Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mindful Moment for today

I looked up from this screen to see snowflakes the size of small birds falling from the sky.  No one of a mindful ilk could resist.  I jumped up and ran out the door.

There are movies these days with cheesy CGI versions of locusts or other swarms.  I looked up into a sky filled in real-life with a kazillion 3-inch diameter snowballs.  The entire sky.  Filled.  Surreal, and real.

I tried catching the snowballs.  They were very thin and lightly constructed.  Caught with my coat-sleeve, they burst into snow powder.  Caught with my hand, they delicately melted away. 

I went inside to pull on my snowsuit and boots, then went out the back to my hammock, dumped the bed of snow off the hammock, and laid down looking up into the sky.  Immediately ice drops stung my eyes and choked me making me shift position.

Once I shifted to a semi-upright pose for the sake of my breathing, I stayed still in the cold and watched the snow balls shift smaller into snow flakes and then shift wetter into rain. 

Do you have a guess as to how many times I had to remind myself to "stay in the moment" and "be with this snow as it is right now" instead of thinking about how I was going to write this blog post...?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Scrambled Egg Analogy for Life

I’ve run across some folks who have gotten the impression from magazine articles that  Mindfulness practice is a cure for suffering.  They have an impression that there is a choice we can make between living a life like Disneyland and living a life of despair.  But that choice is not available to us. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn named his book on Mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living.  To me, that succinctly describes life as a combination of both Disneyland and despair mixed up like scrambled eggs.  There is no way to separate them.  You either eat the scrabbled eggs with all the ingredients, or you don’t. 

Human life is a full catastrophe.  It includes ecstasy, victories, and fun games.  It also includes despair, defeat, and boredom.  We can’t pick and choose one set of ingredients over the others.  We either live it all, or we shut down and don’t experience any of it. 

Most of us separate from living the full experience of our lives by shutting down or withdrawing in some way.  From that place of being shut down, we take tiny sips of the full experience of life.  But whenever it gets to be too much, we withdraw again, trying to feel nothing. Refusing to drink of our lives.

Our choice is not a choice between living a life like Disneyland and living a life of despair.  The choice we do have is between either being shut down feeling nothing or opening to the scrabbled egg of full living with all its ups and downs. 

If we are taking tiny sips of our lives, Mindfulness gives us bigger straws so that we can drink in a little more.  Mindfulness practices raise the “stress hardiness” levels so that we can handle more of life’s experiences.  It will not cure our suffering, but it does make us better equipped to feel it. 

I’ve seen Mindfulness students become shocked once they really start to understand that feeling their suffering is what this is all about.  But the shock is also because they come to understand that feeling their joy is also what this is all about.  It can be shocking to realize just how much good stuff has been missed while trying to avoid the bad stuff. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mindfulness is not a quick-fix

Mindfulness is not a technique to help you stop feeling bad feelings.
I will say it again.
Mindfulness is not a technique to help you stop feeling bad feelings.

Mindfulness is a technique to help you accept the truth of what you do feel.  What you feel right now is valid.  Sometimes what you feel is despair. Sometimes what you feel is panic.  It is valid to feel that.  Sometimes what you feel is pleasure.  Sometimes what you feel is joy.  It is valid to feel that.

Is your sadness unacceptable to you?

If yes, you do have the option of distracting yourself, or taking a pill, or any one of a number of ways to change things.

But if you are practicing mindfulness, you will start by accepting that you judge sadness (or joy) as unacceptable.  And then, taking your time, perhaps over the course of years, you will come to understand the conditioning that led you to judge sadness (or joy) in that way.  And then, taking your time, perhaps over the course of many more years, you will come to accept the sadness (or joy) itself. 

Mindfulness is not a quick-fix.  Mindfulness is the radical idea that what you feel (both negative and positive) is valid to feel.  And that radical form of acceptance can over-haul your life for the better. 

This doesn't mean dwelling on it.  Simply feeling it and then moving on. 

I will be starting up a new Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class in a few weeks on January 28th 2011.  Consider joining class if you are ready to engage in a deep transformation of relationship to yourself.