When Amy Murray departed from her first weeklong visit to a Massachusetts retreat center, she realized that embracing silence might take a bit of work.
Among many things she learned at the Kripalu Yoga Center more than five years ago, was the ability to embrace silence, meditate and be present in the moment.
Feeling refreshed, Murray got into her car in the retreat’s parking lot, ready to embark on the 5-hour return trip to Harrisburg, but the simple act of turning the key’s ignition startled her.
“I couldn’t believe how loud the radio was,” she said.
Murray shares this anecdote in front of groups when she talks about the benefits of mindfulness: the act of putting your practice into place. She actively practices mindfulness now, whether it’s meditating, going for a walk or enjoying the silence of an unexpected lunch she can take by herself.
The loud radio noise represents a clear divide, a reminder of how Murray lived her life before 2010, a time when a health scare landed her in the emergency room.
‘Time for a change’
Murray has worked with Harrisburg-based Pavone Marketing Group Inc. for more than two decades. She has helped grow the company from only a few employees to having more than 60 and expanding into other branded marketing companies. Murray became partner in 2003 and is the company COO. She also is involved in the management and the oversight of Varsity and quench.
Prior to 2010, Murray wasn’t one to slow down, no matter how stressful the job or her personal life might have become. She enjoyed it, but didn’t realize it was affecting her health.
It was. She broke out in a severe case of hives, prompting the emergency room trip.
“When you are laying on a hospital gurney with your eyes swollen shut, you know it’s time for a change,” she said.
Murray thought her stress manifested itself in the hives, but even after they subsided — which took months to do — she didn’t feel well and wasn’t getting better. She was suffering from serious fatigue.
“It was debilitating,” she said. “I couldn’t get out of bed.”
To describe her symptoms, Murray said it was like that crappy feeling you get when you are coming down with the flu, except it doesn’t end. “It feels like you are coming down with the flu all the time.”
Murray was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Silence can be jarring
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe CFS as a “debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity.”
There is no cure, only various treatments to combat its symptoms.
Murray didn’t want to take pharmaceuticals, so she sought out other ways to manage her stress and help her feel better. She started practicing mindfulness and she saw the benefits.
There’s no one right way to practice it. People practice mindfulness by simply being present, she said.
Here are some of her recommendations:
- Turn off the tech: “We have to be connected 24/7 and that’s not healthy.”
- Get out in nature.
- Limit mindless activities: “We sit in front of the TV for hours. Doing that consistently is not healthy.”
- Move your body: “Get out of your own head.”
- Close your eyes. Enjoy the silence. Pause and savor life.
What’s Murray’s favorite mindful activity? Quiet mornings at home, especially watching her four cats, Jasper, Francis, Fiona and Otis.
She practices breathing activities when she is in line at the grocery store. She chooses not to stress out when traveling in airports and enjoys the silence, which wasn’t easy to do at first.
“When you aren’t used to it, silence can be jarring,” she said.
Don’t have to smoke weed
The weeklong yoga retreat is now an annual trek, minus the loud radio. Murray will talk about her experiences at seminars and workshops.
The feedback is positive, but more importantly, she wanted to “break down the woo woo West Coast” reputation of mindfulness and the stigma some associate with it.
“You don’t have to smoke weed to be mindful,” she said. “You don’t need special candles or special clothes. Just the clothes on your back.”
In a way CFS and being mindful has forced her to make choices, whether it’s work related or personal, taking time for herself and avoiding unneeded drama.
“I’ve always been a kind of a seeker. I wasn’t that A-type hard as nails, heart attack waiting to happen, but I wasn’t crying at Hallmark commercials either,” she said. “The lesson I had to learn, is put yourself first, and there is time left over.”
To be clear, she also doesn’t want to make that emergency room trip again.
“The things that go through your head in the emergency room,” she said. ‘I don’t want to die from hives,’ I thought. I didn’t want to be known as that person, the one that hives took down.”