I teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at the Open Center. When I ask class members what causes them stress, they call out answers and I write them on the large white board. Work. Relationships. Relatives. Illness. A deadline. A break-up. Fear of getting fired, getting fired, getting hired. Getting married, getting divorced. A new baby, a teenager. Moving. Money….
Once, when every inch of the white board was covered, a voice called out, “The whole past and the entire future.”
For sure, I said, we can figure out how to relieve some of these issues some of the time. We all have an arsenal of methods, some of them wholesome, some not. We go for a run, make to-do lists, commiserate or strategize with our friends. We drink a little to relax, or a lot to numb ourselves, bury ourselves in busyness, in TV or other electronic devices. For most of us, though, the stresses lurk, eating away at our energy and sense of well-being. We wonder if our lives could be easier, smoother, with less struggle, more joy.
And then we begin to practice mindfulness and gradually we notice that our lives get a little easier, smoother. There’s less struggle; there’s more joy. Mindfulness shifts our perspective in such a way that our mind becomes our friend rather than our bully. We discover our own wisdom. We see, for instance, that stress comes not from events themselves but from how we react to them. Right there, with that insight, everything changes. We can’t control a lot of what happens to us but we can change our reactions. Instead of sinking into helplessness, or blurting out something in fear or anger that only makes a situation worse, we can learn how to push our own pause button and choose a better response. This process is undoing the habits of a lifetime, so patience is required, and practice.
Might as well begin now, right? Here, two really good ways to start on the path to mindful living:
1. Slow down…As Sharon Salzberg, one of the country’s leading meditation teacher, says, “If you want to be happier, dramatically slow down whatever you’re doing.” Whenever you notice you’re rushing: stop for a moment, take a breath, become aware of your whole body in space—are you standing, walking, sitting? Is your mind lurching ahead of yourself? Draw your mind back into this moment. You can continue to move quickly if you like, but keep checking in with yourself: Where’s your mind—is it racing ahead to the next moment, next hour, next day? Bring it home, bring it here, now. Breathe in, breathe out. When you’re reunited with yourself, feel free to go on.
2. Be a good listener—to yourself. Pay attention to how you’re talking to yourself. What tone of voice are you using—do you sound like a friend or an enemy? Try this experiment: Ask yourself if you’d use that tone, those words, if you were talking to someone you loved, someone tender, vulnerable, who would respond much better to kindness than cruelty. Someone like you. I bet you think you don’t deserve gentleness, but this kind voice will create a refuge for you, where you can repair and calm down. Part 2 of this experiment: Watch to see if coming from that place makes you gentler with others. Listen for it! Thanks to this practice, you can listen better, hear more, see more clearly, and live many more moments fully—heartfully, mindfully.