People reach out to me asking “How can I get my child to do mindfulness?” or “I wish my sister would try this out!” Sometimes they have built a practice of mindfulness or meditation but more often, they are struggling with the same challenges and difficulties as everyone else. It is important to make time for your own self-care. As they say at takeoff, “should cabin pressure change, panels above your seat will open revealing an oxygen mask. Secure your own mask first before helping others.”
Mindfulness teacher Dzung Vo uses a metaphor of the heart. Our very own heart is designed to take care of itself first. The surface and interior of the heart is lined with blood vessels that nourish the heart so it can perform its task of distributing blood throughout the body. Without properly functioning coronary arteries, our heart will be weak and won’t be able to feed our body. And it works the same way in our life and our relationships. The most reliable way to bring mindfulness to someone you love is to practice it yourself.
Mindfulness is contagious. When our loved ones, co-workers and even strangers see the impact of our mindfulness practice, they pay attention. In this way, you can use mindfulness to build and improve connection with others and to recognize our interdependence, leading to a more present and compassionate community for everyone.
On Tuesday, October 24, I was honored to present to a large group from the Main Line Newcomers Club at the Ludington Library. You will find the full talk above or read on for simple practices you can try yourself.
When I first came to mindfulness, I was struggling with the grief of my dad passing away combined with challenges at work and home. The kids were struggling with school and my wife had a health issue. I found myself trying to fix all these issues but it was an impossible task. I wasn’t bring my dad back to life and the other things just had to play themselves out. And I wasn’t sleeping much at all, maybe 1-2 hours a night. My attempts to control how my life played out just generated more stress. What I was doing was not working.
More lightheartedly, there is this from Jack Kornfield:
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.
Mindfulness offers a different approach to the realities of our experience, something Jon Kabat-Zinn described as “Full Catastrophe Living.” With mindfulness, we pay curious attention to what is happening right now. This can be practiced and generates benefits by re-wiring the brain through a process called neuroplasticity.
Just as we exercise our body and strengthen muscles, so can we exercise the mind. In mindfulness meditation, we do this by choosing an anchor, our breath, our body, our senses, to which we return when we become distracted. It is simple, but it certainly isn’t easy. Fortunately, the important piece is not eliminating thoughts or distractions but instead returning your attention to your anchor each time you become distracted.
Mindfulness practice doesn’t require a lot of time or any special equipment. Even if you have time for just one breath, you can use this time to return to the present through the tools of our senses and surroundings. Consistent practice is most helpful. You might try one of the recorded practices below or others on my podcast which is available on iTunes.
I offered a handy Resource Guide as part of this talk and have summarized some simple, everyday mindful practices below:
- 3 Questions – When you find yourself in a stress response, pause and ask yourself, What am I doing? Is it Right? What will I do next? Repeat these questions as needed.
- Twenty Breaths – Sitting comfortably, close your eyes and breathe naturally. After exhaling, count each breath until you reach 10, then count back to one. Open your eyes and continue with your day.
- Mindful Eating – Enjoy a snack in silence, slowly chewing each bite and observing what arises.
- Stoplight or Telephone Meditation – As your approach a stoplight or hear the phone ring, allow yourself one gentle breath followed by a moment’s pause before resuming your activity. Use your body’s natural relaxation response to turn habitual reactions into thoughtful responses.
May the benefits of these practices touch you and those around you.