What Are You Talking About?
Not an unreasonable question.
“You want me to sit, stare at a wall, and breathe? And for how long???”
Also, a valid question.
One of my favorite reactions to the practice of mindfulness was related to me by a friend. He told me the story of going to a mindfulness workshop facilitated by a famous teacher. He arrived in the conference room and found his seat at a round table with about ten other mental health professionals. After a few minutes the facilitator walked in carrying a bowl of raisins. The group was instructed to pick a raisin but not to eat it. Instead, they were instructed to imagine how it arrived at their table today: the sun that provided nutrients for its growth, the farmer who picked and dried the grapes, the company that shipped them, and the grocer who stocked them. Next they were told to mindfully examine the raisin with their senses: what did it feel like, how did it smell, what did it look like, was there any sound associated with it, and finally how did it taste in their mouths. My friend told me that by the time he was finally allowed to place the raisin in his mouth instead of being filled with placid, mindful thoughts, he was filled with the urge to grab the bowl of remaining raisins at the center of the table, stuff as many handfuls as he could fit into his mouth, and make a break for the door, chewing mindlessly all the way.
Like most endeavors, the beginning of a mindfulness practice is the most challenging. There is a mountain of inertia behind one’s current self concept and daily routines. It is very easy to commit to a mindfulness practice at the peak of anxiety or sadness, but once the wave has crested and we return to our baseline the motivation for change falls back beneath the water. Additionally, mindfulness exercises are so far removed from the classic Western values that they appear silly. Mindfulness practice is, in a literal sense, a waste of time. In a world where most of us are not comfortable wasting even the time it takes to eat lunch without filling it with cell phone games or magazine articles, it is no wonder that the idea of sitting down for five minutes and doing absolutely nothing but breathing is daunting.
But it is just this pointlessness, this absence of any discernible goal, that makes mindfulness so vital. If sleep is the gas that provides fuel for your body, mindful practice is the oil that shields the mind from the inevitable daily combustion. It is in the silence of mindfulness that your inner voice speaks.
No amount of eloquence or logical proofs can show the reader what mindfulness really is. Only one’s own experience through practice will begin to reveal any truth. To say that to read about mindfulness is to understand it is like saying that to read about Paris is to have gone there. There is a reason that student drivers get behind the wheel and don’t just sit behind a desk: experience vastly outweighs knowledge.
As my colleague Andy is fond of saying: mindfulness practice is free, doesn’t require a prescription, has no side effects, and takes only five minutes. Why not give it a try?
The link to the pamphlet below outlines three exercises (this can also be found under the “Exercises” tab). My personal favorite is “Mindful Sitting.” “Body Scan” is excellent for going to sleep. Pick an exercise, play some ambient music if you would like (my recommendation: RainyMood.com), set a timer, and give it a try:
Click on the image to view the full PDF version
Music or the smell of good cooking make people stop and enjoy. But words that point to the Tao seem monotonous and without flavor. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear. When you use it, it is inexhaustible.
— from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Laozi, and Stephen Mitchell. Tao Te Ching: A New English Version. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.