Last fall, I took a refresher course, attending an eight week mindfulness workshop at the First Parish Church in Concord, MA. About 20 years ago, I had completed a similar course and for several years after that was somewhat of a devotee. To say that practicing mindfulness is life changing would be true, to the degree that I actually practice its tenets, that I show up each day with myself/for myself for a half hour or so. While daily prayer and meditation are the unequivocal spiritual powerhouses, necessities to deepen our soul and to share the best of who we are with others, I still like to take a day or two or three off sometimes. Hence the need for a tune up and a reminder to begin again…and again…and again.
Why do we struggle so with those things we know are better than good for us? We humans just seem to have a penchant for desiring the shinier, easier, faster approach in any given moment instead. Prayer is simply not glitzy and meditation does not usually provide immediate results. The same holds true for exercise or a healthy diet or raising a child. So can you hear the voice? You know the one, “I think I’ll have a cup of tea and cookies instead this afternoon. After all, that’s relaxing too.” Or, “Suzy just called and I hadn’t talked to Suzy in so long, and you know, by the time I got around to meditating, it was time to make dinner.”
Every perennial dieter knows the slippery slope when a day or two of indulgence leads into weeks or even months of a return to bad habits. The same goes for prayer. Do you ever save praying for bedtime and fall asleep in the middle of it or before you get started? I present it like this, because I am a gal with varied interests. I am not a plodder. I do not like the same breakfast food every morning. But like every one of us, I am also a dichotomy. While I adore novelty, I need routine.
I work out 5-6 times a week (mostly running and some light weight training) and have since I was a freshman in college. I must admit that I feel more than a bit off kilter without it. Also, I am fiercely loyal, loving the enduring quality of old friends, and looking forward to our long standing weekly lunches. In fact, a major part of my spiritual journey has been learning to let go, having had the tendency (very much a mixed blessing) to hold on and hope in relationships until hit with an anvil of mammoth proportions.
So mindfulness brings balance to these occasionally oppositional impulses, knowing when to let go, when to persevere, harmonizing my desire for variety and my need for certainty.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I would dutifully find a chair or mat each day and allow my thoughts to drift on by, like words on a series of passing clouds. I wrestled with monkey mind, the term which simply refers to the mind’s tendency to jump from one thought to the next…the on-going to-do list, last night’s argument with your significant other, where to go on winter vacation, can we afford to go on winter vacation, yada yada yada. The attending emotions to these thoughts gradually loosened their hold on me over time.
Clarity would be granted (not for long stretches of time, mind you, and not the imagined perfect bliss), but a quiet soul sigh. I used to tell my kids when they were little that you don’t get clean, strong teeth if you only brush your teeth 3 or 4 times a week, you need to do it every day. Spiritual health holds to the same principle of consistency just as physical health does. Half hearted attempts avail us either nothing or only partial benefits. A reasonable consistency, mind you, is the hallmark of all positive life shifts. Notice I say reasonable. Those of us prone to impulsivity or compulsion (me) also tend to be pendulum swingers. Just do it, routinely but flexibly. And don’t worry, no matter how you’re doing, you’re doing it right.
Book Pick of the Day: The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Quote from the Book of the Day: “Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. Consider, for example: a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region-hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north, and then by some miraculous power lets forth a cry which reassembles whole every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that-it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.”