“Waiting for my real life to begin . . .”
These days it’s easier to feel more like a “human doing” than a human being. There’s always something else to “do”. We’re on the go and plugged in 24/7.
Some days it feels as if we haven’t even got time to breathe.
Time-poor, super-busy and often overwhelmed by the demands of daily life, increasingly it’s getting harder to find the space to pause and simply ‘be’ – to get in touch with our present moment experience. That is, the life that’s right under our noses.
It’s a state – a skill – we all need to ‘access’ in order to stay well, creative, inspired and to feel alive. Instead of existing in some kind of fog. A fog of bewilderment. Rumination. Waiting.
Waiting for things to change. To get better. To fall into line with our ‘plans’ some day in a distant, wishful future. “I’m waiting for my real life to begin”, sang Colin Hay in one of his saddest, most poetic songs.
We can’t see the forest for the trees. Have we forgotten how to be human “beings”?
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… Including you.” – Anne Lamott
Mindfulness is about “being with”. Being with ourselves exactly as we are, in each moment, with greater acceptance, clarity and compassion. No matter what’s going on. It’s about letting go of expectations and managing the internal and external struggles that so often come with daily life.
Through mindfulness comes the possibility of breaking habitual patterns that might no longer serve us well. And the all-important fostering of kindness and connection towards self and others.
Cultivating mindfulness gives us the chance to realise a greater awareness that lies within. Our own inner wisdom, buried underneath all the doing, distraction and busyness. Through stillness – and observing the mind in that still space – we access a deeper wisdom, already present.
Importantly, we learn that we have choice to respond to life from a place of ‘knowing’ rather than reacting ‘blindly’ to every obstacle that comes our way.
“My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone.” —Anne Lamott
So what is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pioneers of mindfulness meditation in the west, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
He adds, “with present-moment awareness, we learn to identify our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without defining ourselves by them.” To paraphrase Vidyamala Burch, Breathworks founder and Mindfulness For Health teacher, we start to look “at” our thoughts [and emotions and physical sensations] rather than “from” them.
In other words, we start to relate to the world, ourselves and other people, differently. In a way that increases joy and reduces stress, no matter what is going on. With more choice.
Mindfulness is a quality of attention – a receptive, open-hearted, clear-seeing, life-affirming attention – with which we perceive and experience the world around us and within us.
It creates a profound shift in how we meet our day-to-day life.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the “formal practice” of mindfulness. Shamash Alidina, author of Mindfulness For Dummies, says meditation is “where you intentionally take time out of your day to do a meditative practice” in order to understand your mind and how it works, better.
You take time, make the time and spend time doing a particular mindfulness exercise or a meditative practice.
He says “Meditation is like diving to the bottom of the ocean where the water is still. The waves (thoughts) are at the surface, but you’re watching from a deeper, more restful depth. To submerge to that peaceful depth, takes time. Extended meditations in the formal mindfulness practices offer the diving equipment for you to safely reach those tranquil places.”
“A formal mindfulness routine lies at the heart of a mindful way of living. Without such a routine, you may struggle to be mindful in daily life.”
The idea being, we take what we learn ‘on the cushion’ in meditation (such as patience, focus, kindness) and apply it ‘off the cushion’ in everyday life. This is informal mindfulness practice and the point of the formal meditation training: to live a mindful life. A life that is more in touch with our present moment experience (reality), more in touch with self, others, and the extraordinary joy and connection that ordinary life can bring.
This is at the heart of “why mindfulness”, “why meditation”.
“It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately fill up the space.
By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness – as well as fundamental spaciousness…”
…Meditation isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away to become something better. It’s about befriending who you already are.” – Pema Chödrön
You can think of this as mental training. Formal meditation practice rewires the brain, literally building a mindful muscle – it strengthens neural pathways for mindfulness and new, healthier habits – by cultivating things like focus, awareness, joy, resilience, calmness, connection, kindness and equanimity.
All being essential elements for a productive and happy life.
This makes it easier to be engaged and ‘present’ throughout the rest of the day – to have a ‘direct’ experience with life. We don’t just ‘think’ about life – we engage with it, with our senses. Not just mentally but with the body as well. As the saying goes, “what we practice we become”. The more the we practise mindfulness – formally in meditation and informally in daily life – the more we will remember to mindful and access the qualities that help to take the struggle out of living.
While it is a bit like a “gym for the mind”, it’s not about going beyond limits, striving or ‘perfecting’ anything. Vidyamala again: “It’s simply about getting to where you are right now, and staying with that experience, for as long as possible”. And returning our attention to our present moment experience, over and over again.
“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
It’s not about clearing your mind of thoughts either. “The Thinking Mind is a goal-oriented, problem-solving mechanism”.* Unless you’ve been meditating in a cave for 20 years, it’s nigh on impossible to ’empty’ the mind of thoughts. Minds think – it’s what they do.
It’s about learning to open to – and notice – what is actually going on in the totality of our experience. Which is not just about thinking but includes emotions and physical bodily sensations as well.
You learn to sit with whatever is happening. Good, bad, or otherwise. “The full catastrophe.” – JKZ
It’s simple, but not easy. We are so over-identified with thinking, with distraction, stimulation and busyness. We are also highly habituated – so used to – turning away from the reality of our experience, especially if it is difficult. We need to train to overcome resistance and our unhelpful, ingrained ways.
So meditation takes time, patience and kindness. It requires us to ‘bring our minds back’ to the focus of the practice, over and over again. To “come to our senses” over and over again. That’s where the formal practice of meditation comes in. We learn to create newer, healthier habits in the space and stillness of meditation.
“Meditation practice is like piano scales, basketball drills, ballroom dance class. Practice requires discipline; it can be tedious; it is necessary. After you have practiced enough, you become more skilled at the art form itself. You do not practice to become a great scale player or drill champion. You practice to become a musician or athlete. Likewise, one does not practice meditation to become a great meditator. We meditate to wake up and live, to become skilled at the art of living.” – Elizabeth Lesser
If not now, when?
Many people ‘turn to’ meditation at a time of crisis. When there’s nothing left to lose. As a last resort.
Truth is, learning how to pause and just ‘be’ with our experience, as it is, right now, is a skill we could all benefit from, from birth. So why wait?
The time is now to cultivate calm, kindness, joy and connection. To live a happier life. To live a life not lost in thought. To live a life that is more aware. Even a little bit more aware is a little bit more aware.
Even a little bit less stress is a little bit less stress. A little bit more joy is a little bit more joy.
Plant the seed of mindfulness now, and grow it with meditation. The benefits show up in our lives in ways we can never imagine. But it takes practice. Persistence. Patience. It’s a discipline that allows us to develop a new way of relating to the world, and to life.
‘So why not meditate’ is the real question. Why wait until we’re so far down the track we feel hopeless, exhausted and isolated? Why wait to wake up to life? Why wait to feel ‘enough’, just as we are?
There’s always a reason not to meditate. Always something else to do. And once that’s done, something else instantly shows up to replace it.
So, why wait? Your real life has already begun – has since the day you drew breath. You’re living it one moment at a time. Right now. Right here. You just haven’t noticed.
“In between goals is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed” said comedian Sid Caesar. True that.
* ‘Meditation: An In-Depth Guide’ by Paul Bedson and Ian Gawler.
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