Times like these make cultivating a mindful practice in your everyday life more critical than ever.
Mindfulness is paying attention to the moment to moment experiences throughout the day and letting go of any judgment about the experiences. Drawing from the Eight Teachings of the Buddha, which has become more secular these days, it is quite simple to achieve if one practices being aware of each moment as it arises.
As humans, we have become habituated into thinking of future events or thinking about moments that have passed, giving very little thought or attention to the present moment — where living actually occurs.
Today’s latest neuroscience teaches us that our thoughts — or anything we think about repeatedly — we default into every day, especially if we are angry, lonely, tired, or hungry. And when those thoughts are worry, fear, or uncertainty, as many of us are experiencing around COVID, we feel vulnerable, which leads the way to our brain defaulting.
Then we are off and running back down the bunny hole.
We remember past experiences, and how a person acted in a certain way, or how we experienced something as a child. We begin weighing and measuring, calculating with an expectation that it will be the same experience as before. It’s no wonder we can get stuck with the same outcomes repeatedly as our minds go into a loop of the past. It makes me weary just writing about it.
To break free of this behavior takes practice and is a workout for the mind, just like the practice of lifting weights. We can become more accepting of life when we practice being in the present moment and embrace the thoughts we have as we have them. One can start to notice everything with a feeling of serenity and peace, even gratitude.
According to Mindfulness expert Julie Chippendale, with this practice, people can be in every moment of their life and not need or want to have it be something else. They can make better decisions when they look at what is true in the moment versus what may have happened in the past. “Life becomes simple when you allow yourself to feel how you feel. The simple essence of every person is the desire to live fully as who they are, not who society has told them to be. With mindfulness practice, you can remember who you really are and have compassion for yourself.”
For over 25 years, Julie, an RN and mindfulness practitioner, has brought this awareness to people through eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses and weekly meditations at Scripps Encinitas. (Check out www.mbsrencinitas.com for more information, times, locations, and virtual classes during the pandemic.) Julie and her late husband, a neurologist, studied under Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern Mindfulness back in the ’70s, and is a renowned expert in the field.
Mentioning my recent affinity toward eating ice cream more regularly than I’d like to admit as a way of combating stress, Julie advised me to just start by noticing it.
Then have compassion for myself as I notice I’ve been eating ice cream on the regular. She encouraged me to simply realize that ice cream makes me feel good and then suggested I do a simple three-part compassion exercise.
First, say to yourself, “This is hard.” This COVID business really is hard.
Second, say, “I am not alone.” Let’s face it, if COVID taught us anything, it’s that we are all in this together. Julie says that this feeling of “shared humanity” opens us up to not feeling separate from our fellow man and feeling connected allows us to get through anything.
And lastly, say a mantra of, “May I be kind to myself.” What does it mean to be kind to myself?
“There is no cure for a lot of ailments in the world,” Chippendale said. “There is much suffering, especially right now. When my husband and I started this some 30 years ago, we wanted to find the best way for people to heal. The healing comes from knowing that it is possible to have contentment with what is —being open to the moment. But it takes practice, and then one day, all of a sudden, you remember who you are. You become your authentic self.”
When we have never been more divided at a time in history, I’m ready to give this shared humanity thing a better try with a more devout mindfulness practice — especially if it will bring more compassion to the world and myself. How about you?