HomeVOLUME 6November 2021Rediscovering my purpose

Rediscovering my purpose

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Rediscovering my purpose

SHELLY BURGESS is a high school physics teacher and a meditation trainer. Here, she tells her story about losing sight of her purpose in the midst of the Covid pandemic, and how positive intention renewed her focus and allowed her to accept the last year through a lens of self-compassion, grace, and optimism. 


We’ve all had challenges since the pandemic began. Some challenges have certainly been greater than others, but we’ve all had our share of struggles and pain. An effective meditation practice can help us immensely with such life stressors. I know this, of course. I’ve been practicing Heartfulness for thirty years, so of course I was primed to ride out pandemic turbulence with a good measure of serenity and grace … except that I did a terrible job of meditating for over a year.

It’s embarrassing, but I am admitting this for a reason. Let’s first rewind, so I can tell you why my terrible job of meditating led me to one of the most important revelations of my life.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a mother of two active teens, a wife, and a daughter. Like many women, I work hard at home to make life nice for my loved ones. I also teach advanced high school physics to teens with serious college aspirations. In a normal school year, I run myself ragged trying to give my children their best start in life and care for my family, while also striving to provide a world-class education to the hundred or so students who count on me at school. My responsibilities are pretty demanding, but my Heartfulness practice keeps me balanced, and I also enjoy sharing meditation with others as a trainer. I’m busy, but it works.

Enter 2020, which was a period of upheaval. I make no suggestion that my pain has been anywhere near what others have suffered, but as the pandemic began I struggled. My children switched to online learning while I switched to online teaching. In one room, I led my classes through Zoom, and during breaks I checked on my kids and tried to keep them as motivated and happy as possible. So began the daily cycle. In order to give my own kids my all, while providing a superior education to my students, I was working longer and longer hours. While transitioning a lab course to a digital format, encouraging my suffering students, and holding my family together, I had less and less steam to keep myself running. Slowly my meditation practice began to erode. When I sat in the evenings to meditate, it felt like I had nothing left to set my meditation in motion because I had let myself become so run down.

When my alarm went off in the morning so I could meditate before work, I couldn’t get up. I needed sleep. As the school year went on, and my workload and my family’s needs compounded, I slept fewer and fewer hours and had less and less to give. My meditation practice became a skin-and-bones version of its former self, but I had so much to do to serve others, what choice did I have, right?

Three weeks before the school year ended, I was concerned that I couldn’t make it. I felt as if a panic attack was lurking around every corner, but I pushed. By this time, I felt that my spiritual condition was really run down, a shadow of its former state. This added to my anxiety. I love meditation. I love what it does for me. Now, not only had I not used it to get through the school year, but I felt like I had slid backward. My heart no longer felt like a glowing sanctuary. It felt like a racing heartbeat. It was distressing. Had I damaged myself physically? Yes, definitely. My body had lots of ways of telling me. Had I damaged myself spiritually? This was a real worry.



I raise my children and serve my family with love
in line with my spiritual goal.
I serve my students with care in line with my spiritual goal.
I serve the hearts of those I encounter,
and in doing so, my own heart grows in purity.


Heartfulness offers us ten universal principles to help navigate life’s challenges in an ennobling way. The third principle suggests that we set a goal of the highest spiritual attainment. In a normal year, I think about this all the time. It helps me frame everything I do within that higher purpose. I raise my children and serve my family with love in line with my spiritual goal. I serve my students with care in line with my spiritual goal. I serve the hearts of those I encounter, and in doing so, my own heart grows in purity. At least, that’s the way it is in a normal year.

This year? It took until May to realize that I had been serving the wrong master, so to speak. My goals had become mundane: “I have to write multiple versions of this test to make it fairer, in case kids try to cheat.” “I have to come up with a way for students to run this experiment at home using household tools, and then create an online format for them to post their data.” “I have to hang out with my kids while they do their homework so they feel supported.” “I have to cook dinner and do laundry!”




When I serve others in tune with my spiritual goal,
I do a better job – I am more loving and more balanced.
The self-care that comes with my meditation
practice allows me to be better in all my roles,
and better to myself.


Ah … the pressing immediacy of meeting responsibilities. I had allowed this to become my goal.

I didn’t even see it coming.

By not attending well enough to my heart, by not balancing my mind regularly enough through d meditation, by letting myself become so mentally exhausted that I got sidetracked from my goal, I “served the wrong master.” For a year. And where it led me was not good at all. I could barely even tap into that glowing goodness that was formerly an ever-present reservoir in my heart.

Well, the story would have had a terrible ending if I had stopped there and given up! And who wants a lousy ending to a story? So now comes the good stuff!

First, I dived back into my daily practice, along with lots and lots of positive suggestions. The good news: I can tell I’m rebounding. The bad news: I still have a way to go. The bottom line: There’s always hope.

Second, I’m proof that Heartfulness works, because when I let my practice and my goal slip, I saw the dark side of losing sight of them.

And that leads to my huge revelation: Third, serve the right master, remember my goal. When I do this, everything else falls into balance. Losing sight of it led me down a dark path. Returning my focus has offered me a way back.

Does that mean I should not serve my family and my students? Not at all. In fact, when I serve them in tune with my spiritual goal, I do a better job – I am more loving and more balanced. The self-care that comes with my meditation practice allows me to be better in all my roles, and better to myself.

One last little gem popped into my memory as I re-established my practice. A doozy of a positive suggestion came to me, and it has made a huge difference. Decades ago, a Heartfulness meditator known as sister Kasturi said something to someone, and eventually it reached my ears many years later. She told this person that we can do spiritual work in the past. In other words, if we make suggestions in the present, we can reset our past selves. Wild, right?

So I sat down and tried it. I made the mental suggestion in May that all along, throughout the school year, I had been serving everyone heartfully, in tune with my goal. The amazing thing was that as I made this positive suggestion I could feel pieces of the past year shifting back into balance, like a mixed-up puzzle where the pieces assemble themselves. I was resetting my goal for my past self. I felt it working. So cool. So wonderful. So grateful.




The main point is that I realized I don’t want to
ever give myself wounds again. I love my practice.
It keeps me balanced and takes me to my goal.


What is the moral of this story? Let’s be clear that I do not believe there’s a “get out of jail free” card if I just redouble my efforts and make positive suggestions from the present to my past self. This is not the lesson, although I am grateful that I’ve found what I needed to heal my wounds. The main point is that I realized I don’t want to ever give myself wounds again. I love my practice. It keeps me balanced and takes me to my goal. Like Dorothy says at the end of The Wizard of Oz, “I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again.” I’m lucky to have this nice moral to my story, because it could have been much worse. I have pretty good grounds for feeling optimistic, and I’m grateful to be home.



Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL



Shelly Burgess

Shelly Burgess

Shelly Burgess is a longtime Heartfulness practitioner and a Heartfulness trainer. She has taught physics for the past twenty-four years at a suburban Midwestern high school where she serves as chair of the science department. She’s a wife and the mother to two very active teenagers. When free time exists, she likes to read, bike,... Read more

5 COMMENTS

  1. Shelly, thanks for sharing this lovely story of your personal journey this past year. You’re not the only one who’s meditation practice has suffered. I’m part of a large meditation organization and myself along with others I’ve spoken to have expressed their practice suffering over the last year. I feel it’s in the collective consciousness. The good news is we have the awareness to make the change and recommit to our practice, which is exactly what you have done and I’m doing as well. With heart, Jennifer

  2. I could really relate to this article. I meditated for
    years and then last year I let myself slide away from
    it. Fortunately, because of my awesome
    Heartfulness Trainer, I was able to get back on
    track and now I meditate everyday.
    When I meditate, I feel better both physically and
    mentally.

  3. Well said Shelly! You have captured the sentiments of many struggling moms. What a great system we have that keeps us growing and being guided in every stage of our lives🙏

  4. She is very honest about her family duties, work, students and her meditation. Very true, it has happened to many women I know. A total burnout feeling and trapped in the monotonous cycle of work and responsibilities. No free time or lack of space made them jittery, angry and guilty.

  5. Wow, that sounds like what happened to me. I spread my self thin with family and my kids and work. I will try harder to do my meditation daily.

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