It seems so obvious, but as soon I as I started noticing how I was speaking to myself, things started to shift. I started practicing self-compassion, doing a lot of research in the field and I even put together a self-compassion workshop to share some of the practices that I learnt.
Ingrained habits and ways of relating to yourself don’t go away overnight. I still find myself flipping between furiously looking for advertising jobs and searching for other meditation courses to do, to try and validate myself. Sometimes just taking each day as it comes seems impossible. But I’m really trying to let go of planning and striving too much and to just enjoy what each moment brings.
One of the things that I love about meditation and mindfulness is that you can start exactly where you are. You don’t need to find the perfect meditation cushion, or that amazing retreat in Bali, you can be anywhere at anytime. All you need to do is bring your loving attention to whatever is happening here and now. Your life becomes your guru, bringing you challenges and lessons as you need them. When you’re working with compassion you can work with anything. Even when you do things wrong or when times are hard, you can use those moments as opportunities for forgiveness and self-care. It’s not always easy to do so in the moment, but appreciating the gifts that hard times bring can help to bring some calm to the ups and downs. I’m learning to appreciate the journey, this amazing, unpredictable dance of life that’s unfolding as we speak.
Working with my greatest obstacle, my fear of failure, and learning to have compassion for myself no matter what happens, has become my path. What was in my way, became my way forward.