Mindfulness FTW (For The World)
Hello friends. New-moon greetings from an officially "staying-at-home" Boulder CO. Getting this Monday newsletter out just under the wire local time.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: If you need or want to smile right away, scroll to the March 24th video at the bottom.)
Personal Mindfulness FTW (For The World)
Right now it feels important to tie our personal practices to the world at large. I’m not an expert; I feel like I “know” – from instinct and learnings gathered along the way – that when I meditate it’s not just for me, but other than a healthier me being better able to show up in the world, I’m not sure what that means.
For guidance I turned to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves to Save the World. I admit that the excerpts contained herein are all from the introduction; I intended to get further along, but his writing is so rich I wanted each sentence to soak in. The last part of the book has more about the relationship of the individual to the collective; I’ll probably start reading as soon as I send this out.
Kabat-Zinn doesn’t provide any evidence for his statements; take them at face value and see how they sit with you. I wouldn’t be sharing them here if they didn’t sound true to me.
A Call to Action
Coming to Our Senses is written in long, beautiful, anti-excerptable sentences. Here are six of them:
"I don’t know about you, but for myself, it feels like we are at a critical juncture of life on this planet. It could go any number of different ways. It seems that the world is on fire and so are our hearts, inflamed with fear and uncertainty, lacking all conviction, and often filled with passionate but unwise intensity. How we manage to see ourselves and the world at this juncture will make a huge difference in the way things unfold. What emerges for us as individuals and as a society in future moments will be shaped in large measure by whether and how we make use of our innate and incomparable capacity for awareness in this moment. It will be shaped by what we choose to do to heal the underlying distress, dissatisfaction and outright dis-ease of our lives and of our times, even as we nourish and protect all that is good and beautiful and healthy in ourselves and in the world."
That was written in...2005.
ONE COIN, TWO SIDES
"Years ago, a meditation teacher opened an interview with me on a ten-day, almost entirely silent retreat by asking, “How is the world treating you?” I mumbled some response or other to the effect that things were going OK. Then he asked me, “And how are you treating the world?” I was quite taken aback. It was the last question I was expecting. It was clear he didn’t mean in a general way. He wasn’t making pleasant conversation. He meant right there, on the retreat, that day, in what may have seemed to me at the time like little, even trivial ways. I thought I was more or less leaving “the world” in going on this retreat, but his comment drove home to me that there is no leaving the world, and that how I was relating to it in any and every moment, even in this artificially simplified environment, was important, in fact critical to my ultimate purpose in being there. I realized in that moment that I had a lot to learn about why I was even there in the first place, what meditation was really all about, and underlying it all, what I was really doing with my life."
It seems that more than ever the world needs to be treated with the support of people who are practicing mindfulness. The first step for me was understanding the difference between mindfulness and meditation so I could better define my own practices for myself.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing in any given moment.
What is meditation?
Meditation is mindfulness applied to the mind. For this reason it is often called mindfulness meditation. It is the devotion of time and space to watching what happens when you sit and pay attention to one simple task such as breathing, or the repetition of a mantra.
By practicing with such a narrow focus, you increase your ability to be mindful in any situation, whether consciously or not. Think of it this way: if you develop your upper body strength three days a week in a gym, it’s easier to carry groceries. You’re not necessarily aware that it’s easier to carry them; it just is.
Meditation’s benefits are most apparent for me when I happen to miss a day or two. I’m noticeably more irritable, but it’s only after tracking it in reverse – “why does this bother me so much right now? ahhhhh, yes....” – that I realize that not meditating probably had something to do with it.
How to Practice
A quick search on the internet will lead you to many different ways you can practice mindfulness or mindfulness meditation. If you don’t feel like clicking around, here are a few simple things you can do to get started.
Listening: When talking with someone, focus all your energy on that person. Turn your phones off and see how this affects the conversation.
Check out this Simon Sinek video in which he demonstrates the significant attention-capture of our phones. (Who gave the go-ahead on the cheesy intercut videos?)
Walking: Thich Nhat Hanh instructs, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
One time after a yoga class in Vietnam I remember galumphing down the stairs from the second floor studio over to a water cooler where I knocked back a few small glasses of water. I actually remember that some of the water didn’t make in my mouth, i.e... I dribbled a little bit.
I took a seat nearby and looked up to see my instructor coming down the same stairs.....one...deliberate...step...at...a...time. She then kissed the floor with her feet as she made her way to the cooler, drew herself a glass of water, and sipped it with complete intention.
It was a one-minute masterclass in mindfulness.
Short meditation: If you don’t already have a meditation practice, take a minute to start one.
One minute. If you don’t already practice, the commitment to starting one is as valuable as the practice itself.
Your practice can be this simple:
- Set a timer for one minute.
- Sit somewhere with your back straight
- Start the timer, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Just think about your breathing.
- Notice when you drift off (it will happen right away) and gently come back to watching your breath.
For encouragement, here is renowned mindfulness instructor Sharon Salzberg’s sharing her first experience with meditation:
“I thought, okay, what will it be, like, 800 breaths before my mind starts to wander? And to my absolute amazement, it was one breath, and I’d be gone.”
That’s it. Your mind will wander, don’t get discouraged. If it didn’t wander you wouldn’t need to practice.
REQUISITE CORONAVIRUS TIE-IN
How could there not be? It’s required because nothing like this has affected our society in this way before. We’ve been shown that no matter how much we look into our tiny supercomputer screens while caffeinating in a crowded coffee shop, we are not islands. We’ve been sent to our rooms to reconsider how we’ve been behaving.
Back to Jon Kabat-Zinn:
"As with an individual who is catapulted, however rudely and unexpectedly, onto the road to greater health and well-being-being by a nonlethal heart attack or some other untoward and unexpected diagnosis, a shock to the system, horrific as it may be, can, if held and understood with care and attention, be the occasion of a wake-up call to mobilize the deep and powerful resources that are at our disposal for healing and for redirecting our energies and priorities, resources that we may have too long neglected or even forgotten we possess, even as we respond mindfully and forcefully to ensure our safety and well-being."
Did I mention that this was written in 2005?
PROBABLY MORE LOST THAN YOU
I don’t know what to make of all this. My job as a restaurant server – which feels closer to my true purpose than anything else I contribute to the world – doesn’t exist right now, and probably won’t anytime soon.
I keep sending Awake Clocks to people who use them to separate from technology for periods of time. There may be nothing in the world that causes me to be less mindful than the proximity of my smartphone; I hear similar sentiments from some of my customers, and that this clock has changed their lives.
Other than that? I will continue my meditation practice. I’ll keep an eye out for ways I can contribute right now (and many, many thanks to Nikki who wrote to suggest I was being of service with this newsletter). I’m certainly thinking of what life looks like moving forward. Even if things returned to normal tomorrow, what does that mean for me?
What does that mean for you?
More importantly: How are you treating the world?
SOME MARCH 24TH FUN
On a slightly less serious note, this is one of my favorite scenes from a top-five favorite movie. In the film it takes place on March 23rd — or maybe the 24th? Don't remember 😉
"Whaddya mean the 24th???"
Be well everybody,