What Happened When I Tried Guided Meditation For Anxiety In A Room Full Of Strangers

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woman meditating

Meditation is supposed to help people like me, who deal with anxiety. I’ve tried meditation apps, yoga, and tricking myself into thinking about nothing. It’s hard. Like really, frustratingly hard.

While on a yoga kick, one of my teachers told me about a weekly guided meditation in the building next door. It was donation-based, so I figured that I might as well try it.

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The first time I tried it, I went on my own. It was a Wednesday evening and I was sure that I would be one of the few people to show up to this thing.

When I opened the door, it looked like I was stepping into someone’s living room. The rugs were soft and slightly worn, and there was random artwork on the walls. There was a dusty shelf full of books with titles like, ‘Tarot Cards For Dummies,’ and an unimpressive collection of furniture that looked as if each piece had come from a thrift shop.

It was very much like your average living room except that it was lit by a collection of Himalayan salt lamps and there were tarot cards spread out on the side tables.

To my surprise, the room was packed. The mismatched chairs were filled with people making a circle around the worn carpet. Everyone looked "normal" in t-shirts, jeans, and hoodies. There was no tie-dye, long, graying hair, or body piercings (like I thought there might be). Most of the people... well, they looked just like my parents.

Our mediation guide was Dottie. She insisted on giving everyone a hug, especially new people like me. She got the room to quiet down as she placed a collection of crystals in the center of the circle.

She reminded everyone that she was not in control of the night’s mediation. Instead, the spirits, or angels, spoke through her, telling her what to say and do. She was merely a vessel through which the spirits guided us. Things were getting a little freaky, but I’m open-minded and I was already there, so I just went with it.

As Dottie dimmed the lights, she asked us to close our eyes and concentrate. She told us to imagine ourselves walking down a path and into a forest. The spirits urged us to breathe deeply and imagine that we were climbing up a giant staircase.

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I eased into her words and tried my best to focus. Eventually, something clicked and I could feel myself there, in the forest, on the path. I met myself as a little girl and she told me to take her hand and follow her into the woods.

She was happy and playful, and it made me cry. I was crying in a room full of strangers, hoping that no one would notice. I felt a bit sick to my stomach, to be honest. The whole room, full of people, started to melt away.

Eventually, Dottie called us back. She asked us to open our eyes and take a moment to come back to the room. She asked if anyone felt emotional during the meditation and quite a few of us raised our hands.

She then went around the room asking if anyone wanted to share their experience. A few brave people told stories of dragons, animals, and even smells. At one point, everyone agreed upon feeling sick for a moment. This was very strange.

We all spoke in soft voices, some of us cried, and others hugged. It was strange, but it felt good. I felt relaxed. Really relaxed, for the first time in a while. I didn’t share the visions that I had during my meditation, but I started to interpret them for myself.

Meeting a younger, happier, more carefree version of me made me realize that I needed to relax more often.

I realized that I had become such an anxious, stressed-out, and fearful person. I needed to channel my inner child and learn how to let go.

Dottie requested one more hug before I could leave. I gave her one, a little less reluctantly this time. While I only went to guided meditation a few more times, I took the practice with me. Now, when I feel particularly stressed or anxious, I know how to reach the path to the forest, where my younger, wiser self still lives.

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Shannon Ullman is a writer who focuses on traveling, culture, and online shopping. She has been featured on MSN, Huffington Post, and more. Follow her blog Lives Abroad