When you think of what mindfulness is, people often say that it is truly being present. While that is true, it’s often helpful to think of what mindfulness is not. In a nutshell, it is forgetting. Forgetting to check in with your body to assess if you’re fully aware of how your body is feeling including aches and pains, any tightness, any gripping, any surface breathing instead of breathing deep into your abdomen.
My journey into truly embracing mindfulness was bumpy to say the least. It is truly still a work in progress. It started when I was in a T’ai Chi class and the instructor invited me to brunch afterwards. During brunch, he said, “You have MS, don’t you?” I was absolutely drop-jaw stunned as I was keeping my diagnosis very close to my chest being in executive management. I was the youngest executive officer ever at this company and only the second woman in 20 years. I wasn’t about to openly share that I had a neurological disease, often progressive. The current TV ads from the National MS Society depicted a woman all chained up in a chair, trying to make the analogy that Multiple Sclerosis can stop you in your tracks when diagnosed. While it may have been an effective campaign to raise awareness and fund raise to find a cure for MS, it certainly wasn’t the visual imagery with which I wanted to be associated.
Being a great instructor and now a two decades long friend, he recommended that yoga may be a more effective modality for me. He recommended a yoga instructor from whom I subsequently took group classes and then went into private lessons. As the typical Type A driven personality, I asked her if I practiced this yoga so intently, so often, so deliberately, with such dedication, could that stave off MS’ progression? She sagely responded that no one’s modality can guarantee to stop the progression of this disease but asked me if I’d be interested in learning how to manage my mind, manage my reaction to whatever MS brings my way.
That was the beginning of my study of meditation and Buddhism in particular. I joined a small study group led by my yoga instructor and we met multiple times every week both studying texts, learning to chant the Tibetan prayers, different spiritual practices and practicing meditating, both in our study class as well as at home. I slowly but surely noticed marked improvements in how I was relating to my boyfriend, how I was dealing with work issues. I found that in every single area of my life I found substantive improvements that I could share with my sangha (the Buddhist name for the group you practice with study, etc.). The more I “sat on the cushion”, the more benefits I realized.
I read a great article just recently by the world renowned Buddhist practitioner Pema Chodron which elucidates quite clearly the benefits of meditating read Pema Chodron article. There’s also a well-regarded book entitled How To Train A Wild Elephant which gives very easy to follow mindfulness exercises order How To Train A Wild A Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays .
People often say mindfulness is being truly present but after practicing for a couple of decades and discussing this very topic with my meditation instructor, we came to agree upon the concept of mindfulness as more “not forgetting”. My aspiration for you is that this will help you to remember to be truly mindful in all you do. It’s a daunting task to be sure, but well worth the effort.