Recently, when I was asked to give a presentation on Mindfulness, my first thought was, “What attention-grabbing things can I say about something so quiet and simple as Mindfulness?” We Americans seem to be addicted to overstimulating, electrifying experiences. But practicing Mindfulness can be an adventure, an in-depth exploration of the moment. It is a deeply satisfying way to live. It feels sweet.
Eleven years ago, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel in Europe. A friend of mine, an experienced traveler who happened to be in England at the same time I was, met me at Heathrow in London to serve as my tour guide.
Since we had only a few days together, my friend wanted to cram as many experiences as he possibly could into that short time. As we rushed from one iconic sight to another, I became increasingly overwhelmed and overstimulated.
Toward the end of our stay in England, my friend took me to London’s Kew Gardens. His inclination was to rush in and out of all the houses, to glance briefly at a display and then move on. Within minutes of entering our first house, the Palm House, he was ready to go again.
But I was done with the mad rush. “You go ahead,” I told him. “I’m staying right here.”
I climbed a set of stairs to a landing that allowed me to look down from a birds-eye view at a display of palms, species of various shapes and sizes. I folded my arms to rest them on the railing, and then gazed down at that display until my friend finished his hasty tour and returned for me.
For at least thirty minutes, I stared at the same cluster of plants, never moving my eyes. And something amazing began to happen. My overwrought brain began to relax. A deep peace came over me. And then, I was overcome by love. I fell deeply in love with what I was looking at. It felt as if I had come to know those palms intimately.
I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stay there forever, my eyes locked on what I’d fallen in love with.
Several years later, in my career as a psychotherapist, I attended a professional training in Mindfulness. It spoke to me so deeply that I subsequently attended as many Mindfulness trainings as I could. And I came to understand that my blissful experience at Kew Gardens had been all about practicing Mindfulness.
Living mindfully has to do with bringing all your attention to the present moment. To the dishes you’re washing, to the walk you’re taking, to the person with whom you are speaking.
At one of my Mindfulness trainings, the presenter placed a single raisin in each of the participants’ hands. Moving very deliberately through the activity, she instructed us look at the raisin, to feel the raisin, to smell the raisin, and finally, to taste the raisin and savor its sweetness on our tongues. I’d never known a raisin was so magnificent.
Perhaps I knew at some level that I’d have to draw upon those Mindfulness trainings in the future. Because at this point in my life, I am unable to handle a hectic lifestyle. I cannot tolerate high levels of stimulation from multiple sources without experiencing adverse effects. I’ve had to practice Mindfulness just to get through my day without falling apart. I recognize instantly when I step out of Mindfulness. It feels like hell.
A year ago, when the holiday season approached with its accompanying frenzy, I just didn’t have it in me to get caught up in the madness. And I decided it was time to do something I’d thought about for years: scrapping all the traditional holidays tainted with mindless commercialism and celebrating what is really important to me. I knew I wanted to spend my remaining time on this planet living more mindfully with the rhythm of the changing seasons.
I presented this idea to my husband and children, who embraced it wholeheartedly. So now, we are creating new family traditions with celebrating the coming of winter, spring, summer, and autumn. In doing so, I have experienced each season more intimately, cherishing its unique beauty and the wisdom it offers.
Living mindfully does not mean drifting from moment to moment unmoored from duty and obligation. Mindful living involves being responsible in the present moment, completing the work in front of you instead of fretting about what you might need to do in the future. And it means doing the present task without anxiety and strain.
Several decades ago when I was in massage therapy school, my teacher would often give assignments that initially seemed daunting. We students would start buzzing with anxiety. But she would caution us not to become frantic. “Do it with grace and ease,” she would say.
Eight years ago, I suffered an accident that left me in the deepest, darkest hole I’d ever been in in my entire life. In addition to contending with medical problems, I was dealing with insurance, legal, and financial problems. I had no idea how I was going to climb out of that hole. I was unable to glimpse any light or any hope for my future.
All I could do was to take one small step at a time, doing the task right in front of me. Even if the task seemed pointless. Even if the step didn’t feel like it was getting me anywhere.
Now, eight years later, I no longer feel as if I’m living in that hole. Looking back, I am amazed at how far those many small steps have carried me, and what all those small tasks have amounted to.
There’s a great deal of trust inherent in mindful living. It means being faithful to the present moment and trusting that future moments will take care of themselves, unfolding the way they are meant to unfold.
We all know what it’s like trying to force life into the shape we want it to take: grasping, striving, straining. Veering all over the road to chase down opportunities we think we want. And we all know the disappointment and devastation that can result from that approach to life. About a year ago, when I’d slipped out of Mindfulness into a frantic state, fretting about my lack of opportunities in life, a quiet thought came to me: “Stay in your lane. The opportunities will come.”
Recently, I heard a phrase that spoke deeply to me: “Let life happen through you.” I believe that’s what Mindfulness is all about. Being present, aware, faithful, and responsible in the current moment. Being in love with the current moment. And being a wide-open conduit, allowing life to flow unobstructed through us.