Teaching breathing meditation and mindfulness has always been part of my classes. Truth be told, I find that it's much easier to teach, than to practice. I suppose I receive some residual benefit from speaking it out loud to others, but my personal meditation practice began sporadic. As a matter of fact it has taken me several years to work into the practice I have today, and on some days it's still a challenge. The ego is always willing to find ways to distract us from what is good for our soul.
It's been a continued journey for me to find the mindfulness my soul craves. That was until I was gently forced into rest by Spirit. In a place where I found myself overwhelmed with thoughts with little to no room to put them, I began to forget things. Even scarier than being forgetful, my thoughts were either focused on the past or the future. The thoughts of the past led me to shame and thoughts of the future gave me anxiety, both taking me back to a place where I felt like I just wasn't enough. It took some really tough situations to notice what was happening, but when I felt that nudge from Spirit, I relented. Honestly, I was too tired to fight it any longer. I imagined God with the arms folded look we have as parents, when our kids finally take our advice, but we let them believe it was their idea all along. It was in the midst of that discovery that I found my mindfulness again.
It began with a long weekend of sitting in nature for hours. I didn't read. I didn't write. I didn't have music or even my phone. I just sat outside for hours at a time. I began to notice how I would take images in my mind and create stories. The sounds around me became lullabies of rest and my physical body was at ease more than it had been in a very long time. I was present and mindful and that day, I wrote a promise to myself. I want to focus ONLY on what Spirit is guiding me to do. Like Carrie Underwood sings, "Jesus take the wheel." That's how I felt in that moment. I didn't want to make one more decision. I didn't want to be in control and I didn't want to FIX anything! It very freeing, but terrifying at the same time, going against every fiber of my being. It challenged patterns, even the ones I believed were healthy. And let me tell you, I still struggle. But I made a commitment to myself to slow down and really commit to true sabbath rest whether it's 30 minutes in the morning each day or a whole day. Whatever I choose it to be, I keep that promise to myself by being completely present in rest.
I'm convinced that we all struggle with being present at times, mainly because we live in this world which constantly leads us to distractions and when distracted we can't hear God. Multitasking to the nth degree because we're conditioned that's a sign of success. When we chat with a friend, our thoughts are focused on what's next. When we read a book or watch TV, we think about all the things we didn't get done for the day. We stew in contant states of worrying about everything, which we've also convinced ourselves gives us control. Which we believe is a good thing.
Living in the moment means that I'm letting go of thinking about the past or the future. Being present is the willingness for God to take over. Spirit is the doer, not me! That's tough to believe when all you've ever done is do!
On a day when I was feeling extremely distracted away from my prayer, I grabbed my prayer beads and began with a simple phrase, "Thank you God. Today I will be present." I started to move my way from bead to bead, "Thank you God" and then "Today I will..." As I continued I started to add the breath. Inhale one bead, "Thank you God." Exhale the next bead, "Today I will..." And I kept going. My words were not my words. They were God's and they were flowing without thought. I was not in control and it was exactly what I needed in the moment.
Mindfulness is a simple idea that can be very difficult to practice, especially for a Type A, doer / fixer. Especially in the noisy world we live in. So what can we do to live in the present moment and to be mindful? It can be as simple as stating the commitment to be engaged in every moment. For example, when I'm cooking I'm focused on the process 100%. I'm mindful of the ingredients, the preparation, the smells and the tastes. I clear my space of other distractions like TV or distracting phone notifications. How many times have you been concentrating on a task, only to be persuaded by the chime on your phone? Instant distraction. When I'm walking in nature, I'm looking at everything around me. I'm listening to the birds, smelling the dampness of the ground, feeling the sun and the breeze. If these ideas seem daunting to you, I have a simple exercise that you can practice to be mindful and present. It is a visual process that I've used in meditation class. At that time, we used a leaf. It was fall and the leaves were gorgeous with color. We took 10 minutes to hold the leaf and study the leaf. Even close our eyes and visualize the energy of the leaf. If you can find a leaf today, take 5 to 10 minutes to practice mindful presence. On the other hand, because I'm writing this on a snow day with my fireplace direct in my line of sight, use a flame. A candle or fire will do. I find myself getting lost in the dance of the flames, the crackling sound, the smell of hickory wood and the warmth it provides my body and soul. I want to linger longer in the moment to feel fully connected to Spirit. And, as I take a moment to finish this post, I glance out my window to see a beautiful bright red cardinal perched on the fence against the backdrop of white snow and my heart explodes. This is simple mindfulness that is available to us at any moment if we are willing to partake.