I don’t know about you but when I decided to start practicing mindfulness, I thought that I had already taken my first steps towards living mindfully and had a good foundation to build upon. For the past two years I had already begun adding in meditation and intuitive exercises, working from gratitude, trying to act from love and compassion for others and for myself. A good start but it didn’t really touch on the essence of living mindfully and in the present moment. Unlike other goals I had set for myself, this one will be very different. You see, living mindfully doesn’t bring you to an end point. There is no achieving it and mastering it and then moving on to your next life goal. Being mindful is truly a way of life forever. Let me ‘splain.
In the past two weeks I have begun taking UMASS’s Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) Introductory Course online with people from all over the world. So, you think to yourself, what can you learn about yourself in two weeks of mindfulness classes? A lot it turns out. A lot about yourself and most of it surprising.
Firstly, patience. I thought this was one of my virtues. As a teacher and parent, I rarely lose my patience. I can explain using new examples, wait for attention, deal with disruptive behavior and generally I don’t get impatient. I also am more of a go-with-the-flow kinda person. But this class has shown me that when it comes to just slowing down and focusing on THIS moment, is NOT easy for me. Oh, how the perfectionist in me yearns to rush to mastering and achieving the goal! Sadly for me, mindfulness isn’t about getting anywhere, it’s about accepting the moment you are in. Making peace with the moment you are in whether it is joyful, stressful, sad, or painful. When we are asked to do the 40-minute body scan where we lie on the floor and for 40 minutes check in with our body literally from head-to-toe, I inwardly am squirming for most of those forty minutes. I have found this in practicing yoga too. When we are moving from pose to pose or holding a pose which is uncomfortable, I have to breathe through it and just give in to the moment. I guess mindfulness is about acknowledging your present situation and not avoiding it, feeling it and acknowledging it completely.
How often do we avoid going to the pain in our bodies or in our souls? When something is unpleasant, I have found myself wanting to move as quickly beyond it as possible. This was a recent realization for me when dealing with my stroke which I had 18 months ago. I just realized as I started this class that I had never given myself time to heal. I had rushed from the hospital to immediately trying to go back to work, to continue with my family and home responsibilities, my workouts and my nutrition plan, my social life, every aspect of my life without taking any time to let myself just recover. It’s been 18 months and I hadn’t taken the time to heal. I hadn’t wanted to face what had happened and how it had affected my life, nor did I want to have my family and friends have to deal with worry over me or added responsibilities because I couldn’t contribute to our lives and needs like I had before the stroke. This realization all came spontaneously with the first week of my MBSR course, unexpectedly. It was a difficult day when I had this realization but I know it was for my best. I am not one to avoid a challenge or a difficult situation in most aspects of my life and now I am going to face my health – which in general, is very good despite the stroke – and my physical and emotional needs honestly with patience and with love.
That brings me to the second aspect of mindfulness, non-judgement – which I had begun to live out in my life. But sad to say, judging is very ingrained in me. I tend to compare myself to others – judging how well I am doing compared to them or judging others’ choices as wrong or right, judging myself through the eyes of a perfectionist. None of these actions served me well, none of them improved my life, none of them made me a better person. To live my life without judging others or myself is a constant challenge and once you start on the path of living non-judgmentally you become aware of how much judging you are actually doing throughout your day. In addition, recognizing your discomfort, your positive and negative emotions should be done without judging yourself for having them whether positive or negative. Just being with your emotions without judging them leaves me a little at a loss at first. What am I supposed to do with them if I can’t judge them?
In our class we are asked to just listen to our partners and not offer any advice, to always speak from the first person and not make general statements like “When people are stressed at work, they tend to get overwhelmed.” Instead we need to phrase our observations always from our viewpoint, “When I get stressed out at work….” We have to own our present state and allow the same for the others without trying to make it better, make it easier. We share our thoughts and experiences and let them just rest in the space of our breakout room without disturbing them or trying to alter them. It is a completely new way of speaking with another person, which I have never experienced before. I guess, in a way, it is uncomfortable for me as a listener to hear another person in discomfort or joy and not want to lessen their pain or relate to their experience, like giving advice to try to help them out of it or sharing their joy by relating it to something I had experienced. The dynamics in the conversation completely change. But it also sends the message that you are safe and able to share your feelings and present state without negative consequences. You can share your experiences and feelings and own them without trying to move past them or without acknowledgement. In the end, you cannot deal with your emotional needs unless you can acknowledge them first. How can I truly heal from my stroke if I don’t acknowledge the effects it is having both physically and emotionally? I can’t. Well, I couldn’t until I had my a-ha moment and allowed myself to acknowledge that I needed to heal and to give myself the love and compassion to start that healing.
So, what are you avoiding acknowledging in your life? How can you offer yourself healing in this moment? It doesn’t have to be with illness or sadness, it could be joy or peace. Whatever it is, acknowledge it. Be with it. Allow it to reside in your life fully. That is what it means to be present.