Jon Kabat-Zinn says that the daily practice of mindfulness “is like feeding yourself every day. It is that important.” As he says, “Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment.”
“Mindfulness gives birth to joy and happiness” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
I have a beautiful 50-something Australian friend who has been learning the benefits of this practice first hand. She recently started a daily practice of mindful living after becoming overwhelmed by all the changes going on in her second half of life. I have been loving the photos she’s been posting on Facebook.
The tiny seedlings just pressed into soil. The first few stitches on chunky knitting needles. Freshly squeezed lemons. And then after a while there’s the photos of little plants and scarves and lemon cake. Nothing perfect. Far from it. She clearly knows that while the cake is nice it’s not actually about the cake.
It’s about the moments she has been living one by one that led to the cake. Sifting flour, breaking an egg, cutting a lemon. Each action a source of quiet joy because now her mind has given up it’s stressing about everything life is throwing at her and joined her body here in her kitchen to celebrate the miracle of just being alive.
When she cuts the lemon she knows that she is cutting the lemon. She is aware; present to what Thich Nhat Hanh calls the wonder and fragrance of it all. It is as simple as that.
“Mindfulness practice should be enjoyable, not work or effort. Do you have to make an effort to breath in? You don’t need to make an effort. To breathe in, you just breathe in. Suppose you are with a group of people contemplating a beautiful sunset. Do you have to make an effort to enjoy the beautiful sunset? No, you don’t have to make any effort. You just enjoy it.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness is an ordinary accessible thing to do
Once I would never have thought of mindfulness as being this ordinary and accessible. It always seemed like a remote and mysterious kind of thing that only gurus and monks would practice. It’s easy to think there must be some secret to it that only the spiritually advanced among us know. But there isn’t.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness simply means “paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” It also means letting go of both our expectations and our need to be in control of the outcome.
As a daily practice it leads to peace and moments of insight
The daily practice of mindfulness offers important benefits at our stage of life. I will be writing a lot about this on my blog as it’s a daily practice that brings me great joy but for now here are two benefits:
1) Mindful living helps us cope with all the changes that come at us after 50.
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and rattled during this time of transition in our lives. So many things are changing. Our bodies. Our life roles. Our sense of self. Our values. It just goes on and on! At the heart of all that change though there is a changeless place – the present moment – the only reality we have and our only constant.
As author Martha Beck says “the present moment feels like everyone says God feels – tender, compassionate, safe, joyful, caring”. It is our refuge – and my Aussie friend clearly knows this. Everything she does at these times is so obviously a source of peace and joy to her.
2) Mindful living leads to insight and guidance around what’s next.
Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it as a way of “gaining immediate access to your own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.”
As we enter our second half “What’s next” is a question that tends to surface. Keeping our attention focused solely on the task at hand – cutting the lemon – leads to stillness because it stops the relentless head chatter that usually goes on about what happened in the past and what might happen in the future.
This enables our inner voice to speak to us, and creative potential buried deep within us to bubble to the surface. Over time this leads to transformation and personal growth.
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
– Lao-Tzu, Tao-te-Ching
The present moment is where your next chapter starts
According to Deepak Chopra the present moment is where we start the next chapter of our life. As he says, “This is the best way to be the author of your life story”. One day soon I’m expecting my friend will launch herself into the next chapter of her life, and when she does I just know she’ll have the story line just right.
For now though, she waits for the water of her life to become clear.
I so admire her because it takes courage to be wholly present to life just when time seems to be both speeding up and running short and we feel pushed to run faster and stress harder because we haven’t yet done all the things on our bucket list! And we haven’t changed the world. Or figured out why we are here!
It seems counterproductive to rest in the moment when life seems to be speeding up and running out – but actually it isn’t. It’s a bit like that old saying – take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. Only in this case it’s take care of your moments and your future will take care of itself.
“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens
for the sound of the genuine in yourself.
It is the only true guide you will ever have.
And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life
spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls...”
– Howard Thurman