Recently, I presented at a conference for educators. As I welcomed attendees, I heard someone in the hallway declare, “I actually might come because I need this desperately.” Most of the day’s presenters offered innovative approaches to teaching students but few offered self-care tools for the educators charged with doing the actual teaching. As we began our journey, I reminded them of the gentle flight attendant instruction “secure your own mask first.”
The room filled, I smiled, and began my talk. Someone interrupted, “Can everyone come all the way into the room so we can close the door? Its really loud out there.”
“If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are: you are probably a dog.” – Jack Kornfield
Alas, we can’t close out the world. We can’t close the door on life because life is about being vulnerable. Being with and amidst our experience.
This is contrary to the image of mindfulness in popular culture. An image of tranquility on the face of someone meditating in the lotus pose on a secluded, sunny beach is not the true image of mindfulness. Instead, mindfulness is about navigating the sometimes chaotic, sometimes overflowing, always changing experience of being human. Sure, we may practice alone in a quiet room, but the real work of mindfulness takes place in our interactions, our relationships and our everyday environment.
My teacher Jonathan Foust describes a “life of overflow”. Sure, overflow is messy. But it is also a sign of authentic living. Another way to think of this is as being at the edge of your comfort zone. Or perhaps, could it be thought of as a method to share your experience, your passion, your wisdom, with others? The overflow is not us, its our circumstances.
So what can we do? Several years ago, I was struggling with challenges of work and family illnesses. My initial response was “How can I fix this?” But everything I did to try to figure it out only made it worse. I became caught up in old routines that didn’t serve to change my circumstances and certainly cause stress and frustration.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust Survivor Victor Frankl wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” The practice of mindfulness allowed me to create a space to gently and thoughtfully respond to my circumstances without trying to change them. When I found myself caught, the practice of mindfulness returned me to the anchor of my breath, my body, my senses and my intention. I learned to surf.
My conference talk went well. We left the door open and allowed the noise of the hallway to be part of our experience. Using the anchor of our body, we practiced mindfulness and used this distraction as the trigger to return to ourselves in the present moment.
I welcome your comments and encourage you to check out the resources available on www.yourmindfulcoach.com. Check out the full youtube video of my presentation to educators at https://youtu.be/v3hVeCkXjcU or download a handy resource guide.