Mindfulness Activity #14
It is the first of April and on the East Coast, in NY where I live, the first sunny morning in many days. Something to be grateful for.
When I teach mindfulness, people who do not like it often list one of three reasons. The first is that it is not consistent with their religion. This is an easy one, because mindfulness, in the way it is used in the secular world, is not religious. It is a collection of habits, behaviors, and practices. A way to do whatever else you are doing in your life. Also, it is a longer conversation, but every major religion has contemplative practices in its history or in its present teachings. Some religions do not place much emphasis on such practices, but if one looks they are there.
The second challenge people have with mindfulness is the that it is “quiet” or “touchy-feely.” Not all mindfulness practices are quiet, still, or focus heavily on breath. I have emphasized these here, because many people have been experiencing a lot of fear and still, quiet practices can sometimes be soothing. But one can practice mindfulness in a myriad of ways. Runners can be mindful while running. Today’s practice will be an active one.
The third and biggest reason people tell me that they cannot cultivate a mindfulness practice is, “I don’t have time.” This is simply not true. While it is helpful when learning mindfulness to have extended practices, one could have a whole practice made of single moments of connectedness and awareness. In order to achieve the benefits of mindfulness that are associated with reductions in stress, changes to physiology like reductions in headaches, increases in fertility (to those trying to conceive), lower blood pressure, etc.., the research suggests a minimum of 20 minutes. 3-4 times weekly. However, the benefits of tiny bits of mindfulness in your day (with a goal of being mindful as much of the time as you can) are huge as well, especially for emotional resilience and a sense of well-being. So for those who feel you don’t have time…this practice is your invitation to mindfulness.
There is no script and no music today, simply the task to notice your experience. Take a walk. you may choose to do it outside (and it will likely be more pleasant, but pleasant is not always the point of training). If you are pressed for time, make it your walk to brush your teeth, or to go to any activity you do today. Do nothing more than you normally do for that walk, but do it differently. Pay attention to your feel connecting with the floor. Notice what you see in front of you. Notice the sounds. If you start thinking of what you will be doing when you get to your destination, stop yourself and return to your walk. Do not miss the walk (even if it is a 30 second walk). This teaches us to be in the present moment.
I once worked with a women who physically injured many, many people. She would get angry and punch, and kick people or stab them with objects. She did not want to hurt people, but it was almost automatic. She had been hurt a lot. She learned to stop all of that by paying attention to a clementine tangerine–noticing its feel, color, taste and smell. Then, she was able to notice when she was angry before she hurt people. If she could achieve that, what can mindfulness help you to do? I have taught officers in the NYPD this skill to make them more alert and attentive, to remain focused during hostage negotiations, and also to leave behind the pain of some of the terrible things they have witnessed. How can living each moment mindfully help you? Take a minute to think about that.
So to review, todays practice is a brief walk, just noticing the experience of the walk. Bringing yourself back if you jump ahead or have judgments about the experience. Then, if you choose to continue the practice, set a few alarms to ring throughout your day. Each time one rings stop, breathe, and notice the moment (your current action, body sensations, thought or emotion). That’s it. A lot of tiny moments of mindfulness can create a grounded and connected life.