The other day in my yoga class, I was asked what is mindfulness. I tried to explain the best I could, giving examples from recent articles I read, but I fell short. I could not find the right words or the right examples…and I wondered why…
A few days later, I was still thinking about my impossibility to explain it, and it finally clicked! How can I explain in rational terms (words) something that is purely experiential, purely sensory, a state of being? So I decided to go back to my favorite book on meditation (“Wherever you go, there you are”, Jon Kabat-Zinn) and here you go! the first chapter is entitled “What is mindfulness?”. It says:”…waking up and living in harmony with oneself and with the world. It has to do with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment. Most of all, it has to do with being in touch”. Beautifully said, yes, and nice to read, kind of out there, but.… In touch with WHAT? shall I ask?
First, we can cultivate an understanding of our surroundings, of our own lives, and people in them. Instead of going through the motions of everyday life, can we go deeper and see our family and friends at a deeper level, what they feel, who they really are…This seems monumental to do, but one step and a time is just what we need to get into the habit. Why has my son exploded in anger when I said something? what does he need? who is he deep inside? who am I deep inside as I exploded back in anger? It starts with practicing a little more awareness. That’s all.
Second, we can pay attention to our own self. Spending a few minutes each day and “checking in” (as I like to tell my UFM students). How do I feel today? How is my body? How is my breath? Becoming more present with the present moment and discovering inside where we stand. And with that awareness we can make better decisions in our everyday life. Do I really need to eat that burger or am I trying to escape some emotions that I don’t like in myself? As we start making that a habit, things will surface that we don’t like, of course! And that is the time not to criticize or judge ourselves! That is the time for acceptance and surrendering to the present moment. That is the time to say to ourselves: ”I love you, I cherish you, with your qualities and imperfections, I am just a human being.” And that truth brings so much freedom as we make friends with our vulnerability.
Third, as we start living more aware of what’s going on inside and outside ourselves, an opening naturally happens to life, a softening of our own heart. We realize that nobody is perfect, that things are in constant flux, and that it’s easier to live life like a willow tree, surrendering to the winds of change while deeply rooted in the earth. As we look into our heart, our true nature starts surfacing. We stop pretending who we would like to be or who we have been superficially, we stop wanting to be somebody else other than ourselves, and we start being who we truly are. I think that’s the true gift of practicing mindfulness.
As I see the cover of the latest “Time” magazine with “The Mindful Revolution”, I am curious to find out what it has to say, despite not liking the choice of words. Mindfulness is far from “revolution”…I tell myself; to me it’s more involution. The article has some great information and it’s written for the mass media: facts based, research data, etc…We like data! (And we fear spirituality, I tell myself…) By the way, the article says that Jon Kabat-Zinn avoids the mention of “spirituality” while educating on mindfulness; yes! mass marketing! But despite all that, I am happy to see it covered on the front page. There is hope…and so I hope…