A Simple Mindful Tool For Troubled Times
Having just returned from a day long mindfulness retreat, I feel compelled to share with you a little bit about my experience.
As so often I find myself in the role of teacher, I treasure the moments when I can be present as a student. It gives me precious opportunities to mine new depths of insight, foster compassion for myself and others, and bestow honesty along with acceptance for wherever I may happen to be on my journey on any given day.
The day was filled with noble silence, broken only by short talks and instruction from our teacher for the day, a teacher who comes from the same tradition of mindful, insight meditation practice as myself. This meditation practice is commonly described as a training of mental attention that awakens us beyond the conditioned mind and our habits of thinking. We become willing and able to take a step back from our usual auto-pilot and reactivity, the condition in which we go through many of our days – unless we cultivate the practice of doing otherwise, which is the foundation of mindfulness practice. (This practice is the foundation of my book coming out later this year, The Mindful Vegan.)
I treasure retreats held in silence as this one was. It lets you drop the social mask – no need to activate your personality – and really allows you to be in solitude while still benefitting from the opportunities of a group experience.
Just Before I Walked Out The Door
Before leaving to drive to the retreat, I posted the image above on facebook andfacebook, as its message struck a chord with me. It was reinforced during the day long retreat, as our teacher set the intention and made the point of connecting our mindfulness and meditation practices with navigating these difficult times.
We Can All Agree
No matter where you stand on current national issues, we can all agree that these are unsettled times. Instability, shifting political and social situations trigger moments of anxiety for all of us. For those who are sensitive to the threat to human rights, let alone the threat to environmental protection and animal welfare, we can feel as if we don’t know where to start and how can we do enough. Where’s the solid footing amidst the shifts?
All heroics and saving the world aside, there is one simple thing we can each do every day, and it is captured in this image. We can realize that our feelings of unsettlement, anxiety, and agitation are not the experience of each of us alone.
And broader than that, it can make us sensitive to the fact that none of us ever knows what someone else is going through, whether related to the shifting political times or their personal lives.
Recall The Times
Think of all the times you wish someone had been a little more patient with you, shown you a tiny bit more kindness, let you go first.
Coming to mind: I think of the time my mother-in-law was languishing in the hospital in unconciousness. It was six a.m. and I did the Starbucks run. The line was long and it seemed everyone around me was complaining about everything from traffic to the fact that they didn’t get the muffin they ordered.
And maybe someone in line was experiencing something even more horrific than I was.
We never know. Perspective. Patience. Kindness. Choose silence over slander. Choose mercy and calm observance over anger, wrath and a mental storm.
Let someone else go first on the road, in the line. Noting our own impatience – in the line at market, at the stop light, in the phone queue – brings us to awareness of an opportunity to connect with our own natural presence of ease and peace. It’s there, it just gets covered up by our constant mental activity, habits of reacting, and daily rush and crush.
I am aspiring to this – and invite you to try this. Next time you find yourself in reactivity in any situation – something that you notice is pushing your buttons and urging you to lash out (or lash in), or trying your patience and sensibilities – as soon as you can, consider extending that which we all want for ourselves: kindness. It can be tough, sometimes downright impossible – especially when we know we are right.
Yet in my experience, reconnecting with natural presence that I access during quiet moments of meditation puts me in far better position of maintaining inner well being and being more effective in any situation – even as advocate and activist – than if I go into reactivity. It’s a simple tool for troubled times.
Be kind to others. You just never know what someone is going through.