Thursday, July 18, 2013

Free your mind, and the rest will follow.

For the first morning since dedicating myself to this initiative, I sat for 12 minutes of formal meditation. Today I used Jon Kabat-Zinn's guided meditation, "Whole Body Mindfulness" from his book, Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment -- and Your LifeReading the book itself feels like a meditation, but the book also comes with an audio CD of 5 guided meditation tracks:

  1. Eating Meditation
  2. Mindfulness of Breathing
  3. Whole Body Mindfulness
  4. Mindfulness of Thinking
  5. Pure Awareness Practice

Today's meditation spot.  :)
My goal, and the goal that Kabat-Zinn recommends to the reader, is to do one meditation every day.  Last night I did "Mindfulness of Breathing" and this morning, I thought it would be nice to think about mindfulness within the whole body, to get ready for my workout.  (T25 Ab Intervals was hard!)

I love so many of the ideas that Kabat-Zinn describes, and how he describes them, but my favorite might be his explanation of how the mind works.  The mind is preoccupied with the future, the past, ideas, emotions, judgments, all kinds of things -- and there's nothing wrong with that; that's just the nature of the mind.  But when we become preoccupied with our thoughts, it's important to recognize that we are no longer present in the moment.  We're no longer paying attention.  We even forget we're breathing and just let the body take that over for us.

In my life, I've noticed that the more out of sync I am with the present moment, and the deeper I'm tunneling into my own thoughts, the more susceptible I am to feelings of anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction.  I'm even more susceptible to stubbing my toe, or slamming my elbow against the door frame, because I'm moving too fast and I'm not aware of my body or even really looking where I'm going.  Just lost in thoughts.

So, should I attempt to focus on every breath I take and nothing else, in all my waking moments?  No, that is impossible because it defies the mind's very nature.  Thoughts will come, and that's great.  Many positive and productive thoughts deserve our attention.  It's the strengthening of our ability to release them that frees us from not feeling ABLE to release them.  We can free ourselves from unhappy thoughts and emotions, which anyone who's ever been plagued by negative thinking knows is a beautiful skill.  We can also be free from feeling that we exist solely within the chatter of our own minds.  Our thoughts do not define us.  We don't have to indulge, believe, and pay so much attention to everything the mind says.  Notice thoughts for what they are: transient, and discursive.  We can consider, examine, and build upon the thoughts that are worthy, and then we can:
  1. Release the thought.  Just say, "okay, that's nice. Thank you. I'm done now."
  2. Return to feeling the energy that hums within body. You are alive, and that's even more interesting.
  3. Smell the air, feel the ground. There is a living world around you, worthy of your attention. 
  4. Listen, to whatever there is to hear, instead of listening to thoughts alone, or verbalizing them.
If we believed that our entire existence was encapsulated within our own heads, that would separate us from everyone and everything else.  Our mind seeks to define us, holding desperately to the ego's opinion of who we are, who we're not, and whether we're right or wrong.  That can be released, like the flowing energy that it is. We can step out of our own thoughts at any time -- even in the middle of an argument, or a panic attack, or hopefully, way before one starts. Thoughts are not the enemy. Nor are they the spokesperson for everything we feel and everything we are.  Thoughts are only one part of us.

All our thoughts are transient, like writing on water, or clouds in the wind. But even in the absence of thought, conversation, and dialogue, we still exist, as do others and as does the living world around us.  When negative thoughts take a strong hold, and challenge you when you try to let go, remember that thoughts have no substance.  They're just static frequency.  When negative thinking plagues you, tell yourself, "This is just a thought.  I'm okay.  Let it go."  And breathe.

Learning how to identify and stop an emotional freak-out in its tracks is one of my primary motivators for meditating.  I also don't care to believe everything my mind says.  As I get older, I realize more and more that everyone's perspective is valid and different.  Just because my mind is telling me something, it doesn't make it true or set in stone.  Suspend your belief.

Breathe in.  "You are."  Breathe out.  "Here now."  Each breath is new and unique, like an ocean wave; no two are the same.  But even though that breath is a lovely, vital, enjoyable thing, with every exhale you always release it. Thoughts can be like that.  No matter whether the thought is good or bad.  The mind can be open, flexible, and free.

I love this advice for how to feel about the mind's inevitable wandering:

When you notice that your mind is not on your breath anymore, in the body,
well, you're already back!
Because some part of your awareness has actually let it register
that your mind wandered away.
So, notice what's on your mind in that moment
 and just let it be.
And then gently, and lovingly, and caringly,
and firmly,
reestablish your primary focus once again,
on the breath.
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn, from "Mindfulness of Breathing"

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