The people of Boston and our entire country have taken an incredible hit and have responded with courage and grace. That’s a much harder response than fear and anger. For me, this week has been another test of staying strong in my mindfulness rather than allowing myself to get lost in the flurry of thoughts and emotions. I’m grateful that I’ve been in a much better place with my own head to be able to process all of the events in my (our) world right now.
A year ago, if you told me about “mindfulness” or that I would be interested in it, I’d probably laugh. I connected that term to Buddhism, Eastern religion. I thought meditation was, well, odd.
So, what the heck is this Mindfulness stuff? Well, quite simply, it’s defined as:
mind•ful [mahynd-fuh l] adjective attentive, aware, or careful (usually followed by of ): mindful of one’s responsibilities. Origin: 1375–1425; late Middle English mindeful. See mind, -ful CITE
Mindful of one’s responsibilities? Awareness? My immediate response was (a) “sure, easy, I can do that” and (b) “sure, what’s the catch? Is this some religious indoctrination?”
But something has brought me to this practice in the last 12 months that has made me realize that mindfulness is this small, little, simple thing that has made a colossal change in my world and has given me my life back.
Why did I feel like I needed a change? Was was it that made me realize that I wasn’t the thoughtful human being I wanted to be?
Lots of things, some all at once, some little things from time to time, but “things”. Things like this:
- I was consistently letting the world around me control me.
- I was full of road rage because I let every single instance of driver error, ignorance or poor judgment make me angry.
- I was having a tough time focusing on anything. At work, I’d be reading one paragraph over and over again because I was too busy thinking about the stack of paper next to me.
- I was having trouble sleeping because I just had constant mind races: what I should have said to this person yesterday, what bills I’ll need to pay next week, what will I do on Tuesday if such-and-such happens, why did I let that thing happen 3 months ago, etc.
- I wasn’t able to focus on the moment when I was in it. I found myself sitting on the floor with my kids, playing games and instead of loving that moment, I was thinking about a work deadline, the jerk that ran a red light that morning, the person at work that got on my nerves that day, how I would fit in the errands I needed to do the next day…
- I would judge someone with little evidence. Maybe I caught someone in a bad moment, but when I saw someone do something “wrong” I would immediately think they were an asshole.
- I would harp on someone’s character flaw and think that was who they were as a person
- I began to think that the world was just full of jerks. That everyone was a jerk.
- I began to think that if someone didn’t agree with me, then they were wrong or stupid.
- I was losing connection with human beings.
- I was losing patience with my kids.
- I was losing control of my own thoughts and the term “inner peace” became a joke
I wanted to change this.
I wanted to be more focused in work, life and my own kids. I wanted to push the constant chatter and responsiveness out of my head and stop wasting energy on negativity.
I wanted to be in control of myself again.
And most importantly, I wanted this change for me, my wife, my kids, my friends and the world around me so that I could be a better me and a more positive member of this society. I want my children to be raised in a mindful home so that they too could have a better focus on their lives.
Over time, I will be sharing more of the journey that brought me from total cynic to cheerleader.
I can tell you what I have learned.
This isn’t about religion, it’s about taking control of your life again. It isn’t about becoming soft or wishy-washy, it’s about being true to yourself. You don’t have to be holistic, vegan, practice Yoga, or wear prayer beads to be mindful.
I am still at the beginning stages of my mindfulness practice and am still a work in progress (I’ll always be a work in progress). However, I can tell you that I get it and I love it. What mindfulness is doing for me is:
- Helping me become less judgmental
- Allowing me to focus on the connection I have with other human beings
- Getting me to focus on the NOW, what is right in front of me, not what happened yesterday or what could happen tomorrow
- Helping me expand my interests in so many other things because my brain is less cloudy
- Getting me to focus on a better overall health for myself
- Helping me focus on certain tasks at work that need my full attention
- Helping me tune out and move on from other people’s negative energy
- Allowing me to take those moments with my wife and children and just enjoy those moments, free of stressful thoughts
- It’s getting me to listen. To really, truly listen to, absorb and process everything around me instead of rushing to respond
Anyone can do this. Anyone. Even me!
It’s not a religion. I’m still a former-Catholic, now Episcopalian. I’m not a Buddhist. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to embrace mindfulness.
If you are slightly interested but think your life is way too polar opposite from a monk’s to consider something even remotely connected to Buddhism, I strongly recommend this book. It’s a short, easy read that may change your world.
Seriously, it’s called “The Buddha Walks into a Bar”.
The introduction starts off just like I need a book to start off like this:
“This isn’t your grandmother’s book on meditation. It’s for you. That is, assuming you like to have a beer once in a while, enjoy sex, have figured out that your parents are crazy, or get frustrated at work. It’s a book that doesn’t put Buddhism on some pedestal so that you have to look up to it….Do you have to become Buddhist to like this book? Hell, no.”
From Kindle edition “The Buddha Walks into a Bar…: A Guide to Life for a New Generation” by Lodro Rinzler, January 10, 2012 (Shambhala)