Before the group of practitioners show up for our Friday morning sessions, I arrive early to arrange the space, the temperature of the room, the amount of sunlight that seeps in and I arrange myself.
Sitting or standing, I begin my morning contemplation, listening to my body, thoughts and sensations and following through whether by deliberate breathing meditation to focus my mind or by engaging in qigong or movement or as in this past Friday, using movement, breath and tone to synchronize myself – to come to a holistic unit.
Doing so, I eventually heard the voices of the arriving and soon the sliding door allowed in the cooler air of the main room and the warmer beings of the participants.
I began with a direct request for questions. Not asking, “Are there any questions?” but rather, I’d like to hear some questions.
About the weather?, asked H.
About your practice, about things you’ve noticed or experienced or wondered about. About things you might have questioned this past week, but forget about as soon as you walked into this room where we feel supported.
After I was silent, the first voice was heard:
I don’t have a question but I want to say that I practice mindfulness meditation every day and then throughout the day, I feel that it supports me to be focused. I often pause, take a few breaths and then proceed. It really helps me and has become a part of my life.
Another voice said, Yes, I practice every morning or almost every morning, sometimes life’s events interrupt me. Also, if I feel that I’m getting angry, I tell myself, “No, just a minute, take a breath.” And that helps me.
Another woman concurred saying that she feels it helps her stay calm.
One woman asked: I want to know how often I should be practicing. Is once a week enough? Should I be doing it more?
Finally, I thought, a real question! And I answered with confidence, thanks to the input I’ve been receiving over the years: Practice needs to be done daily. Even if it’s for one minute: to sit down and be aware of your body and then bring awareness to your breath. Stretch out and resume your life.
Every day, and it’s helpful to build up a habit and do it at the same time every day, whether it’s before a shower, after a shower, after coffee. Every day to do it and then whether it takes 3 weeks to build the habit or 2 years, you will find it easy to sit down for a formal period of time.
That’s not enough, however. It’s also important to practice mindfulness throughout your day. For example, I left my house and suddenly I’m at the Open Center, and I don’t remember anything on the way. Where was my attention? That’s the moment to pause, accept the realization, not to bother with self-rebuke, but rather to notice my feet on the ground and take 3 attentive breaths. That’s mindfulness.
This is how we learn to accept what we notice. I might hear a voice in my head, ‘No, no, no!’ and see a finger wagging at me. I notice the voice, whether it’s my mother’s or anyone else’s, I notice that it’s not me, but a thought. I witness it as a thought, and I continue bringing my attention to my breath.
The Day of the Unexpected Bike Ride Home
Sometimes it takes a great deal to force me to be mindful. Two weeks ago, I was riding my bicycle home from school and had to maneuvre through a place where the dirt road is being shifted and rebuilt. The neighbouring kibbutz was in the process of fencing off the new road, which would close it off to all traffic – tractor, bike or jogger. I had to navigate an incline of dirt and so, got off my bike and gently climbed the mound. Then, just as the sun hit my eyes, my left leg landed in a newly excavated hole for a future fence post. (By new I mean that it hadn’t been there two hours prior when I’d travelled the same route on the way to school).
Suddenly, I found myself knee deep in a hole, my body landing on the ground and my bike falling as if in slow motion on top of me. When all the pieces landed, I wondered what I’d find. I literally fell into this space of conscious awareness. Was I afraid? Only slightly, as I scanned my body – sensing functioning of the toes of my left foot, and my leg with no discernible pain. My right leg was fine. I looked around to see if there was someone within shouting distance if I needed help. No, no one. A tractor was blocking my line of vision and the noise of the engine was making it impossible for me to be heard, if I had to yell. No problem. I gently shifted myself out from that hole. Delicately, I arose onto my feet, tested my weight and to my delight, found nothing amiss. Now, I’ve heard stories like this before. Just the other week, I met my friend P H, who had fallen when she’d miscalculated where she’d planted her foot. She’d been fine, too, until she wasn’t and found herself with a swollen ankle.
Remembering her, bless you P H, I lifted up my bike and carefully, examining every step to make sure that I was on actual land, I walked my bike towards home. Arriving at the tractor location, I asked if it was a viable choice to keep going ahead in order to reach my road towards home. Yes, ma’am, they said. There’s an opening in the fence if you keep going.
I did. I found it. Mindful of the present moment – ever so mindful. Mindful of the what-ifs thoughts in my mind and of my physical condition – my knees, my ankles. Happy to be in one piece, joyful really, but preparing myself to apply ice or hot compresses when I finally arrived home.
Do we wait till we fall into a hole in the ground before we pay attention? Sometimes we do. But let’s incorporate the awareness that sudden holes can happen at any time. How often do we need to practice mindfulness? There’s no reason not to aim to practice mindfulness as often as we remember!
I got home, I applied ice to my left knee and later noticed some swelling on my right ankle. I wore over-ankle height boots for support and within a few days, my body was fine, or at least 90% fine.
Incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives. Feeling gratitude for a chance to learn a lesson, I can only hope that self-acceptance will open my inner window.
And so, a Friday morning session of Mindfulness began. Placing our practice in context to create more personal meaning. We proceeded with some mindful stretches to awaken the body and mind and then we did a short breathing awareness meditation. We did further stretches and then another breathing meditation. It’s far better to be kind to ourselves, allowing ourselves to feel a higher attention for a shorter time, than to aim for a longer session in which we find body discomfort or rampant thoughts impacting our experience.
These factors are part of life, and acceptance is important, but while in the process of building a habit of daily practice, a shorter practice is fine!
May we be healthy, happy and safe.