Do you remember in school when they would take attendance in the morning and the teacher would call your name? I always got a kick out of saying, “present” rather than “here.” I don’t know, I’ve always been a little old fashioned and I just liked how formal it sounded. These days I find myself looking for more ways to stay focused and present in every moment. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we only get one ride on this big blue ball.
Enter MBSR or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. This science-based form of meditation was developed in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. (https://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mindfulness-based-programs/) It is a way of becoming more mindful, more aware of the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. I was directed to mindfulness by one of my favorite people gracing this planet. I’m not going to get into specifics here, but let’s just say if you are looking for a way to deal with daily stress, if you geek out over neuroscience like I do, or if you simply want to begin meditation without all of the religious and mystic fuss, do yourself a favor and Google it. I like to think of it as meditation for skeptics.
I am working through the fantastic video course, Palous Mindfulness, offered by Dave Potter. The course is split into 8 Weeks of preparatory videos and readings that go along with a weekly practice and an informal weekly practice. This is a wonderful program for those wishing to learn MBSR, but who are inhibited by financial or geographical constraints. Please, check it out, give it a try, and if you can donate.
I just finished Week 1 myself and did my preparation for Week 2 today. I have a little experience with meditation, but it was nothing I ever put much stock in. Yeah, it would be nice to meditate for 30 minutes a day, but really, who has the time? Well, I do. And so do you if you’re honest with yourself. We make time for things that are priorities, it’s as simple as that. Recently stress-reduction, better-health, and genuine happiness have all been priorities moving to the forefront of my life. What sold me on MBSR though was the research data that has come out of it and is still coming out. Neuroplasticity, yo! Google it!
This past week, Week 1, we practiced the Body Scan. Sounds pretty intense right? The point is to focus on each individual area of our body, including your breath bringing attention without judgment to what you notice. I have to say this drove me nuts. I was expecting some mind-altering experience. Instead, I found myself at 5:30 am, headphones on, tucked neatly under the covers and ready to just be done so I could read and have a cup of tea. Listening to Dave tell me to focus on my ankles I thought, “Wait, what? I have ankles? I mean, I know they are down there I can see them, but who cares? Why do I need to focus on them?” Try as I might there was nothing but dead space in that area where my ankles were supposed to be. It was frustrating, to say the least. The rest of my first Body Scan went much the same way. My mind kept wandering away and wishing it would be over already. By day four I was delirious when we focused on the shoulders because it meant I was almost done.
Sounds like fun, right? Not. Hear me out though.
I stuck with it, and it was uncomfortable and my mind wandered. A lot. But when I realized what was going on I gently dismissed the thought and got back to concentrating on whatever body part we were focused on. While there was no out of body experience, I did notice that my day went better and I started becoming more aware of lovely moments in my life that I was usually too busy to enjoy. Like standing on the street corner in the cool rain waiting for the pedestrian crossing light to change and feeling the damp, cold air on my cheeks and how bracing and wonderful the very air in my nose and throat was. Yeah…good stuff.
Enter today, my last day of Week 1. I decided to change it up today and lay on my rug in the solarium in the sunshine. The floor was hard and immediately I thought, “Oof, this isn’t going to work.” I could feel pressure points in my body already. I closed my eyes and pushed play anyway. At first, I was distracted by a pink light in front of my eyes and I could see the veins and dots in my eyelids. Gross, go away. But as I began to focus on my big toes the veins went away and the light became white.
I found, for the first time that I could connect with each part of my body. I have ankles! I focused wholly on them. I wasn’t antsy or in a hurry. In fact, I had a few moments where I thought, “No Dave, slow down!” I was fully immersed even though there were parts of me that were growing stiff and sore, those parts quieted when I was focused elsewhere in my body. My boyfriend was in the kitchen (the next room) making breakfast and even his movements didn’t disturb me. A few times a Sheltie nose brushed my hand looking for pets, but even she didn’t bother me. (Don’t worry, she was pet a lot when I finished.) My mind still wandered, but as soon as I noticed I brought my focus back to my body, without an internal admonishment and kept going. I was disappointed when it was over. In fact, I might do it again later.
This mindfulness stuff isn’t half bad. Now if you will excuse me I am going to go make a fully aware cup of tea and sip it noting the way the coconut and vanilla flavors swirl around my mouth as I think of all of the things that helped get that tea to me.