Sunday, October 17, 2010

Intentional Mindfulness

Intentional mindfulness.

Repetitive? Maybe, but given my tendency to veer off any path into the distraction offered by underbrush, the notion bears repeating. I have found myself so far in the thicket at times that I have met Goldilocks, coming and going. I am studying mindfulness as a way to ground myself more in the present moment and address the anxiety that has plagued me in all of my memory.

In his book “The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems," Dr. Ronald Siegel explores a definition of "mindfulness." Drawing on ancient Buddhist teachings as well as more contemporary thought, he lays out the pillars of mindfulness. Each of these has personal meaning for me.

Awareness: Much of what happens around me is out of my sphere of consciousness. The wind moving the leaves outside my window does not exist for me until I bring it into awareness.

Attention: Once I am aware of the wind, I may attend to it, drawing it into my senses… watching it with my eyes, smelling it as I open the window, feeling it brush across my skin. I must focus my attention on the “now.”

Remembering: As part of mindfulness, “remembering” involves gently bringing the awareness and attention back to the present moment. As I watch the leaves dance in the wind, my mind is likely to wander as I notice the itch on my knee, then realize that I need to shave my legs, then find myself distracted by my need to clean the bathroom… wind and tree long forgotten.

Acceptance/non-judgment: Siegel reminds me that an attitude of acceptance toward my experiences contributes to wellness and harmony. He believes that acceptance is the heart of mindfulness. In my example, when I am experiencing the wind in the present moment and my knee begins to itch, I can scratch it gently then return to the moment. I can acknowledge the thought that I need to shave my legs then let it go. Without criticizing myself for my inexcusable lapse of hygiene.

My example is trivial, of course. That said, I have a budding awareness of my unawareness, and it is vast. (I attempt to type that in the least judgmental way possible.) I spend the majority of my time skating from one experience to another with very little attention to anything in the present moment for more than a millisecond. And I am the Queen of Criticism. Self-acceptance is a foreign language to me, probably one of those with tonal nuances or mysterious clicks.

In reading Siegel’s book, along with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” I am struck by their discussion of mindfulness practice. I am a little relieved, too, since practice might mean that perfection is not expected. I am coming to believe that I must intentionally cultivate mindfulness.

I am still learning. I am exploring meditation, journaling, and relevant reading. I have integrated yoga into my typically more self-punishing forms of exercise. While still evolving, I have a feeling that I am on to something here. The next time I find myself in one of my briar patches (metaphorically or on my legs), I hope to be a little more mindful.

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