Lunation: My 30 Days of Mindfulness
These last 30 days I went on a mindfulness journey. I challenged myself to 30 days of meditation. I wanted to know what it would feel like to deliberately stick to a lengthy intention, day in and day out. I was also hoping that by cultivating a greater sense of mindfulness into my daily life that I would be able to uncouple myself from some stressors that I had come to recognize I couldn't control, yet they still seemed to be taking up a lot of my headspace.
I wanted to dive deep into the waters of meditation and learn how to navigate the complicated landscape of the mind, by cultivating mindfulness in times of transition and intensity.
My rationale for practicing for 30 days was to experience all the highs and lows that come within a full moon cycle. I wanted to observe, using honest introspection, in order to become better acquainted with my consciousness.
Before setting foot into this experiment, I thought that a complimentary practice of movement that heavily emphasized yoga asana and breath work, but included other movement as well, would be my ticket to a full marriage between mind and body. This also would hold me accountable to continue my yoga practice versus replacing it with meditation.
Here is what I have learned from meditating and moving these past 30 days:
There are two hurdles when practicing mindfulness:
- Learning how to work with our wandering minds
- Learning how to work with the rest of the world when it seems to be distracting us from our practice
After being able to give clearer definition to these challenges, I remember thinking quite clearly after one of my practices that this means there are two rivals that work against us in this game of mindfulness: us and everything else.
"Why does my mind have the tendency to refuse to stay focused? Why can't I let the energy within me move simultaneously in different directions? Is it possible to let my mind be naked and mindful at the same time?"
These thoughts and others berated my mind each time I first began to sit down in silence. My mind would run in circles like a little puppy. It wasn't until a week or so after recognizing this, I started to incorporate more movement. I wanted to see if it was possible that I could become more mindful and relaxed, if my body had been sufficiently worked through movement right before (and even while) meditating. I still continued to do a bit of seated meditation, but I also began incorporating walking meditations when I took my dog for walks, and breath work before bed. By mixing and matching these alternative modalities I felt like I was able to finally begin to unclog my spirit.
An analogy that I became quite accustomed to was the party in my mind analogy that a teacher had once shared with me. When I was preparing myself for my practice, I would remind myself about what he said: You're not trying to force anyone to come to your party. You'd like them to come, so you invite them. They'll come if they can and if they don't, try to be understand it, because maybe they have a good reason.
Oppositely, sometimes these 'guests' turn into thoughts. This is a good time to remember the common phrase, "there's nothing wrong with thoughts coming to visit, just don't invite them in for tea..."
While on this journey, I have been taking an online course titled De-Mystifying Mindfulness through the Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands. This course has been a beautiful compliment to my practice. It has elevated my meditations and understanding of mindfulness in a lot of ways, and debunked some preconceived notions I had believed in the beginning. I have gained a much greater understanding for the history of mindfulness, as well as some Pali terms (the native Buddhist language where some of the first literature of Buddhism was derived) that shed some new light on feelings and emotions that I have experienced during this last month.
Samatha (n.)- Practicing single-pointed meditation most commonly through mindfulness of breathing does this.
This calming, absorbing meditation, with a single-pointed focus on the breath takes a lot of practice. Even after 30 days of working toward samatha, there have been, and will continue to be plenty of times where my mind drifts, or I even fall asleep before being able to reach this point of concentration.
Vipassana (n.)- Meditation involving concentration on the body or its sensations, or the insight that this provides.
Insight is the key word here, for me. When we're able to attain vipassana we're able to let events, distractions and other phenomena drop away from our meditation practice, allowing us to access that deeply-rooted insight within each of us.
Sati (n.)- A mindfulness or awareness, a spiritual or psychological faculty that forms an essential part of Buddhist practices.
What I really like about this term sati is that for us in the western world it can loosely translate into mindfulness, but it can also translate as remembering. When we fully experience sati in the sense of remembering, we're not only keeping mindfulness in mind, but we're also embodying it in our corporeal selves as well.
Common Principles in Mindfulness
These are three common principles in mindfulness intervention used for healing, that I want to share with you that I have adopted from my class at Universiteit Leiden that I think provide another great outlook on mindfulness:
- Recognizing that our everyday experiences are made up of numerous observational components
- We can change the emotional force of an experience by controlling where we choose to place our attention
- Understanding the beneficial possibilities of taking a step back from what we're experiencing, into a wider space in which we can be more aware of the way we encounter, process, and experience said experiences
Meditation can be so expansive and freeing, but it can also be intimidating. Guided, walking, sitting, laying down, solo, group, breath work, silent; there are so many ways to introduce the practice into your world.
You don't need to be Buddhist to be mindful and you don't need to go sit on a pillow or under a tree. To me, mindfulness has just come to mean having a greater sense of awareness of myself and others, being able to tap into my internal self, including my emotions, understanding where physical tension and stress are rooted, and breathe much deeper than I had been able to 30 days prior.
When I reached week three and started to experiment a little bit more with the different ways I seemed to be able to approach mindfulness, an event popped up on my Facebook feed of a sound bath happening at one of the local yoga studies near me. I had heard about sound baths before, and had briefly been introduced to these singing bowls in a few yoga classes, but never for a meditation. I appreciated the serendipity and signed myself up for the 2 hour experience, not exactly knowing what to expect, but planning on showing up with shoshin, or beginner's mind. If anything, I thought this experience could make for some great research.
When I arrived at the studio Friday evening, the facilitator was sitting cross-legged behind about 30 singing bowls of all different sizes, singing softly in sanskrit with his eyes closed, playing the shruti box. We laid out our mats, blankets, and bolsters and quietly met him down on the floor and listened.
This two-hour practice was just what I didn't even know I needed, and the climax of my 30 days.
We prepared for the practice by doing some warm-ups to wake the energy in the body and give our mind time to settle after a busy week. When it was time to lay down with each of our heads facing the bowls, the sound began to resonate within my body, pulsating in waves of energy starting from my head and my heart, down to my toes, and rebounding back again. I experienced crystal clear visuals that would wash away at the sound of some of the bowls. I used the skills I had acquired through my class this month to try and focus on my breath. I experimented with body scans, patterns of breath, and releasing any muscles that tensed up (I especially noticed this happening in my face due to deep concentration, at times!).
The teacher opened up the floor at the end of practice so those who wished to share a little about their experience could do so. Everyone who was there had something totally different to add- it was almost as if we were all in separate rooms.
I think this is a great example of how we can assume that there is some sense of mysticism around mindfulness. Like anything in life, mindfulness is a daily practice. It shouldn't be assumed that if you sit quietly your first couple of times, or even for the first 30 days will you be able to achieve what you're striving toward. This concept itself can get us in trouble, because what is it that we're actually looking for? I'm here to tell you, having officially completed my 30 day journey, I can confidently say, the only way to truly find out for yourselves what this experience might feel like to you, is to seek it out personally. Experiment and play around with different options and approaches. Mindfulness has so much to teach each and every one of us. My meditation practice comes in all shapes and sizes, depending on the day, but most importantly, it has come to stay.
In health and happiness,
If you are interested in take the De-Mystifying Mindfulness course, you can find more information about how to register through the Coursera app or online at www.coursera.org