“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” – Victor Frankl
Sometimes if I stop what I’m doing and really think about how we all choose to live our lives, I feel confused and overwhelmed by it. Do you? There are so many possibilities in life, yet often so little focus. If I stop moving for long enough, I enjoy watching everybody else move throughout their days, looking busy and habitual, and it reminds me that I must be full of movement without thought often as well. When I lived abroad in London during college, I went wherever I wanted in the city using my “Oyster card”- an unlimited train pass. I truly felt like the world was my oyster. It was exciting and overwhelming.
Sometimes I feel like I’m learning to surf- struggling to control myself around big waves, sometimes failing and getting flung in a random direction or pressed down into the water. Then sometimes I get it just right and ride the wave carefully and focused all the way to the shore, feeling accomplished when I hop off the surf board. But learning to successfully ride the wave takes a lot of concentration and awareness.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a few run in’s with conversations and symbols around meditation and mindfulness. Sometimes when you start randomly hearing the same idea over and over again, it makes you start to think that maybe it’s meant to be heard. I was jogging my usual running route last week, feeling particularly relaxed and carefree. My calf that’s been giving me trouble starting to tighten up, so I stopped to stretch it out at what turned out to be the Seattle Mindfulness Center. Although I’ve run this route for years now, I’ve never noticed this cheerful, bright yellow building. I used the class schedule sign to prop my leg up to stretch while I read about their classes. They offer free community meditation, and many mindfulness based classes. I made a mental note of the place and jogged on.
I stumbled upon Chris Kresser’s podcast on how to be insanely productive without destroying your health a few weeks ago and have listened to it a few times now. He talks about the importance of being able to fully focus on what you’re doing in the moment, and the ability to weed out outside distractions that we’re constantly bombarded with (unless you live under a cave). It made me realize how often I try and multitask, how distracted I can get, and how darn difficult it is to focus on one thing without giving into my vice of choice (facebook, ahem). Sometimes (fairly rarely) I have moments of a clear, focused mind and it’s the most wonderful, centering feeling ever. This usually happens when I’m trail running or enjoying nature but sometimes happens when I’m cooking or even slowly waking up to a quiet household.
According to the Seattle Mindfulness Center, mindfulness is “the gentle effort to continuously attend to and be present with our experience, as it is. It involves greater awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, without criticism. This allows for seeing clearly, whatever is happening in our lives, and creates an opportunity to step away from habitual, reactive patterns. Mindfulness is not about eliminating life’s challenges, but rather responding to them in a more skillful manner, thus creating opportunities for greater freedom and choice.”
I don’t know how to meditate or practice mindfulness, other than to learn to be more aware of myself and my thoughts. I think this is a good place to start, but I want to learn more. My goal for March is to learn more about both meditation and mindfulness practices, and come up with concrete goals and practices for how to incorporate them into my daily routine. Inspired by Chris Kresser’s Beat your Stress tips, I have compiled a list of resources, suggestions and tips. I hope to check back in after beginning to practice them, and let you know how it’s going and if I’ve noticed any changes from my efforts. The resources and tips are below, but just as importantly, I would love to hear from all of you. Do you practice either meditation or mindfulness? Do you have any recommendations for someone who wants to start?
-Buddha in Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Simple Zen Guide to Sitting Quietly
-Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield
-Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live by Tony Schwartz
Techniques and Resources:
-The *STOP Practice: It is very helpful to create anchors that will cue the mind and body to re-center and let go of stress. With mindfulness practice, bringing awareness onto the breath is a key anchor to move into a calmer state. To add to that, I’d like to suggest each morning, as you head out for the day in your car, do a slightly modified version of the STOP practice*. Sit up with a dignified and self-respectful posture, place your hands on the “10 and 2″ position (anchoring), close your eyes, and bring your focus onto the breath, breathing naturally, not forcing the breath to be extra deep (anchoring). Check in to see if there is stress or tension in your body and/or mind, and begin to let it go with the out breath. Bring your awareness onto your emotional heart, and visualize or imagine feelings of peacefulness, grounded-ness, empathy, strength and clarity moving from your emotional heart into your physical heart, and with the breath, flowing throughout the body and mind, touching and enlivening everything in its path, and then exhaling … releasing any toxic stressful energy, visualizing or imagining it flowing out and away with the breath … perhaps even seeing it in your mind’s eye as a fading color, or as ice melting in the spring sun, or as clouds passing in the sky … without getting caught up in a storyline of why it’s there … just let it go. Feel yourself centered and poised, take a couple more breaths, open your eyes and head out into your day, feeling refreshed, energized and clear.
(* The STOP practice is S – stop what you are doing, T – take some calming breaths, O – observe what is going on inside of you, and P – proceed into what’s important to do next. I add the visualization practice in the mix as people find it to be enlivening.)
-Be fully present in whatever I’m doing
-Be in nature just to be
-Take a moment before a meal to give thanks.
-Eat a whole meal mindfully without distractions
-Learning about The Flow.