This week was a beautiful end to a wonderful mindfulness program. Basically week eight of the program is a launch into the rest of our lives. We had no assigned meditations to complete, and no Habit Releasers to accomplish. The goal of this chapter was simply to carry forward what we’ve learned over the last two months into our lives. The truth is that habits forge our futures. Without habits, no matter how many personal development books we read, we’ll take nothing with us of benefit for having read them.
For me, this week was some deep thinking about how and when I can create the habit of daily meditations in my life. I also took the opportunity to draw upon what I’ve learned about the ways in which my mind works, and how important it is to stay present in each moment, to keep the mindful perspective on my comings and goings.
Life is like an ocean, and the situations we move through and the people we encounter sprinkle dust through our waters that forms a sediment on the bottom, burying everything we’ve done to build our lives. It’s so easy for those crystalline moments of learning and clarity to be blurred and buried beneath the constant press of new experiences.
I’m fortunate to be a writer by nature, and so I’ve got my notes to fall back on and also the habit of writing down all of my life goals. I have written down a rough schedule for myself that includes the daily mindfulness meditations and habits and have been giving it a dry run during my days. Admittedly some shifting and work still needs to be done to get it just right. In the meantime I’m continuing the habit of my morning mindfulness meditations after I drop my oldest children off at their school. It’s not ideal, but it’s a habit maintenance I feel is important.
FOCUS POINTS OF LEARNING FROM WEEK 8
One of the most difficult aspects of the frantic rush through a busy life is that we often do not allow even the smallest notion of “completion” to enter the picture of our daily lives. We often rush from task to task, so much so that the end of one task is just the invitation to start another. There are no gaps in between in which we could take even a few seconds to sit, to take stock, to realize that we have just completed something.
If you can practice cultivating a sense of completeness – even a glimmer, right now, in this moment, with the little things of life – there is a chance that you would be better able to cope with those aspects of mind that keep telling you that you are not there yet. Not yet happy, not yet fulfilled. You might learn that you are complete, whole, just as you are.
A LOOK BACK AT THE PROGRAM
The aim of the early sessions was to give you, through formal and informal mindfulness practice, opportunities to recognize the Doing mode of the mind in its many forms, and to begin the cultivation of the alternative Being mode. The Doing mode is not a mistake, nor is it an enemy to get rid of. It only become problematic when it volunteers for a job it can’t do, and refuses to let go.
The first meditations helped you to learn how to pay sustained attention to one single thing like the taste of food, sensations of the body, or breath.
You learned to see the patterns of the mind that distract you, and how the constant chatter of the mind can dull your senses and in doing so dull each present moment. You learned to come back again and again to whatever you had been intending to focus on, without judgement or self-criticism.
The core theme at this stage was how to pay attention, intentionally, with kindness.
The training in later sessions focused on widening awareness so that you could recognize when the stress of frantic daily living is starting to trigger overuse of the Doing mode. You learned to disengage from the Doing mode and enter the Being mode. You learned strategies that could provide you with a range of options for responding more skillfully when you feel overwhelmed by the over busyness, stress and exhaustion of life.
Central to these was the ability to step away from using your Doing mode to overcome your mind – and to cultivate kindness toward yourself and others.
Mindfulness practice does not COMPEL us to let go of Doing, but it gives us the choice and the skills to do so if we choose. And with an insight into how to let go, practiced many times in the small moment of daily living, you can make space for even uncomfortable emotions, explore them with compassion and courage when you feel it’s right to do so.
Anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion are often symptoms of a wider and deeper malaise. Many of our troubles arise from the way WE live our lives. They are not free-floating afflictions, but symptoms arising from the way we relate to each other, ourselves and the world.
NOW is the only moment you’ll ever have. Mindfulness is about waking up to this fact. Mindfulness doesn’t directly “treat” our difficulties, but instead reveals and brings a penetrating yet kindly awareness to their underlying driving forces.
WEEK EIGHT IS THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
The task now that the program is complete is to weave the practices we’ve learned over the previous seven weeks into a routine that is sustainable in the long term.
Ask yourself: WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO ME IN MY LIFE THAT THIS PRACTIC COULD HELP WITH?
When answers come take some time to reflect, then write them down and keep them somewhere safe, ready to be looked at should you ever become despondent about the practice of mindfulness.
The goal is to want to sustain the practice because you want to, because it benefits you tangibly, not because of some prescriptive “have to get it done.”
Mindfulness is most effective if it’s done every day. Here are some tips:
- Start the day with mindfulness. When you open your eyes, gently pause and take five deliberate breaths.
- See if you can accept all thoughts, feelings and sensations in a gentle and compassionate way. There’s no need to try to change them. Accept them – since they are already there.
- Scan the body for a minute or two, focus on the breath, or do some gentle stretches before getting out of bed.
- Use the 3-minute Breathing Space Meditation to punctuate your day using breathing spaces at preset times to help you to reestablish your focus in the here and now.
- Continue with your formal meditation practice.
- Befriend your feelings whenever you can. Remember to roll out the welcome mat to even your most painful thoughts. This will diffuse your automatic reactions and transform a cascade of reactions into a series of choices.
- Take a “breathing space” when you feel tired, frustrated, anxious, and angry or other powerful emotions.
- See if you can remain mindful throughout as much of the day as possible.
- Increase your level of exercise. See if you can bring a mindful and curious attitude to your body as you exercise.
- Remember the breath, it’s always there for you. It anchors you in the present.
MAKING THE CHOICE
It’s time to decide which practice or combination of practices you think is sustainable for you in the long term. Be realistic and remember that your choice is not set in stone.
How long should you meditate for? The practice itself will teach you. Meditation means “cultivation” in the ancient language of Pali. So cultivate the mindfulness garden. Clock time is different from meditation time. Experiment with what feels right for you and what gives you the best chance to renew and nourish yourself. Every minute counts.
Most people find that it’s most helpful to combine some regular (every day) formal practice with mindfulness in the world. There is something about the “everyday-ness” of the practice that is important.
The most difficult aspect of formal mindfulness practice is getting onto your chair, stool or cushion. Tell yourself you’ll sit for just one minute. One minute. The rest will take care of itself.
I cannot sing the praises of this program loudly enough. I began this program with a healthy skepticism about the benefits I would receive but committed to completing the program in its entirety before forming an opinion. Well, that time has come. The benefits are myriad and legion. I couldn’t begin to list them all here for you again. If interested you can read back on my previous weeks-in-review over the last two months (A portion remain on the Vital Living Facebook page and have yet to be transferred here. You can find them there.)
If you’re on the fence about mindfulness, or this particular program, I hope that I can in some small way encourage you to the other side. This program is well-written, very effective and worth your time.
As always, warmest regards to you all. Thank you for the time you choose to spend here with me. I hope your meditative and mindfulness programs carry you presently into your futures.