What does it mean to be mindful?
Throughout my childhood I escaped into my own world. I was an only child and often found myself feeling lonely, but not in the way we normally think of loneliness. I was not alone or lonely because of needing people around me, getting attention, or being communicated with; quite the opposite. My parents were very nurturing and taking care to include me in what they were doing. I was probably far more engaged with a variety of activities than most children and these activities were also part of my education in some way. My parents made sure I kept learning and I was a very active child.
My loneliness came from feeling like an outsider. I was somehow feeling different and not really understood by the other kids. Maybe it was because I grew up in a family dynamic that treated me more like a being in my own right rather than a child. I appreciate this kind of upbringing very much, but I did not really understand the dynamics of being with the other kids. I found myself being hurt and disappointed by my peers because of teasing and bullying, so I retreated into my own world.
I was searching for meaning.
Fast-forward to adult life. In my 20’s as I came to the US I found myself feeling very alone and lonely; this time in the traditional sense of the word, because I did not know anyone.
I started looking into spirituality and since I was not religious, I studied Buddhism, meditation, meta-physics and other spiritual philosophies, which began a process of self-reflection and growth. I loved it. I could go into my own world and there was a method to doing so. Instead of feeling isolated, as I did when I was a kid, I could now feel nurtured by this inward journey.
However, what I have learned from several years of practicing is that meditation is not a place for me to escape into, but rather a place to learn how to look inside myself. It is a way to understand and connect with my emotions and reactions. It is a place to relate to both myself and to others in a very direct face to face kind of way. Without hiding and without making up stories about what I think is going on, but rather be very open and flexible about what might actually be the “reality” of what is happing. Basically it is no longer me being in my own little world, but rather me being present to the one that is here right around me.
To face what is, is to simply be there with it
Mindfulness and meditation is a way for me to face and be gentle with my emotions, my hurts, my fears, and also my wishes and desires. It feels very practical to me and it feels like simple logic. It feels very in the moment and current, and it feels like I never have a clue of what will transpire and happen next, but somehow I will be ready for it. It feels alert and aware, and it feels like deep listening and a very open heart. It feels like curious questions that keep coming and it feels like a way to allow my “beginners mind” to wonder and create. Mindfulness and being present is indeed that beginners mind of “not knowing” what will happen next and leaving old stories in the past instead of assuming they will replay in the present or the future. It is a way of looking at what is here right now with only the knowledge and wisdom that the past has taught me.
And the past has taught me a lot. Having lost both my parents too early, I honor my childhood and I am daily in gratitude of my father’s guidance and encouragement. I am continuously humbled by how I now understand my mother’s painful life of struggling with bi-polar disorder, where her beautiful heart had such a hard time shining through the thoughts of her mind, but she kept trying. She kept loving and she kept hurting. At the time I was angry with her for it, because I could not understand her pain.
Mindfulness helped me change my relationship with my past and gave me the tools to be living here and now, instead of hiding in my inner world. It gives me a more direct relationship to what is going on in this daily interaction called life.
Mindfulness is: To observe without judgment.
Here are a few simple steps to take:
Find a quite place to sit or walk where you can be on your own for even just a few minutes everyday.
Make it a regular time of day so it becomes part of your daily habits. If there is no place really quite for you to be, you can practice by simply closing your eyes and focus your mind inward into your body just to be with you and let everyone around you be like white noise. That means even the subway will do.
Notice how you feel in your body.
Just notice and listen to your body. Check in, say hello, and simply ask yourself; How am I in there right now? You don’t have to figure anything out. When thoughts come, let them, but also just let them be. Let them pass like clouds on the sky. Too often we try to empty the mind and get frustrated because we cannot. Remind yourself that you don’t have to solve anything right now and there is no purpose with your meditation other than just being with you.
A simple way to do this is to follow your breath. You cannot focus on two things at the same time so when a thought comes up, shift your focus back into your body and onto your breath in there. The hard part is to realize that the thoughts are not important and be willing to allow them to pass and not follow them down the stream.
Find a simple “mantra” or sentence that works for you as a reminder or a request, that helps you open your heart to your Self.
Try it for 27 days at a time and then a new one. Let it be something that helps you focus on something that is really important for you to bring into your daily life. An example could be; I am curious and open to learn and trust I will know when I need to. (This one is great for worriers).
If you would like to learn more about how to be mindful in different aspects of your life, and especially how it affects your eating and your health, join the online program for the 9-step Self-Nourishment Program.