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.