“As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.”
I have been meditating on and off for the majority of my life. One of my best friends killed herself eleven years ago. After her death I had a lot of dark feelings and thoughts swirling around inside me. At that point my lifestyle was very similar to my friend’s. I thought that perhaps meditation might be a “do or die” practice for me. So I pulled myself together and visited a Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis so that I could learn to meditate correctly. I also took the Bodhisattva vow,
Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
The dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.
I’ve learned a lot from Buddhist practices. Studies show that even small amounts of meditation can improve brain function and reduce stress. Mindfulness can help us improve the quality of experiences and boost our problem solving capabilities by creating new connections in our minds. Like Neo in the Matrix movies, we can literally take control of our awareness and use our consciousness to stop the bullets of Agent Smith, bullets made of fear, hope, doubt, and desire.
I feel that a large part of a suicidal person’s inability to see a way forward through life is the result of their neural networks being locked into negative patterns. The brain is an amazing organ, it can rewire itself after trauma and even a stroke. Letting go of old connections and forging new ones is a key component to healthy growth, in our minds and in our lives.
Here are my Five Steps to Mindfulness Now. Each step is a simple way to begin to re-inhabit your body and mind. You can begin immediately, without any special tools or requirements. To delve further into Mindfulness I like to walk for at least one to three hours a day.
One. Be a Verb, not a Noun
I used to hate it when I hit my head in this particular short closet next to my bed. When I stick my head into the closet I usually remember to be careful and then I immediately forget my own advice when I become focused on finding a particular piece of clothing. It is a short closet by any standards, but the closet is not to blame. The first time I hit my head in that closet it hurt a lot. I decided to be angry at the closet. It was my decision. But I can also decide to laugh at the closet. Eventually I’ll decide to make that closet taller.
Most of the time we choose to be angry, or sad, or passive aggressive. We can choose a different reaction.
Practice: When you become angry take a moment and see if you can let the anger go. Is there an action you can take to change what happened? If so work toward making that change.
Meditation can be as simple as letting your mind float free, or as difficult as focusing on directing compassion toward someone who you believe hurt you. It doesn’t matter which method of meditation you do. The simplest way is to watch your breathe.
Each of our days are filled with all sorts of ups and downs, times when we feel productive and times when we feel sluggish. Instead of fighting against the oscillations, it’s more productive to go with the flow.
Practice: When we meditate, we simply watch our thoughts float by like waves. Our thoughts are not us, just like the waves are not the lake. They are the energy moving through the lake. We don’t need to attach to any thought, we simple need to sit, observe, and let them pass by.
Three. Commit Random Acts of Mindfulness
Random Acts of Mindfulness help us to stop our unconscious sprinting through the day. In the morning we gulp down multiple cups of coffee while scanning the newspaper headlines and checking our Twitter feed, then we jump into our car and speed to work, swearing at traffic while stuffing a McMuffin into our face. It’s inevitable that we fall into an unconscious mode of being as we let the days events carry us along like a flash flood. We can scramble out of that experience by opening our eyes for a second or two and really taking a moment to see our surroundings.
Practice: When you are washing your coffee cup, take a moment to enjoy the smoothness of the ceramic glaze. Think about all the processes that went into getting that one cup of coffee into your hand. Think about the farmer who grew the coffee, and the coffee tree growing on the mountainside. Experience the water on your skin as you rinse it out. Let your mind explore these sensations for a few seconds. This is an example of focused mindfulness. Then let your mind float free and simply be there for a moment, letting your thoughts drift. Breathe in for a count of 3 and out for a count of 3. Pretend for moment that there is no hurry to get back to work. This is an example of unfocused mindfulness.
Four. Practice Compassion
On my worst days I run around like a chicken with my head cut off. It’s difficult for me to stop the merry-go-round of reactions to the events in my life and focus on another living being. Instead of being a Verb, I’m being a Noun. Specifically, I feel like a punching bag.
All of us were children once, and for the most part we lived in the present. As we grew up we gained more responsibilities and commitments and the spontaneity and openness of that way of life faded away. In a way, what we are working toward in the practice of mindfullness is rediscovering that spontaneous enjoyment of life and openness toward experience that we had as a child.
Practice: The first person to practice compassion on is your self. There is no need to beat up on the child you once were or the person you are now. You are not a punching bag. Look at a store clerk and smile. Make a joke. You are not alone.
Laughter is the most important practice of all. Life is sometimes dark and difficult, but a lot of times it is ridiculous. Pets and children illustrate this every day. Laughing reduces stress, anxiety, and related diseases. Laughing brings us into the moment, and it reminds us that life is not as dire as the newspaper headlines proclaim.
Practice: Watch a Youtube clip of your favorite comedian. Make a funny face at your lover. Do a little dance around the kitchen table. Take 10 seconds to be ridiculous.
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