Why be mindful? Let me count the ways

Photo of a card on a windowsill that says "mindfulness"I am notorious (at least in my own mind) for signing up for online summits, attending almost none of the sessions, and feeling guilty (because I attended almost none of the sessions) and stressed (because there are multiple daily sessions and I couldn’t keep up and still have a life even if I tried).

If you aren’t familiar with online summits, they are generally several days of online speakers centered on a specific topic. The talks are generally accessible for free for 24 hours, or you can pay to have eternal access to the recordings. With one exception, I go for the free option, thus the stress of trying to keep up. Some of the summits I’ve signed up for with middling success focused on entrepreneurship, or building an online business, or self-acceptance, or mindful relationships, or body positivity. At least that’s what a search of my email inbox unearthed. I’ve declined to join summits on detox diets, energy healing and healthy thyroid. And that’s truly only the tip of the iceberg summit.

Anyway, I was unable to stop myself from signing up for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit from Sounds True, that runs through tomorrow. I’ve shocked myself by actually watching all of the presentations that interested me (skipping the ones that did not). And I’ve had some really wonderful discoveries:

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is even more of an amazing human being than I could have imagined. To know her would be a blessing, I think. I haven’t read any of her books for a while, but I immediately requested “The World Will Follow Joy” from the library, even though poetry isn’t usually my thing. It is lovely.

I found myself frequently reaching for my pen as I listened to her wise words. She pointed out that one of the benefits of both meditation and journaling is that they show you that everything changes (i.e., when things get rough, those times will pass). I also loved her description of meditation as “mental flossing” because it “gets rid of all the gunk.” Walker is a particular fan of metta meditation, also known as lovingkindness meditation (for a good explanation of this form of meditation, see this article from UC Berkeley). And then she said this, which I wish all the world could hear and take gently to heart:

Out of what you give to yourself, you can give to others. If you never give yourself loving kindness and care and affirmation, you don’t have it to give to anyone else.

Jewel

Jewel is an amazing, resilient spirit. Even though her first album “Pieces of You” was on frequent rotation in my CD player in the mid-to-late 1990s, and I remember hearing at the time that she was living homeless in her car before she got her big break, I hadn’t given her much thought since. I was moved by hearing how she figured out how to use mindfulness to calm her anxiety during both the “before” and “after” periods of her life, and how when she was homeless she made a point of cultivating gratitude every day.

I’ve started listening to that breakthrough CD again, and signed up for her online community, Never Broken, which offers a roadmap for becoming more mindful. (I’m doing a lot of mindfulness training already, but I like learning from various sources, because you never known when you’ll hear something in a certain way from a specific person that really resonates.)

Dan Harris

I had been only vaguely aware of Dan Harris as a reporter for ABC News and author of the books “10% Happier” and “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.” Now that I’ve heard him speak, I’m a superfan, and not just because he’s totally funny and smart. After he had a panic attack 10 years ago on live TV while doing a “Good Morning America” news segment, he started looking for ways to cope with his anxiety and depression, and found meditation. He dug into the science behind it, and was sold. He has been meditating every day for eight-plus years. But…at some point he realized that he was an outlier, that many people want to meditate, intend to meditate, start meditating, only to falter and never turn it into a regular practice. So he rustled up a bus and went on a 10 Percent Happier tour around the country to talk to people and find out what was keeping them from meditating:

  1. “I suck at this.” Harris pointed out that it’s normal to be distracted while meditating (“Distractibility is the human condition”) and that every time you become distracted and start again, it’s a win. Also: “If you find that all thoughts have evaporated, you’re either enlightened or you’re dead.” Ha!
  2. “I don’t have time for this.” Harris says out that meditation does not have to be a “huge time-consuming endeavor” and that even one minute of mediation counts. [Update: Harris has a “10% Happier” app that has both free and paid premium versions, and it includes some 1-minute meditations.] He suggests slotting it into your day next to something you do regularly anyway, such as right after you exercise, right after you wake up, or right after you pull into your driveway or garage after work. “It doesn’t have to be some big fancy thing you add to your to-do list which stresses you out.”
  3. “Meditation is self-indulgent navel gazing.” He invoked the oxygen mask analogy (put your own mask on before assisting others) and said “If you really care about helping other people, you really can’t effectively do so if you don’t take care of yourself first.”
  4. “People might think I’m weird if I meditate.” Harris points out that lots of “cool people” meditate, including high-powered CEOs, celebrities and sports stars. Need proof? Listen to his podcast, “10% Happier with Dan Harris.” How many podcasters do you know who had the Dalai Lama as their first guest? Let me know if you come up with one. I only just started listening, but his interview with RuPaul was awesome.
  5. “If I get too happy, I’ll lose my edge.” Again, look at all the high-powered CEOs, celebrities and sports stars who meditate. “Mediation improves your edge,” says Harris, pointing out that he has a highly competitive job, and needs his edge. Quoting Ram Dass, he said that mediation makes you conscious of your neuroses, so you don’t get yanked around by them.
  6. “I’ll open Pandora’s Box.” Yes, Harris said, meditation can force you to confront some dark stuff, but “it’s better to see this stuff clearly than it is to be owned by it and controlled by it blindly.”
  7. “[Fill in the blank] is my meditation.” Can running be your mediation? It depends, Harris says. If you run while blasting music or thinking about whatever it is you think about, then no. But you can turn running into a meditation if you practice awareness of your feet striking the ground, the feel of the air on your face, the sounds around you, and so on.
  8. “I can’t keep it going.” Harris agrees that creating new habits and breaking old habits is hard. “We are wired as a species for threat detection, for planning, for remembering. It is very hard for us to do long-term planning that is in our best interest.” Given that, he says it’s important to figure out ways to make forming new habits work for us. As for forming a meditation habit, the value is that being more calm, being more focused, being more mindful helps us to be less yanked around by our emotions.

Harris talks about the beginning of his journey (and shares the footage of his on-air panic attack” in this ABC World News Tonight segment:

Elisha Goldstein

I had heard of Dr. Goldstein, co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living a handful of months back, and checked out his book “The Now Effect” from the library, but didn’t have time to read it (I have plans to give it another go), and I have two of his other books in my “to read this year for professional development” stack. I really, really liked is talk, so much that I went to his website and signed up for his Mindful Living online community and eMindful Life.

In his talk, he also addressed some of the difficulties in developing a mindfulness or mediation practice (meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, but it’s not the only way). Namely, “without experience, the brain doesn’t change.” In other words, if you want to be more mindful you need to practice mindfulness, if you want to be more grateful you need to practice gratitude, if you want to be more compassionate you need to practice compassion. Just reading about it or hearing people talk about it isn’t enough. Consider the guitar: If you want to learn to play the guitar, you need to practice…you can’t just read about playing the guitar or listen to recordings of people playing the guitar.

He also said that our environments play a big role in successful habit change. “Brains in enriched, stimulating environments fire more.” If we are around people who are doing the things we want to do, they will inspire us to practice. Want to meditate or be more mindful, but no one in your circle does? Enrich your social environment by joining in-person or online communities of people who are following similar paths.

Goldstein also suggested enriching the physical environment around you. “Do the things that you see when you look around give you enjoyment and inspire your brain to move in the direction you want it to go?” Taking that to heart, I’ve continued my ongoing decluttering project, focusing on my home office, so that I can see the books that are part of my chosen professional/personal learning paths for this year (primarily mindfulness and body image). To that end, I loved it when he said:

"Create the pool you want to be swimming in"

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