A Mindful Roadmap to Living Life
Lately, I have had the opportunity to think about all the gifts of my mindfulness practice and what I have learned on this journey over the past ten years of studying, practicing and teaching mindfulness and meditation.
For me, meditation has been deeply transformative. Who knew that sitting still and silently for a few minutes a day would help me learn such valuable life lessons! Here are the most important lessons that I have learned from the silence and a roadmap to living life mindfully.
Embody Your Experience
This is perhaps one of the most important tools that I have learned through my meditation practice. It is the skill of learning to turn off my busy mind (even if just for a few seconds) and truly feel what I am feeling -- not think about it, judge it or analyze it, but just feel it.
Why is this so important? Because our thoughts are what get us into so much trouble. The Why Me’s? The If Onlys, and the What Ifs? do not serve us, and in fact, they are the source of our fears, regrets, anxiety, and stress. If we can take our minds out of the equation, we can actually connect more deeply to our hearts, our souls, and to what is truly important to us.
As we sit silently either alone or in a group, we give ourselves time and space to connect to our bodies and move our attention away from our thoughts. In doing this, we actually turn off our thinking minds and simply become immersed in our sensory experience, or how we actually feel. We can connect to our bodies. We can connect to our hearts. We can allow ourselves to feel what it is like to be awake and alive right now.
We can use this mindfulness practice when we are experiencing incredible joy. We can use it when we are feeling upset, sad or angry. We can use it when we are feeling triggered by someone or something as a way to pause before we respond. We can use it when we are bored to awaken to the incredible world around us. And, we can use it to better understand ourselves when we don't know what we are feeling.
In our culture today we are obsessed with happiness. This may have led to the notion that if we are not happy, there is something wrong with us. One common myth of mindfulness is that you will meditate your way to bliss. Anyone who has sat down to meditate knows that meditation does not bring you immediate bliss. It’s often peaceful, but it's also often challenging and sometimes unpleasant. Instead, mindfulness meditation is really about seeing things as they really are. It’s about being authentic – not pretending to be or to feel anything other than what is actually there. Sometimes what is there is painful or sad and sometimes what is there is joyful and peaceful. Meditation is a microcosm of life. Allowing ourselves the very important skill of being able to be with the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the pleasant and the unpleasant, is the foundation of inner strength and resilience, and the key to reducing stress and anxiety by recognizing that you have the strength to move through it all.
In meditation, we create a safe space, a container, where we connect with and feel all of the emotions that we are experiencing. We allow ourselves to see them and to feel them, without judging them or analyzing them but just allowing ourselves the opportunity to acknowledge them and accept them just as they are.
Surrender to Your Experience
Often, instead of being authentic, we try to control our experience or change it, make it different than what it is, and in doing so we have this sense that we are not OK, or that we are not enough exactly as we are. This gulf between what we are actually experiencing and what we would like to be experiencing (or what we want other people to think we are experiencing) is often the source of stress and anxiety. We try to exercise some form of control as we wrestle with what is because otherwise life can feel overwhelming. But, I have learned through meditation, the best we can do is simply surrender to it all and recognize that the only control we have is to choose how we wish to respond to our life as it unfolds.
In meditation and on retreat, I have cried and I have felt the pain of others who are experiencing great sadness, illness or loss. I have wrapped my arms around friends and strangers and felt the deep connection of our shared human experience. I have been overcome with joy and felt the deep truth of my own impermanence, as I recognize that nothing lasts and our time on this earth is limited, so we must embrace each moment as it comes and welcome it all.
Savor the Moment
Meditation has taught me to slow down and savor more simple moments each day, moments we are often too busy to notice. We can learn to savor our morning coffee, savor the people we are with, savor the sunlight, savor beautiful music and even savor each breath we take.
By sitting for a few minutes each day and integrating mindfulness into my days, I choose to stop for just a few minutes each day and take time to savor so many moments that I would otherwise be too busy to enjoy. I savor my children who are growing up so fast. I savor my morning coffee. I savor the loving attention of my dog. I savor the sunshine. And, I savor the opportunity to connect a little to myself each day. This allows me the opportunity to create more space in my life and more pleasant moments that have always been there waiting for me to notice them. It's not those big life moments that we strive for, but rather these little moments that we can enjoy each day, that make up our lives.
To learn to meditate, you have to do the work. You have to show up. And that is true of life. I have learned to be more present and awake for my life. To show up for it. To show up and surrender to my experience – the joys and the pain, the successes and the failures, the love and the loss. To show up for it all. I have learned to show up and savor this one beautiful life that I have been given and to make the most of it.
As I sit in meditation both alone or with my many incredible meditation groups, I give myself time to be with my experience, to be with myself and others in a very different way, not through conversation or work or meetings, not through emails or texts, but in a way that is much simpler and much more profound. And, it is a beautiful, special and sacred thing.
Finally, I want to share this quote from L.R, Knost, that I found a few months ago that resonates with me deeply. To me, it sums up so much of life and so much of what meditation has taught me.
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living a heartbreaking, soul healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” - L.R. Knost