"As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise, you will miss most of your life." ~ Buddha
Come to a comfortable sitting position. Let your arms fall, comfortably, palms up. Inhale. Exhale. Keeping your eyes closed, just focus on your breath. Breathe. Bring your awareness to your surroundings. What do you feel? Can you feel the breath on your top lip when you exhale? Can you feel your clothing touching your skin? What does your gut feel like? Are you hungry? Are you full? Continue to observe how you feel. Now, listen to your surroundings. What do you hear? Do you hear birds singing nearby? Do you hear someone else breathing next to you? Do you hear cars driving by? Is there music playing? Now, come back to your thoughts. Acknowledge them, but do not entertain them, just let them pass. Observe your thoughts, how do they make you feel? Now, let them go... and, come back to your breath.
This is a mindful meditation. This is what I was taught during my 30-day full immersion yoga teacher training. I practiced mindful meditation twice a day, every single day for that 30 days.
It was pretty difficult in the beginning - to sit still and just observe the itch in your back, or your feet falling asleep without moving to adjust or scratch. But, with practice, I got better. We all did.
I even practiced when I wasn't in a comfortable seated position in a quiet room with my teachers and 20 other students. I began to learn mindfulness when we went on adventures. I learned to be present in the moment, to smell the sweet air filled with aromas of delicious Thai cuisine, and hear the Asian Koel lullabies sung throughout Chiang Mai. I observed the distinct patterns of the emerald rice paddies, listening to the laughter of my classmates in nearby distance, as we watch the farmers harvest the rice in their boots and hats. I appreciated the architecture of the houses and temples we passed. I could hear the local Thai merchants speak to one another and greet us with "sawadee ka," along with the monks' chanting echoing through the mountains early in the mornings, and late in the evenings. The people are so kind and so content with so little. I took it all in, no speaking, just observing- all of my surroundings and how it made my heart feel. For the very first time in my life, I felt a true sense of peace and genuine happiness.
Before I came here, there was no way I could do that - find that peace, or just be still in my emotions. There was no way I could rest my mind in the midst of all my stress. I had a rough life, rough childhood, rough marriage, rough parenthood with my children. I was an orphan, single parent, trying to support myself and my two children without any other support. I didn't have anyone I looked up to, to guide me or mentor me, other than the men who came into my life for romantic relationships. I often dwelled on the pain of my past, and worried about the future. I was also in a lot of physical pain. I had developed a very rare and painful disease that would cause severe random chest pain that felt like I was having heart attacks, or like something was reaching in and trying to pull out the organs in my chest. How was I going to pay the bills? How was going to provide for my kids? Who was going to take care of me? They weren't even old enough to drive me to and from the hospital. How was I going to work, go to school, and take care of my girls? I felt alone, unappreciated, and most of all, STRESSED.
All. the. damn. time.
The brain is a master at time traveling, especially under stress. It travels to the past, present, or to the future. Far too often, we dwell on the past. We focus on all of our mistakes, mistakes of others, the things we regret, or the people and things we've lost. We dwell on all of the things we can not change. When we are not dwelling on the past, we worry about the future. "What ifs," and all of the things that could happen but probably won't. We spend so many of our moments thinking about everything but the moment we're in, how it makes us feel, and life passes us by. Then, the most precious moments become a memory we wish we had been more present for.
But, there I was, in Thailand, taking it all in, not a worry in the world. I was so grateful to be alive in that moment. I was surrounded by others who were on similar journeys, so full of love and life. I still didn't know what I was going to do for work when I got back, or what my kids were getting into, but I was truly content.
The term "monkey mind" means the easily distracted and incessantly moving behavior of ordinary human consciousness. We all have thoughts and our minds wander 50% of our waking moments. Its so easy to become distracted, especially with all of the latest technology. The agitation and distraction of wandering thoughts can become problematic, especially if your job depends on your awareness. Can you imagine if a surgeon was distracted by his thoughts for 4 out of every 8 minutes during surgery? Or, a judge and jury who loses their attention during important trial testimony? Or, what if First Responders were distracted 4 out of 8 minutes during an emergency call/situation? Mind wandering can result in errors and create difficulty when making decisions.
So, what can we do? Practice mindfulness. Practice bringing your attention and awareness to the present moment without emotional activity. There are mindfulness exercises to cultivate more awareness in every day life. They work very much like physical exercise in the way that the more you practice, the more beneficial it becomes.
Its also been documented when troops receive mindfulness training before deployment that they return much more present and more compassionate. This has shown to be an important tool to protect against PTSD and allowing it to turn into post-traumatic growth.
Meditative exercises are a great example of how you can practice bringing in your awareness. I challenge you to bring more awareness to your thoughts, feelings, actions, and experiences. Incorporate mindfulness training as part of your daily wellness training toolkit to tame that monkey and allow your attention and awareness to be your guide in your own life.
Click below for a 5-minute Guided Mindful Meditation
Please let me know if you would like more like this.