My mindful journey around the world has begun. I safely arrived on the ship and settled into my cabin that I will call home for the next 4 months. The ship set sail from Ensenada Mexico after picking up the 550 college students who make up the majority of the population on the ship. As we set sail into the Pacific headed to Hilo, Hawaii, our first stop, we hit some rough waters right from the start. Although our ship is relatively large, holding 1,000 people including students, faculty, staff and crew, the 15-20 foot waves present quite the challenge as one attempts to navigate from one point to the next. Besides that challenge, came the inevitable plague of seasickness for a number of voyagers as we hit rocky seas on the first night. Luckily, genetics has blessed my family and I with rock solid digestive systems. Motions sickness is not a liability for us. However, several people on board have had a much more difficult time adjusting to the motion and our external awareness was heightened as we encountered pale-faced passengers spontaneously losing their dinner in various locations throughout the ship. Although the rocking of the ship does not make me prone to getting sick, I must admit that the mere sound of it happening to someone else immediately throws my gag reflex into high gear. Needless to say, I took cover, retreating to my room until my fellow passengers had a chance to adjust. Eventually it passed and students began emerging from their cabins rosy cheeked and relieved it was over. I was equally relieved, for now… We still have to cross the Pacific to Japan – that’s another 10 days at sea.
This evening we will be crossing the International Date Line. Tonight when I go to bed to it will be the evening of January 20, 2014. When I wake up tomorrow morning, it will be Wednesday January 22, 2014. This is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp! Where did Tuesday go? What happened to it? I know it existed for you back home, but not here. We erased it from the calendar as if it never happened.
In a very real way this is similar to the moments of our lives that we lose when we are not present, when we are stuck ruminating about the past or stressing about the future. We only have moments to live, however, day in and day out, most of us spend our lives, stuck in our heads, attached to thoughts about either the past or the future. We wake up, roll out of bed, eat our breakfast, take a shower and drive off to work without ever taking notice of what is happening in and around those precious moments of our lives. We are in a constant forward motion, doing, thinking and planning for times when our life will be better, when we will feel better, look better, be healthier, become more relaxed and have less stress. We fail to taste our food, enjoy the warm water of the shower on our backs or even remember to look at a beautiful sunrise, breath fresh air or notice the magnificence of the glistening snow. Other times, when we do take notice of something extraordinary, we dive for our cell phones so that we can take a picture, hurried to capture it for a time when we can look at it again and recall the beauty. As a result, we fail to experience the beauty at all. The real beauty exists in the experience of the moment, not in its photocopy. In fact, beauty exists in every moment of our lives, as do the conditions for happiness. But we fail to see and experience them. We forget and fail to acknowledge that we have peace and calm within us all the time. We don’t know how to enjoy our peace. Unfortunately, it’s not until we lose something that we realize how incredibly special it is. We rarely think about the magnificence of our eyes at all. We are constantly looking at things but we see very little. How many times have you driven to work and not remembered the ride at all? Sadly, some of us do this every day and as a result, we lose moments, days, weeks, and sometimes years of our lives, never to get them back again.
It is our sense of sight and all of our other senses that, when we choose to pay attention to them, allow us to experience the beauty of a flower, the gorgeous blue color of the sky or the precious face of a child. Imagine what we wish we could see if we lost our sight or hear if we suddenly became deaf. As we hurry around doing and striving to make something special happen in our lives, we fail to recognize that something special is already and always occurring, every moment of our lives. By making the choice and taking the time to pay attention to what is actually happening, instead of what has, could, should or would happen, we learn to enjoy the peace that exists within every single one of us, in every single moment.
Below is the mindfulness practice exercise for those of you who wish to participate.
Practice enjoying your peace. Investigate your inner peace. Examine times throughout the week when you find yourself searching externally for a solution to your inner turmoil, restlessness, anxiety or just plain boredom. Also, investigate the ways in which you may be doing this. For example, working, eating, drinking alcohol, smoking, shopping, playing on your phone, running around looking for something to do, etc. Each time you become aware that you are doing so, stop, take a breath, bring yourself back to the present moment and name everything that is right and beautiful about your life. We all have inner peace inside of us; we just have to practice enjoying it.
Please come back and share your inner peaceful discoveries in the comment section of this blog. I will be delighted to hear from you.
As I prepare to embark on the journey of a lifetime, I am filled with gratitude and awe for the multitude of blessings I continue to receive in this lifetime. I am particularly grateful to you, my family, friends and students who continue to enrich my life and my practice. Each and every one of you has generously given so much of yourselves, encouraging me to deepen my practice, to develop a greater sense of loving kindness and compassion and to continue to investigate how we as individuals and as a community can live our lives with less stress and more freedom and inner peace.
I invite you along on this journey. As many of you are aware, it is helpful to come together in the practice of mindfulness, to gain support from each other and as a community. Because of this, I have decided to make this blog instructional and open to anyone who wishes to participate. I will be teaching mindfulness on board the floating University Semester at Sea and the instruction will continue in the ports we visit, with every moment being an opportunity to deepen our practice. I encourage you to take part in the practice here at home and to come back and share your experiences and discoveries with each other in the comment sections of this blog. Most of the instruction will be based on the informal practices, cultivating mindfulness in action. However, our formal training continues to be the foundation of the practice and I encourage you to keep it up. Make the time to sit at least 30 -45 minutes a day, whenever possible. You must make the time, you won't find it. For those of you new to the practice of mindfulness, you may find some guided meditations as well as some additional information about mindfulness on my website at www.mindfulnesstraininssrc.com
The journey to the ship has already provided me with multiple opportunities to practice mindfulness, as a means of managing stress and worry. We were scheduled to leave out of Buffalo on Tuesday, January 7th and due to the blizzard conditions, three of our scheduled and rescheduled flights out of Buffalo were cancelled. The ship was set to leave San Diego on Thursday, January 9th and the airlines were not providing any way for us to get out of Buffalo until Saturday 1/11. This meant we would miss the ship and the trip of a lifetime we’ve been planning for over two years. As you may imagine, a plethora of negative emotions, stress and worry began to surface on the forefront of my mind, causing a domino effect of physical reactions tied to a stream of thoughts that were prefaced by a multitude of “what if’s”, with the potential to cloud reason, focus and judgment. But, here’s the thing about this mindfulness practice, if you practice, it’s dependable, especially when the stakes are high and they were high! Although I may not have been able to fully rest in the present moment while dealing with the likely possibility that a ship with 1,000 people on board would not wait for 3 of us, the awareness that my mindfulness practice has cultivated, allowed me to see the thoughts of stress and worry as “just thoughts”. As I became aware of the thoughts that kept arising, I applied my practice and simply began to notice them as part of what was happening. Yes, not making the ship was a “thought” that arose as a serious possibility along with several others that promoted my body to react with some serious sweat, pit in the stomach physical reactions tied to those thoughts. Without mindfulness, I can tell you with experience that attachment to those thoughts would wreak havoc on everyone dealing with the situation at hand. Attachment to thoughts of worry about what is not happening in the present moment, about what could happen, causes emotions to spiral out of control, tempers to become short and reason and focus to go flying out the window, usually resulting in negative consequences and regret.
We made it to the ship and we did it without too much stress and worry. In fact, I believe that the dependable awareness that mindfulness cultivates allowed me to see those thoughts of stress and worry as “just thoughts” and as I acknowledged them, they began to weaken and dissolve. What would emerge in their place became the ability to remain calm, to focus, to come up with an alternative plan, and to execute it as a family with as much ease as we could, considering all the “what if’s” that would enter our minds. So that’s what we did. Leaving from Buffalo was becoming an unlikely option as the minutes ticked away and the ship’s departure without us drew nearer and nearer. But mindfulness allowed us to choose a sense of adventure over panic and execute an alternative plan, Within 3 hours we convinced the airlines to re-route us out of a different city, rented a car, threw in our luggage and headed to Cleveland to catch a flight to the Ship. We made it, and thanks to the practice of mindfulness we did so with a sense of adventure and a collective kindness to each other. To those of you who may be saying that regardless of whether I was practicing mindfulness or not, we would have made it to the ship, I agree. But what I believe is more important, in terms of living well and maintaining healthy relationships and a sense of wellbeing is “how” we made it. Mindfulness allows you to see things as they are happening, both internally and externally. To know when emotions may be driving reaction, to know when stress and worry are clouding your ability to focus and make a proper judgment call. It cultivates the awareness to know what you are doing as you are doing it. It provides an opportunity to choose to respond, not react to whatever is happening. It informs you of the truth and how your true self is operating in every moment.
Mindfulness is dependable, however, only if you practice. To try to cultivate this sense of being when the stakes are high without a committed practice is similar to attempting to play a concerto on the piano without ever before placing your fingers on the keys. Mindfulness is a way of learning how to relate directly to your life; of getting to know whom you are and how you operate. Fortunately, it is not something you have to seek out; it’s something you already have within you. All you have to do is uncover it. All of us possess the innate capacity to pay attention to what is happening while it is happening. Only when we are aware and informed of what is truly happening in the present moment do we have the opportunity to make choices that serve our well-being and more importantly the well being of others.
Throughout this week, take as many opportunities as you can to begin to pay attention to where your mind is? Ask yourself “Where am I right now?” Whether you are driving in your car, at a business meeting, enjoying a meal or writing an email, take a moment to check in to see if your mind is focused on what you are doing in the present moment or if it is off somewhere else, pre-occupied with thoughts of the past or the future. By frequently checking in with yourself, with your mind, you will begin to cultivate an intimate awareness of yourself. How often are you living your life in the present moment? How often are you preoccupied with things that happened in the past or things that have not happened yet? Pay particular attention to your own inner dialogue (that conversation you are having with yourself). If you are not focused on the present moment, where are you finding yourself, your thoughts? Use awareness to follow the stream of thoughts that are taking you out of the present moment. You may also want to acknowledge how long you have been paying attention to thoughts and inner dialogue and have been absence from the real moments of your life. Sometimes we can go on for hours, days, weeks and for some, years without any awareness that we are living our lives in our minds and not in the present moment or, that we are not actually living in our lives at all.
Share your experiences and discoveries in the comment section of the blog.
In the beginning it may be difficult and even frustrating to learn how few moments we are present for, even if you’ve been practicing for some time. This is not a competition or a place where we should be judging ourselves, or others, but an opportunity for us to come together in support of one another in the practice of mindfulness. Above all, remember, it doesn’t matter how many times you find yourself wandering off to the past or future. The moment you realize you are not present, you have become present.
**Lastly, just a few notes about commenting in the blog. The comment section is here to serve as an opportunity for us to practice as a community and to share our experiences with each other in an effort to support one another in the practice. Feel free to comment as much or as little as you’d like about your own experiences with each exercise. If it helps to stay committed to the practice, you may comment every day if you wish. However, in an effort to respect that we are all on our own journey, please refrain from commenting on anyone else’s comments. We will automatically learn from one another’s shared experiences.
I look forward to your participation. The next blog post and exercise will be in one week.
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