When there’s something we need to learn, to focus on or to remember, the forces of the universe converge to make it so. While I’ve found that a daily meditation practice is a non-negotiable element for my general sanity, these days I’ve been reminded that no matter how extensive and consistent morning cushion time may be, it’s inadequate to sustain peace of mind throughout the entire day. Things seem to shift out of clear, calm and peaceful more quickly than ever before. As we continue to roll through hard times, the choices and practices that lead us to mind full or mindful are the difference between being part of the solution or part of the problems we see in our lives and in the world.
For the past few weeks I’ve been immersed in creating a mindfulness program for a local business and it’s given me a fresh perspective on where I am and where I am not applying the tools I know to be helpful for cultivating wellbeing. I’ve done this work for a long time, but as it is with anything with which we are very familiar, there is the potential and likelihood of getting lackadaisical about it at some point. I suppose it’s like asana practice— and one of the reasons I think it’s so important to have a relationship with a teacher. There you are, doing your thing on the mat every day or so, breathing and moving and doing something that has a positive impact on your body and mind. But even the most disciplined among us fall into unhelpful habits and patterns of which we are not even aware. So it is with mindfulness. We must actively reengage with the basics from time to time.
It’s the old adage: we teach what we need to learn. In this case, it’s learn again. And again. And again. And so I will teach again, and again, and again. We need to hear the same messages over and over because being present, grounded, non-reactive and calm takes practice over the course of a whole life. There’s no getting there, and every lesson lands in a different way with each repetition because we are not the same as we were the last time. Internal and external landscapes have changed. Different tools are needed.
One of my favorite definitions of yoga comes from the Bhagavad Gita. Yoga is skill in action. Skillful action requires mindfulness. It necessitates that we know where we are, that we are grounded in the present moment and actively, consciously choosing our thoughts and words— as they guide us to our actions, to our destinies. And just like poses that support and balance strength and flexibility in our bodies, there are practices to hone our mindfulness muscles, no matter how experienced or inexperienced a yogi we might be.
If you also find yourself struggling with peace of mind, or witness yourself being more reactive than you’d like to be, here are three simple reminders that you can implement throughout each day to help you shift from mind full to mindful.
Breathe. The conscious breath has the power to create positive physiological changes, calming the mind the soothing the nervous system. Notice when you’re holding the breath, or when your breath is shallow or irregular. It’s a mirror for your internal state. Deepen and steady the breath and watch what changes inside. You already know this. You just need to do it.
Get grounded. The mind is a thought-producing, story-making machine of epic proportions. Our time and attentions are simultaneously pulled in more directions than we can manage. When you’re in the swirl, stop moving. Stand up. Feel your feet and the steadiness of the earth beneath you. Do not proceed until you’ve allowed that steadiness to rise into your bones, remembering that earth lives inside of you, too. Mindfulness is presence in the here and now. Land in the body, with the steady earth below, and you’re back in the moment as it is. Only here is there a chance to respond instead of react.
Shift to the positive. Whether it’s time to revisit the practice of systematically observing the nature of your thoughts; putting focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have; or shoring up your reserves of hope, inspiration or faith, remember that nothing is stagnant. We are rising toward the light or falling toward the darkness. Since there’s no shortage of darkness out there at the moment, perhaps we don’t need too much extra time in the shadow. Polishing the lens through which we see the world has inestimable value. And unless you’re paying close attention, the mind is easily pulled from the light.
Chances are good that if you’re reading this, these are not new tools for you. But tools are easily forgotten, lost or left behind, collecting dust in the back of the disorganized utility closet of the mind. Break them out. Shine them up. Use them. When surrounded by mindless and mind full, mindful is sweet, sweet medicine.