A long time ago, in another life, I had a ritual on Tuesday night …
After work, I walked up Manhattan’s west side until I came to a nondescript office building. Invariably, a group of people of all ages and backgrounds flooded the lobby, waiting to get into the tiny elevator and go to the sixth floor. When the doors opened we took off our shoes, stowed our devices, and nodded softly before sitting on a pillow for thirty minutes.
Sometimes it takes the lack of something to see its worth. (Hello, in the last twelve months.) Where mindfulness was a big part of my life before, like so many things during the pandemic, I’ve just made it go away when I need it most. I miss those moments when I am simply present with what is.
So this week I spoke to meditation teacher Adreanna Limbach about how we can gently integrate mindfulness into our daily lives.
What is mindfulness
At the most basic level, the definition I’ll come back to is one from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “The awareness that arises when we are intentionally and without judgment in the present moment paying attention.” I think it’s great that it makes the distinction between everyday Attention and mindfulness practice that is not judgment is worked out.
How do we put this into practice?
First of all, it should be noted that there are four principles of mindfulness:
– The body
– emotions and feelings
– mind and thoughts
– Phenomena, ie the world around us
The shortcut to mindfulness at least springs to mind. To do this, take a moment to close your eyes and become aware of each of these four fundamentals.
For anyone unfamiliar, can you explain how to do this?
[Ed note: At this point, Adreanna assumes a soothing voice that makes me feel instantly at peace.] Close your eyes gently. Take a few deep breaths and feel the weight of your body on the surface below you. Pay attention to all points where the body makes contact with it. Notice the texture of your clothes. Feel the breath move in and out. Note the noise in the room, the temperature of the air. Notice the emotional tone in your body – not just your mind, but any physical sensations you may have as an emotion manifests itself. Take note of any thoughts you might have. After a minute, just move into space. Take a few more deep breaths, open your eyes, and come back.
How is mindfulness helpful in a practical sense?
The most sincere and useful way I have found is that if I feel particularly burdened with one emotion – namely a negative one, like stress, jealousy, anger, sadness – it will only take me a minute to go through the checklist above. For me personally, the way I deal with control also helped. My own tension and anxiety comes from trying to keep my fingers on the pulse of the 17 things I need to keep up to date on. But being able to get back into my body and be aware of the present moment can help me relax.
What would you say to someone who is intimidated by meditation? Or who might have tried but didn’t stick with it?
If you’ve tried meditation and you feel like you are bad at it, the funny and potentially radical thing about mindfulness practice is that it is impossible to do it “bad” or “wrong”. We can measure or rate almost everything else in our life on a scale of good or bad, right or wrong. But the whole ethos of meditation is that there is no good or bad. If you sit down and just notice that you’ve spent five restless minutes not paying attention to your breath and your surroundings, that’s still great because it means you were there enough to notice how busy you are are internal.
In your book, you described how we can use the autopilot to miss the subtle moments of beauty around us every day. How can we practice this in our present life where many of us are stuck in the same environment day in and day out?
If you become overly familiar with something, it creates acclimatized blindness. So take a moment to be in a room that you have been to in tons of times and that you likely use for a variety of purposes – work, sleep, school – and break. Look at the floor for a minute, then purposely look up with fresh eyes and notice what is attracting your eye. Notice the plant, the plate of light from the midday sun, the way the color of the pillowcase intersects with the color of the wall. Our responsibility is to get out of the way so we can catch beauty in the act.
Do you have words for someone who may be suffering from a burnout pandemic?
The truth is, we change day by day. Every day we bring a whole new set of thoughts and feelings, as well as physical sensations and moods, into these old situations and environments. Mindfulness helps us to see what is different. As it turns out, the reverse of judgment is curiosity. If you are curious about this moment, even if it is challenging, even if it feels like we’re doing exactly the same things in exactly the same setting, invite us to say, “What’s new here, what’s fresh here?”
Mindfulness practice is one of inclusivity – when we meditate we breathe with grief, with sadness, with fear, with overwhelming. When a feeling arises, we don’t have to cut it off or push it away. We invite these unpleasant feelings to the table and practice being with them without judgment. Best of all, mindfulness isn’t an extra or something that we need to acquire – it’s something we all have because we are human. If we can create the conditions for mindfulness to emerge, we all have access to it.
Thank you, Adreanna. Do you have a mindfulness practice? Have you ever tried to meditate Do you have any thoughts or tips to share?
For anyone who wants to learn more about mindfulness, I recommend Adreanna’s book “Tea and Cakes with Demons,” which I have often referred to. It reads like a conversation with a loving friend, full of wisdom and support. And to experience her soothing voice for yourself, Adreanna’s website has many resources, including free guided meditations.
PS Six routes for people who sit at desks and meditate for beginners.
(Photo by Christine Han / Stocksy.)