Mindfulness: Bridging the gap

This article is by a guest writer, Katrina Greenawalt, who has been trained informally in mindful traditions. For those of you who want to delve deeper into mindfulness, this article is a wonderful place to start your journey. I cannot stress this enough: this kind of thinking has saved and continues to save my life.

By Katrina Greenawalt

Ok. So, mindfulness: I’m supposed to focus on “the now.” I’m supposed to focus on “the now” so that I can get more out of my life, be stress-free and see the beauty all around me- and all that is happening in “the now.” Ok, let’s give it a try: so, right now I’m getting ready for work. I’m about to heat up some water so I can make some tea, then I’m going to grab some cereal and pop a couple of waffles into the toaster and- wait. Does this count? I mean, am I being mindful? I haven’t technically grabbed the cereal or waffles yet. I’ve just barely poured the water for my tea and I’m headed to the microwave now. That’s really close to the present moment though. I mean, I can’t literally stay focused on the very second I’m in. How would I know where I was going in the next second and the second after that? How would I plan my day? Pay my bills? That doesn’t sound less stressful. That sounds like it just doesn’t make any sense. Wait. Dangit. I’m supposed to be focusing on “the now” and I’ve already grabbed the cereal and I don’t even remember pouring the milk!

“You only lose that which you cling to”

I’m not ordained. I’m not even formally trained but when I was 8 years old I was taken into an empty candlelit room in the middle of a no-name town. Out in the desert mountains of New Mexico, I was given a sacred word. Never to say that secret word aloud, I was instructed to repeat that word over and over in my head for fifteen minutes every day while I was doing my normal day to day routine. Twenty-two years later, my practice is like someone freshly out of adolescence. I’m beginning to see just where it may fit into this world and where it may do some good. The goal of this article is to flesh out some key perspectives on the topic of mindfulness and address that there is a cognitive leap from intellectual understanding to practical application.

Mindfulness is an Eastern practice that has been brought to the Western world. There is a gap in our resources that directly effects practical application. When crossing cultures, applying techniques effectively can be greatly hindered. When a technique is derived from one culture and then plucked out of that culture and plopped down into another one, it’s no leap of faith to understand that key factors may get lost in translation. Yet, I don’t see that directly addressed much. When someone speaks to a particular point without expressing that they are translating a perspective, not just explaining a technique, the target audience is none the wiser. The reason why that matters is because whatever assumptions the audience unwittingly harbors that surrounds a specific topic, but are not directly addressed by that topic, go unchecked. This could lead to untold amounts of frustration or confusion. It could be the difference between someone deciding whether mindfulness could be of use to them or not at all. We all have assumptions and we all have our own perspective; we’re all products of our environment. It’s not good or bad, it just is but it is only when our perspectives and assumptions are brought to light that traction can be made.

Some key assumptions that are helpful to keep in mind when considering a mindful perspective or motivation:

“If you propose to speak does it meet all three criteria: is it true, is it helpful, is it kind?” Act for the betterment of others. Harboring peace within yourself helps the world because every interaction you have with someone else that is peaceful is like a ripple in the ocean. The more ripples, the stronger the wave. Peace doesn’t mean nothing is going on around you. It means being grounded within yourself, regardless of the good or bad going on outside of yourself.

“When we can do better; we do better.” Everything and everyone is connected. People’s reactions to each other and to situations are a reflection of themselves. Your reaction to others is a reflection of yourself. No one can see or interpret in another what they do not understand within themselves. Everyone – ourselves included- is doing the best they can within their circumstances. We are not static beings. “Who” we are is not static. We are not always one way and/or never another. We are all fluid.

“The only way to ‘get over it’ is through it.” Mindfulness is not always pleasant. It requires a willingness to sit with uncomfortable or painful emotions. Letting go sometimes means allowing situations or feelings to go unresolved indefinitely and allowing them to take whatever course that arises naturally. This is opposed to having a set goal and resisting anything counter to that goal.

“Once all your needs are met all you can do is live.” Mindfulness is very often in the mundane. The mundane is where your life is and the mundane is where you learn who you are. Cues to re-center and return to mindfulness are forgetting what you were going to do; not remembering whether or not you did something or not remembering that you did do something; feeling overwhelmed or scattered. Do one thing at a time. Be deliberate. Live slowly. Fill your life with less.

“Returning to center” means finding balance. We do not finally arrive at a mindful state. There is no destination. Our entire life is spent continuously adapting to our environment and learning how to return to center. The goal of balance is in all aspects of our life and within our opinions as well. To be “open” is to not be attached to an idea or outcome. The more open someone is the fewer opinions they have. “Letting go” means not being emotionally attached to an outcome. “Clinging” is being emotionally attached to an outcome or self-identifying with an ideal. Opinions or stances are concerned with personality and identifying with the self. They’re not fluid and outside the flow of balance. Realizing you’re identifying with self is a reminder to stop, reassess and re-center.

“Live well with the goal of dying well.” Live with the end in mind. Death is not a thought that is avoided because by recognizing its inevitability it helps us live more purposefully. Your body is a temple and sacred. Being able to live well hinges on respecting your body and mind in all aspects of your life and your environment. Focusing on your posture can serve as a reminder to return to the present.

“Live with a child’s heart.” Be the Curious Observer to your thoughts. This creates emotional and mental space between you and your thoughts. It helps you to not identify your thoughts as who you are. Being the Curious Observer allows you to be more objective and more mindful. Everything is an opportunity to learn: every moment not just every encounter.

“Listen to the silence, it has much to say.” A lot of times what there is to learn is how to sit with yourself through the mundane and pay attention to where your mind goes and what feelings arise by experiencing the now. What feelings arise when you experience the mundane? Feelings are a tool to help guide us down our path. There’s a balance between experiencing negative emotions in order to gain clarity and insight and letting our thoughts unnecessarily amplify our emotions.

“Now is enough.” Focus on what is going on this very instant. Allow the moment to be as it is and allow yourself to recognize that now is enough. It can be very freeing.

“Expectation is the root of disappointment.” Your life shows you where you place your priorities because your life is a compilation of your actions and choices.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” When you find yourself dissatisfied it’s helpful to examine how and where your choices have led you. You then may realize a change is or is not needed. By examining how you have come to be where you’re at, it will be easier to pin point a trouble spot or find out, even though things may not be the way you want, you’re still on the path you want to be on.

“You have to start where you’re at” and be gentle with yourself. You, as much as anyone, deserve your respect and compassion and understanding. Mindfulness is a lifelong process with death being the only finish line.

Mindfulness is a technique that stems from an entire lifestyle. It can be utilized solely as a coping mechanism or the entire lifestyle can be embraced. This article addressed the lifestyle choice. Knowing what kind of cultural influences fit you best can help direct you to the best-suited types of resources. Self-help books are geared towards a more western lifestyle and books by monks have a more Eastern influence. The Enneagram is a psychological resource that is helpful with either. It provides a lot of insights with the ultimate goal of transcending the personality. The following list of resources may be of use for furthering reading.

By Katrina Greenawalt

Additional Resources:

Psychological leanings: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life By Martin Seligman

When Bad Things Happen to Good People By Harold S. Kushner

The Power of Positive Thinking By Norman Vincent Peale

You Can Heal Your Life By Louise Hay

The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth By M. Scott Peck

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change By Stephen R. Covey

Spiritual leanings: The Art of Happiness By The Dalai Lama XIV (Tenzin Gyatso) The Power of Now By Eckhart Tolle Getting Unstuck By Pema Chodron

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path By Jack Kornfield

Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh By Thich Nhat Hanh

http://dharmaseed.org/about/us/ – An audio collection of publicly available Buddhist talks.

Enneagram:

https://www.integrative9.com/enneagram/ “The Enneagram is an archetypal framework that offers in-depth insight to individuals, groups and collectives. Consisting of three centres of intelligence, nine main Enneagram types, 18 wings, three subtypes and Triadic styles, the Enneagram offers a rich map to personal development from an open systems perspective. It does not box in people, but rather opens a pathway to self-discovery and greater personal awareness.”