Mindful Monday, Simply Begin

By Kathy Smith

I stand fully behind my constant suggestion to meditate.  If we’ve talked about the practice of mindfulness meditation, or taken a workshop together, odds are I’ve encouraged you to begin the practice and raved about the benefits.  Please know, this encouragement comes from my heart and personal experience.  I want everyone to explore and feel what I have by maintaining a consistent practice of mindfulness meditation.  Each week I’ll blog about bringing the practice into our regular lives.  The lives that are filled with obligations, work, school, kids, bosses, laundry, finances, meal planning, sporting events and social obligations.  I know you are busy.  I’m busy too.

Now to begin, take those grand visions of sitting everyday on a zafu (meditation pillow), in front of your spiritual alter with incense lit, lights dim, complete silence, in a calming peaceful space and toss them out the window.  Now replace them with reality (at least this is my reality)…seatbelt buckled, sun glasses on, ear buds in (but nothing playing) cozied right next to the McDonalds drive thru ‘wait for your fries’ parking space.  Or, the same uniform (glasses, buds, seatbelt) just different location, in the parking lot at your childcare before you’re about to head in for pick up.  Even better, in the parking garage, farthest space in the corner, hopefully with a wall on one side or even a concrete column to give you some privacy, at work during lunch break.  This is reality.

After I sit for my daily 20 minute meditation practice, I feel better.  The location of my practice does not matter, in fact it can sometimes work to my benefit.  Do you know how hard it is to stay focused when someone is ordering a Big Mac next to you?  Bring it back to the breath, bring it back to the breath.  After each practice I feel something. It could be more refreshed and less exhausted or a lower sense of anxiety that has built up that day.  My emotions may soften and I’m able to figure out what I’m actually feeling like that day.  Some days my greatest ideas come up during my practice because I’ve finally given my busy brain a break from the chatter to actually allow those ideas to flow.  Whatever it is, the practice brings me comfort.  As Sharon Salzberg says, its my refuge from this fast, busy, chaotic life and its important to constantly come Home to my practice.

How does mindfulness work and why should you give it a try?
When we practice mindfulness we try to stay present, without judgement, offering ourselves compassion, instead of criticizing, when the mind wanders off.  We are bringing awareness to what is actually happening in that given moment.

When we’re not practicing mindfulness, we’re racing to the future yet mourning the past.  Our minds may be filled with self deprecating thoughts and extreme emotions.  We judge, berate, criticize; then we’re happy, excited, joyful; quickly finding sadness, guilt and remorse.  These waves of emotions constantly change the internal weather within our body and mind leaving us anxious, overwhelmed and constantly stressed.

When practicing mindfulness regularly, we become more aware of emotions as they arise.  We’re given the opportunity to make better decisions.  The space between action and reaction is wider, giving us the chance to respond appropriately without as much haste and irrational decisions.  We become more aware of negative thinking, allowing us to positively change the stream of thought.  We have the opportunity to make better decisions.  We stop just before saying the wrong thing, or over reacting to something that really isn’t such a big deal.  We offer compassion and send kind thoughts, when we previously would have been too busy to even think about someone else’s needs.

Let me be clear, mindful meditation isn’t a ‘quick fix’.  You are not going to find complete ‘zen’ and be fully at peace your first day, or even week.  However, don’t get discouraged and keep practicing.  Keep practicing everyday.  Start with 5 minutes, that’s all.  Maybe if you feel brave, go to 8 or 10.  Do it when you can, not when someone tells you that you should.  Don’t sit in complete silence if that is hard for you, there are other options.  Use a guided meditation, there are a TON available for free online.  (My favorite app is Insight Timer, anything from Tara Brach or Sharon Salzberg and you won’t regret it.)  Sit in your bed, on a chair, in your car, on a pillow, wherever you’re comfortable.  Just keep practicing.  If you need help, ask questions and find others that are interested in the practice.  (I’m always free to talk!)  It is always great to have a support system with anything new and mysterious.

As we meet every Monday, we’ll explore ways to bring the practice into our daily lives.  Step one, simply begin.
Happy meditating and welcome Home.

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