This is the second part in a two part post. Part one can be found here.
I was very anxious for my mindfulness based stress reduction class to end a few weeks ago. I had gotten used to the group meditations and calming conversations with Dr. Mike. I liked having “homework” every week that challenged me to try new things. More than anything though, I knew myself. I am a chronic giver-upper. As in, I get really invested in something for a few months, obsess and talk about how great it is, then get bored and give it up. Mindfulness has been such an amazing gift to myself, and I didn’t want to blow it by letting it fall prey to this predictable behavior.
The first step in saving my mindfulness practice was letting go of that concept I had created about myself. If my philosophy degree taught me anything, it’s that just because something has happened repeatedly in the past, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. Mindfulness is designed to save us from falling prey to the concepts we create about ourselves and the world around us. It teaches us to let the past rest and wait patiently for the future; it teaches us that the only truth is right here, now, in this very moment. So first things first: no more expecting failure from myself.
Secondly, I have used positive reinforcement to remind myself that my mindfulness practice is a special gratuitous activity. Practicing mindfulness is my time to be 100% with myself and away from the stresses, worries, and never ending task lists of everyday life. It is a time to simply exist: guilt-free, explanation-free, shame-free. So often I can get caught up in making meditation or yoga just another line on my to-do list, and before I know mindfulness feels like a chore. Perspective! Instead of letting myself turn mindfulness into a chore, I think of it more as a right or a privilege. How lucky I am to have the privilege to practice the ultimate act of self love and true bliss every single day! It’s amazing what a little change of perspective can bring to your life.
Now that I have the right mindset, I have been able to develop a sustainable practice. Mindfulness is a highly personal practice, but here’s roughly what it looks like in my everyday life:
- I am currently experimenting with going into work a bit later so I have time in the mornings for a five minute meditation and a sun salutation practice. This feels AMAZING as soon as I get out of bed, and helps set the tone for my day.
- I try to take a break from work for ten to fifteen minutes twice a day (I am entitled, by law, two fifteen minute breaks every day after all!): in the morning I do a formal sitting meditation and in the afternoon I do some silly yoga
- Every evening I take time for my yoga practice. I am trying not to place any limitations or restrictions on this practice: instead I listen to what my body wants. Some days I only need 15 minutes of gentle stretching, some days I crave a full 90 minutes of challenging flow. Listening to my body instead of using quantifiable measures is a new thing for misses-math-brain-me. In the past, my exercise/ health activity has bordered on unhealthy due to my obsession with quantifying everything from time spent training to results. I often over trained and became injured. I don’t want to go back to that place…
- I really love doing guided meditations at home. The internet is a wonderful place. You can find guided meditations for literally anything. There are some great resources here and here. Search on Youtube mindfulness meditation for …… and you will probably find something great.
- Going to yoga class once a week is a nice treat. It gives me a chance to interact with other like minded individuals and receive positive reinforcement of my practice.
I guess that sounds like a pretty big commitment. At first I thought it was. But once I got a taste of the peace and happiness this practice brings to my life, I started to experience the practice less as a commitment and more as a leisurely pleasure like watching TV or having a drink. The only difference is that mindfulness nurtures the body and mind unlike TV and alcohol.
I ran into Dr. Mike last week at our employee health fair, and I thanked him graciously for introducing me to this way of being. I almost cried as I was explaining to him how for the first time in my life, I feel like I finally have control over my life. I feel like mindfulness is this incredible ancient secret that all the cool kids have been doing but was somehow obscured from me. Although the practice is thousands of years old, there has been extensive modern scientific and medical research documenting the positive effects of the practice. Like, how did I not know about this until 25!!!! All that matters is that now I’m in on the secret, and it’s changing my life.
I will continue to write about mindfulness, but I want to wrap up my discussion on the MBSR class by saying I wish everyone would give this a try. Just for a couple weeks. I’m not trying to push my beliefs on everyone else, even though it sounds that way. Mindfulness is an invaluable way of experiencing the world, and it’s not a set of beliefs, dogma, or rituals. It’s not static. It’s simply focusing on being here now. The meditation and yoga are formal tools meant to encourage mindfulness in every day life. Savoring every sip of your morning coffee. Being truly in the now when you are spending time with loved ones. Feeling every step on your walk in the woods. Mindfulness is celebrating the absolute bliss of existence.