Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. – Nadine Stair
Every Friday I take a Lyft down to the VA medical center to sit in a circle with a half-dozen other people and focus on mindfulness meditation. I’ve tried many, many, many times to create a practice for myself without any particular support or guidance and I’ve always burnt out. That doesn’t seem to be happening this time around.
I’m three weeks into the eight-week course and I’ve managed to create time to sit and meditate nearly every day for at least 20 minutes. Sometimes that meant I had to set the alarm for 20 minutes earlier or not watch an episode of Numb3rs on Hulu, but it has been worth it. Those struggling moments of silence where I try to live in the moment have been way more beneficial than a few minutes of sleep or mindless tv.
While I find the time I set aside specifically for meditation to be beneficial, I think that the way it is creeping into my daily life is even more impactful. I find myself remembering to live in the moment in day to day tasks and it has made my life richer.
When walking the dog I notice the details of the street and trees more. I am trying to remember to leave my phone at home when I go outside. Instead of listening to music or podcasts or whatever I am trying to really take in my surroundings and empty my mind of thoughts about the future or past or fantasies or aspiration or fears (Spoiler: I am rarely able to do this for more than a few seconds at a time, but the attempt is worth it).
When eating food I focus on the smells, taste, and texture in a way that I never have before. Do you know what it is like to sit down to a meal with no tv, phone, music, or distractions and focus on every bite of that meal? I didn’t until I started trying to live more mindfully. Eating is a much more intimate and complex process than I ever imagined and I am learning things about my body that surprise me. A nice little side effect is that I’m eating a more healthy amount each meal. Just taking the time to lift the spoon to my mouth, savor the smell for a moment, put the food in my mouth, set the spoon down, and enjoy eating for a few seconds has helped prevent me from eating more than my body needs. I get distracted all the time and probably only truly mindfully eat one bite out of every five, but it is still progress.
Just recently I was sharpening my kitchen knives and I found myself noticing the subtle smell in the air, the warmth of the sharpener, and the complex sounds of the blade grinding on diamond. I had never really noticed that all before, it was a symphony of sensations that brought back a memory from deep in my past.
When I was in the Army I served in Afghanistan as a SAW gunner. Every day I would sit down, take apart my weapon, and give it a good cleaning. This daily maintenance wasn’t necessary but I enjoyed doing it. I am not really a gun enthusiast. I don’t find them to be particularly interesting or important, I don’t collect them or read about them. I own one handgun because I think it is important to take personal responsibility for our own safety, but the most I’d ever own is three weapons (a handgun, a rifle, and a shotgun) because they can each serve a unique protective purpose. But, to be honest the rifle and shotgun are more of a “post-apocalyptic zombie the world has descended into chaos” weapons. So, I’m in no hurry to get them.
Anyway, one day my team leader came over to me and mentioned that he thought I must love cleaning my weapon. I tried to explain that wasn’t the case, that I did it because there was something peaceful and calming about the process. I realize now that I was actually entering a state of mindful meditation. My mind was fully wrapped into cleaning dust out of all the small crevices and each day was a new exploration. I was accidentally employing the seven foundational attitudes of mindfulness (these are taken from “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Non-judging: Close attention to the moment-to-moment experience without getting caught up in opinions, likes, or dislikes. I didn’t think about whether I was doing a good job cleaning or if I liked cleaning, I was just cleaning.
Patience: Realizing that things happen in their own time and rushing them is rarely beneficial and often harmful. I wasn’t in a hurry to get my weapon cleaned up, if I was I would likely miss key parts that could cause the weapon to fail when used.
Beginner’s Mind: Living each moment and pursuing each task as if it is the first time you’ve ever done it, because in many ways it is. Each experience you have is different than the ones before because you are different. Each day I worked on my weapon I found new places that dust hid or that needed attention, each day the weapon and I were brand new and that cleaning was the first (and only) that would happen.
Trust: Realizing that our own intuition and our own authority have value. I cleaned my weapon daily because it was what I knew to be right for me, even if those in command didn’t make that a standard practice.
Non-Striving: Doing a task without a goal in mind. This one doesn’t really apply to my example and it is the one I struggle with most during my practice. I find myself striving for peace, calmness, inspiration, etc. instead of just practicing to be in the moment.
Acceptance: Seeing things as they actually are in the present. My body is the way it is and I can’t really move to improve it until I accept that.
Letting Go: This is really non-attachment to our thoughts, lives, relationships, experiences, and everything else. It is natural for our minds to try desperately to hold onto certain things because they give us pleasure or pain.
I would love to find a task today that I can naturally fall into with such intention. But, if I can’t find one then I will keep working on applying mindfulness to my daily life. Each run, each glass of water, each orgasm, each shower, each floor swept is an opportunity to pay attention to life. Life is only lived in the moment, it is all we have, the future and past do not exist and they are not worthy of our time.
I’ll end with more from “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
When it comes right down to it, the challenge of mindfulness is to realize that, “This is it.” Right now is my life. This realization immediately gives rise to a number of vital questions: “What is my relationship to my own life going to be? Does my life just automatically ‘happen’ to me? Am I total prisoner of my circumstances or my obligations, my body or my illness or my past, or even of my to-do lists? Do I become hostile, defensive, or depressed if certain buttons get pushed, happy if other buttons are pushed, and anxious or frightened if something else happens? What are my choices? Do I have any options?”
Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?
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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”