(A Southerner discovers mindfulness)
In last month's newsletter, I wrote about my battle with and recovery from anxiety. I mentioned that mindfulness has become part of my tool kit for dealing with stress, and a Board member asked me to elaborate.
It's funny how randomly it started. My boyfriend gave me the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of his school's alumni magazine, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and there was an article in it about the director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness. This man, whose job is helping healthcare providers improve their interactions with their patients, increase their job satisfaction, and lower their overall stress; was influenced by the book Full Catastrophe Living, and by its author, Jon Kabat-Zinn.
The author of the article calls Full Catastrophe Living "the 1990 book generally credited with merging meditation and yoga with science and mainstream medicine." As a confirmed skeptic who always sides with the scientists, I was intrigued, and ordered a copy. On hearing I was reading it, a colleague here at ASU warned me, laughingly, "Kabat-Zinn is the gateway drug to mindfulness!"
He was right! Full Catastrophe Living is a big book, a dense book. I started it in December 2013, and it took me many weeks to finish it. But I loved it right away, and began taking lessons from it immediately.
The first thing I learned was how to Stop! To stop Doing, and to only Be. To be completely aware of my surroundings and all the sensory information my body is receiving. To clear my mind of everything but this moment. Today. Here. Now.
The second thing was to Accept. To look reality clearly in the face; to recognize whatever is happening, no matter how much I might dislike it, and not to practice avoidance or denial. To acknowledge my emotional reactions while at the same time stepping back from them.
The third was the strangely comforting thought that everything in life, even life itself, is temporary.
I began to notice my breathing. I began to meditate. I began practicing yoga.
The practice of yoga led to a towering stack of what I call my "Buddha books" on my bedside table. The amount of comfort I, a 21st-century Georgia girl, have taken from ancient Eastern thought, shows why Buddhist philosophy has endured for more than 7,000 years.
In my reading, I constantly come across phrases and ideas that help me. One is "Let go" (of attachment, disappointment, anger, fear.) One is "Bow" (to everyone you see, figuratively, finding something in them to admire no matter how you may have felt about them in the past.)
Another concept I love is Oneness. (Q. What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor? A. Make me one with everything!) I think that philosophy is best summed up in this chant:
All living creatures are "us"
All children are my own
All life, my relatives
The whole world, my home.
Awareness, acceptance and letting go have brought a profound level of peace to this emotional, hyperactive, reactive woman. They put everything in perspective. They make me realize what Buddha knew: Life is so very difficult. How can we be anything but kind?
From me to everyone in NAMI, the phrase that translates "The light in me salutes the light in you:" Namaste.
-Laura Anne Middlesteadt