Easy Mindfulness.

May 7, 2022

Easy Mindfulness.

May 29, 2023

The still, quiet place where peace and insight reside is always available to us, like the sun that continually shines whether or not it is covered by clouds.

Mindfulness practice is a pathway to deep awareness of self and universal truths, and, in a practical sense, a way of bringing moments of pure awareness to our everyday lives. In moments such as these, it is possible for extraordinary insights to arise – and they do.

I have practiced a Westernized version of the two classic meditation practices taught by the Buddha, Vipassana and Metta, for over 40 years. During that time, I’ve had the great good fortune to attend over 30 fourteen-day silent meditation retreats beginning in 1981, with the original group of Western Buddhist teachers who did sit at the feet of revered Eastern masters. These teachers founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California and Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Mass, and include Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Howard Cohen, Guy Armstrong, Gil Fronsdale, Sharon Salzberg, Carole Wilson, James Baraz, and Sylvia Boorstein, all of whom have authored books I highly recommend.

What I love about the Buddhist religion, despite the fact I don’t practice it, is the lack of dogma and deity, and its focus on learning and self-realization. Buddhist temples are places to gather, practice, and offer teachings rather than places of worship. The Buddha instructed his pupils not to believe in him, but rather to trust in the Dharma, the universal truth in his teachings, and practice it as a path to freedom from suffering.

Many people mistakenly believe he taught that “Life is suffering” when what he actually said was “In life, there is suffering.” The cause of suffering can be divided into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable. To be alive, we inevitably suffer the death of loved ones, physical pain, hardships, illness, betrayal, and myriad abuses – these are an unavoidable part of being human. However, our reaction to those events is within our choice, thus making continued suffering avoidable. When we practice being present in our lives, prolonged suffering is avoidable, and mindfulness helps us navigate emotional minefields.

Stress Equals Suffering

In my early books, I described how stress affects our minds and bodies. Stress is not an event itself; it comes from our reaction to a physical or emotional event. How we choose to deal with the aftermath of a traumatic occurrence is a conscious choice; if we become helpless, angry, defeated, depressed, vengeful, or even murderous – it leads to more suffering than the original event may have caused. All six of those emotional states lead to stress.

Over the past four decades, life in America has become more and more stressful and the pandemic is causing stress on entire generations of people who would never have experienced anything of this nature under “normal” circumstances. Suicide, domestic violence, and clinical depression are at all-time highs, crime and drug abuse have increased as well as drug addiction and overdosing. More than ever, we need a way to navigate these difficult times and bring balance to our daily lives. Mindful meditation offers this.

It is also easy to learn and may be done anywhere at any time without special equipment. I have meditated on park benches, in doctor’s offices, on friend’s couches, on trains and planes, in the woods, and at the beach. Mindfulness is readily available 24/7, sitting, standing, or walking. No beliefs are required, and you don’t need to join or pay anything to do it.

Why Meditate?

The goal of mindful meditation is to notice each thought and let it go in order to be present in each moment. We use our breathing as an “anchor” because the breath is always there – we don’t need to think about breathing for it to continue. When the mind wanders, as it always does, we notice, and without self-judgment, simply return to paying attention to the breath. In that moment, when we remember to return to the breath, we are present and that is the purpose of meditation.

When we quiet ourselves to meditate, our conscious mind naturally wanders looking for something to focus on. I like to think of my wandering mind as a toddler just learning to walk. When we see a tottering toddler, it’s usually entertaining and we view it with humor and compassion, hoping she doesn’t fall or smash into something. What we never feel is judgment. We never feel she’s doing it all wrong. We need to hold our wandering mind in this regard, and when it strays, gently guide it back to the breath instead of chastising it or making it feel like it did something wrong – it’s just being the toddler that it is.

A simple technique to help us focus on the breath is to silently say the word “in” when noticing an inhale, and “out” on the exhale. Don’t try to control the breath, just notice it. The words should follow the breath rather than initiate it to ensure a natural pattern of breathing. Respiration is constant which means our awareness of it is reliable – it will always be there for us to come back to. In fact, once you get the hang of this, it is an excellent tool to use in unexpected moments of stress or frustration, throughout the day.

Simply close your eyes (unless you’re driving) and notice a few breaths. It will calm you right down. If you’re really wound up, excuse yourself to go outdoors or use the restroom and sit down to do this for a full minute or two. Taking time to breathe and refocus can help us reset and lessen almost any stressful situation.

When you notice you’ve become lost in a story you’re telling yourself, silently name it “story” and gently guide your mind back to the breath without judgment. Remember this is called the “practice” of mindfulness and that’s exactly what it takes to become adept.

Zia Wesley is the author of 14 books in 5 genres. A former actress/singer/dancer on Broadway, she founded America’s first natural cosmetics company (Zia Cosmetics, Inc), coined the term “Image Consultant,” and has practiced and taught Yoga and Pilates for 53 and 25 years respectively. You can visit her site, www.notesfromabroad.biz. To request easy-to-follow instructions for meditation, contact ziaswine@gmail.com.

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