The mission or purpose of the New Life Foundation is to create a community where members can cultivate mindfulness in their daily life. We have heard this term “mindfulness” used in many contexts. It has become a buzz word of sorts. But what does it really mean?
Of course there are tons, probably thousands, of texts, definitions, and explanations of this term and similar terms describing meditation, of being present, and living in the now. Today, I received a pretty simple and profound description of mindfulness that seems to fit pretty well into life.
Here is a simple equation:
Mindfulness = Concentration + Clarity + Equanimity
Concentration means we focus on what we want, when we want it. It does not have to be one-pointed, however. One can be concentrating on driving a car and be focused on many different things– seeing the road and other cars, moving your hands and feet to move the car where you want it to go, listening for sounds, like horns or approaching vehicles.
Clarity is an awareness of the sensations in our world. These sensations can be physical, mental, emotional, internal or external. We did a wonderful meditation eating a banana! I love bananas and I was hungry, so I was already quite enthused about this one. It was a very meaningful meditation for me, because over the past two years or so, I have tried so many different diets and cleanses to help with the digestive symptoms I was experiencing. So I feel especially attuned to my relationship with food.
In the banana meditation, we first looked at the banana in front of us, observing the colors, size, shape, etc. Then we picked it up and felt it with our fingers. We smelled it (the outside definitely has a scent too). Then we got to peel the banana, feeling what our hands were doing to conduct this task, and we got to smell it again. Feeling when we started salivating, we raised the banana to our lips and took the first bite. We observed the sensations in our mouth while chewing the banana, and waited a moment before swallowing. I found it so interesting to realize that when we swallow, it typically is only part of the food in our mouth, then we swallow again and some more goes down the pipe and so on. Another woman noticed that there is a place in her mouth where the banana tastes especially good. Then we had the chance to absorb that we were one piece of banana heavier than before, and we proceeded to eat the rest of the fruit in this way.
For some, this exercise was blissful and enlightening. For others, it was super frustrating. Some even had both experiences simultaneously: “Oh, lovely banana, it’s so great to enjoy you” and “Oh my god, just eat the d*mn banana!” I could totally understand both of these perspectives. I have found that with many spiritual practices, there can be a seriousness and even a heaviness that can be off putting in many ways. It seems to me that it is key to be observant and know it is also OK to be light-hearted and have fun doing it.
Equanimity, the third component of mindfulness, occurs when we are allowing to flow with what is happening, neither grasping for nor averting from circumstances. It also entails compassion and non-judgement and an aspect of acceptance. Acceptance in the idea of a gentle matter-of-factness with our world. It does not mean that you just accept when someone smacks you in the face. It’s more of a space we create so that instead of instantly reacting via unconscious habit, we are consciously choosing how to respond. In doing so, we can act with more loving kindness to ourselves and our outer world.
So why is mindfulness important? It certainly is not an easy task, so what’s in it for us?
Mindfulness allows us to be in the present moment and experience a greater appreciation for the richness of life. It can also help ease suffering. Another simple equation is:
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
In life, pain is inevitable. We all experience sadness, anger, grief, loss. Eventually, we will all leave our bodies and everything we know about this earth. However, suffering is not a certainty. When we resist the pain, stuff it down, deny it, or add judgement onto it, the suffering is multiplied. It’s like when you are mad about something, and then you’re mad that you are mad, and tell yourself you shouldn’t be mad. Kind of drives you mad, right? I am finding that the more I allow myself to feel the emotions, to be present with the sensations as they arise, that they do not overwhelm me like a tidal wave. Instead of resisting the wave, I ride with it, and it does not drown me in the process.
We did a brief, three minute meditation at the beginning of our Introduction to Mindfulness talk, and in just a short few minutes, I had several epiphanies. This meditation exercise had us watching our breath, something I resonate with because of yoga. It came to me as more than a knowing, as a real understanding feeling that I want to really BE HERE in my life. I feel like I am often, especially before this trip, running around trying to get somewhere, always thinking of the next step instead of the one that I am on.
What am I racing towards? Why do I seem to want more or be leaving something?
The message I was getting during this meditation is that I want quality of life, rather than focusing so much on the quantity. Rather that striving for the next goal, the next measurement of success, I want to fully enjoy and experience where I am RIGHT NOW. I want to love my life as it is, right in this moment.
Some loving words that ended our meditation practice:
May I be peaceful
May I be healthy and well
May I love myself JUST the way I AM!