Mindful … or Not

meditationI have flirted with meditation for roughly 50 years.   It started with Transcendental Meditation (TM) and the Maharishi in the 70s.   I remember attending classes with a room full of perpetually smiling disciples explaining how easy it was compared to other forms of meditation, and how quickly I could feel the wonderful results if I was just willing to do it for 15-20 minutes twice a day.   I stuck with it religiously (if you’ll pardon the expression) for about a year.   It indeed made me less anxious and easier to get along with, although I never found the amazing changes talked about on the TM website.  After that, my meditation was more sporadic and I tried other techniques, such as guided meditation and meditation to music.  When I started work the 12 Steps, I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God per the advice of Step 11.  Many people working the steps say prayer is how we talk to God and meditation is how God answers.  I have never heard from God during meditation, but it certainly makes me feel better and probably more receptive to things spiritual.   Still, consistently meditating has been a challenge for me because my too busy mind really hates to lose the thinking time, in spite of the benefits of meditation.

If you have every looked into meditation, you have probably encountered its big sister, Mindfulness, which promises even greater life changing results.   Mindfulness.org says Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.  Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.  The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. Sounds pretty powerful but is that a good thing?  Mindful.com goes on to say that, As you spend time practicing mindfulness, you’ll probably find yourself feeling kinder, calmer, and more patient.   You will find you are less anxious, able to focus your mind better, and are able to deal with life’s difficulties more easily.  Who wouldn’t want that?

And so, with my career over and more time available in retirement I’ve decided to give mindfulness another shot.  I’ve started meditation again and I purchased You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh, which was recommended as a good book on Zen practice.   In the first chapter it promises happiness, peace and even enlightenment through meditation and focusing on your breathing as a means of coming back to the present moment.  It is not an easy read … it is repetitive and filled with flowery promises of what lies ahead.  The writing is awkward and difficult to follow, maybe because it is translated from Vietnamese.   But over the years, I’ve found many useful spiritual scraps in difficult to read places, so I’m sticking with it.

maui sunsetBut here’s the thing.   I know I’ve had mindful moments on a good meditation day, listening to Mozart’s Requiem or looking out at a sunset in Maui.   I’ve found prose flowing from my fountain pen effortlessly as I journalled or watched a watercolor appear on a piece of paper almost as if it came through me not from me.   I know what mindfulness feels like.  But I am not a mindful person.   In fact, I have trained myself to think about difficult or complex problems while doing simpler tasks.   While Thich Nhat Hanh urges me to be fully present as I shower or do the dishes (do them as if you are washing the Baby Buddha, he says), I been writing a blog post or solving some technical problem in my head.   I sometimes cut myself shaving or bite my cheek while chewing because my mind is somewhere else.   This is not going to be easy.   But it should be interesting.  And what the hell, who couldn’t use a shot at enlightenment at 77.


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