Last week I had my first official classroom of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. When I entered the room, it was quiet. The two teachers, Jody and Natalia, were softly chatting while the rest of the class were heads down, scrolling through cellphones.
The lady next to me, Laura, was apologetically eating some homemade tiki masala, “Sorry I brought in such a pungent dish,” she bashfully smiled at me. I learned that she was a therapist. For some time, she had a quote about mindfulness hanging in her office as a reminder to her clients. One day she thought she might as well understand what this word was all about.
In a similar way, I’ve heard about mindfulness throughout my twenties when I got into the practice of yoga. And now, I hear it all the time. It is a big buzz word – bring mindfulness to your daily life. The definition seems so obvious I never really bothered to ask. Being mindful? It’s the opposite of being careless. You just pay attention. It’s not that hard, right?
When class began a few minutes past six, more than 1/3 of the chairs were still empty. One of the teachers opened the session by asking us to close our eyes and reflect on what brings us to the program. Interesting! This was now the fourth time we were being asked.
Reflecting with my eyes closed, I saw myself animatedly talking with people, engaged and engaging – my true self without inhibitions and painful awkwardness. Without my interfering thoughts and judgement dictating my every move. And this me is awesome! She is adorable and funny, laughing and cheerful, joyful – me, when I was 10 years old, a budding comedian, making everybody around me laugh. Then, I asked myself what keeps me from that? Fear! – the word came blaring across the screen. I am here to engage my fear. To know it and to see it.
We then went around the circle to introduce ourselves and share what we’ve discovered in the exercise – what brings us to the program? Unfortunately for me, I was sitting on the “wrong” side of the teacher and would be one of the last to share. This did not sit well with my nerves and by the time the halfway point was reached, my heart was pounding in anticipation of speaking in front of the group.
I started to fidget and became distracted by my thoughts – preparing for my talk. Before I knew it, several people had spoken and I totally missed their names. Many people were here for anxiety or stress from work.
One man, Charlie, whom I had met on orientation day said something pretty profound – He figured that by now, at his age, things would get easier. But they’re not. In fact, it’s harder.
When it was my turn I shared that I’ve struggled with anxiety for much of my life. I self medicated with drugs and alcohol to get through it. Last year, I became sober and since then, have embarked on my personal development journey with meditation and mindfulness. My voice began to shake so I wrapped it up quickly.
A Beginner’s Mind
The next exercise was developing the beginner’s mind. We were given an object and instructed to look at it like we were an alien from another planet who has never seen this thing before. We observed it with our five senses slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully.
Doing this filled me with a curiosity, eagerness, and excitement. The feeling was one of being on the cusp of discovery, on the edge of my seat wondering what I’ll find. And even though it was something I’ve seen so many times and is, by and large, ordinary, I saw and noticed things I hadn’t before.
It was the same feeling I had when I discovered the local fruit in the markets of Thailand. It was all so different, I appreciated it. From the creamy color, nut-like textures, and subtle, tart taste of the snake fruit to the pearly white flesh against the brilliantly maroon colored skin of the mangosteen.
Next, we did some movement exercises. We stood up and noticed how it felt to stand. My body felt as if awoken from a nap. We stood on different parts of the foot, flexed it, stood on the ball, and noticed the arch. We swayed from side to side and noticed. We stood on one leg and noticed. We stood on the other leg and noticed. We bent our knees, bent over in a fold, and observed. We stretched way up high, taking our time lifting our arms. Moving as slow as possible, noticing sensations all the way up. We stretched to the right, and to the left. Feeling all the sensations. Then we sat. Noticed how we felt. Then stood back up and noticed how this time it felt different. And it did. I observed how warm my body felt standing this time around. It felt like the blood was rushing around.
I was very conscious of my body in space during this exercise. it became clear to me that this is not my norm. I am not usually noticing all the sensations in this manner, even in my yoga classes. Is this what it means to be mindful and notice?
Next, we engaged in a body scan meditation and because I had done Vipassana course in September, I felt my beginner’s mind leave me. I spent 100 hours in body scan meditation, I already know how to do this. However, I noticed this thought when it occurred and so was able to keep an eye on it. I didn’t chastise myself on it, I was just aware of this thought, and carried on.
The meditation was great. It landed differently for me than Vipassana did because it was guided. Someone was walking me through each body part and it gave me something to focus on. I began to notice parts of myself that I was observing.
In closing, one of the teachers made a comment about focusing on the intentionality behind an action, rather than just the results. So again, I think about what brings me to this program? Is it just to gain peace and a calmer mind? A less stressed life? Or is it about my intention throughout this program?
Then she read us a poem about beginnings. There was something that led me here. Everything unfolded to this opportunity. This beginning. A seed had been planted. And here I am, budding in this moment. I left the class in a happy mood, buzzing. “I feel like jelly! “ I exclaimed to Jim as I oozed into the passenger seat, “This is what church should feel like!”
Throughout the week change was so subtle, I didn’t even notice until half the week was over. At which point, it became obvious just how much more relaxed I felt. I was beginning to feel more myself around people instead of a wind up toy. Even with my friends, I am a bit anxious because I feel like I have to people-please all the time. I am constantly worrying about what I’m doing, what I’m saying, and whether I’m being boring or not entertaining enough.
That weekend, I went on a road trip with my good friend and the entire time I felt relaxed, even at a party that would usually throw me into high anxiety, I was feeling good. Laughing, joking, and having fun. This was very unusual for me.
When I awoke the morning after the party, I sat in bed just soaking in the peace and quiet beauty of the Airbnb we were in. The plum curtains were such a beautiful shade of purple – Perhaps, my new favorite shade! I thought. I savored where I was. In bed, with my best friend, just talking, while the snow fell outside the windows. That soft, ambient glow from snowfall was filtering in through the windows, lighting the room with a simple warmth. The sheets were super soft and felt like velvet against my legs. It was so serene.
Throughout the week, I began taking moments here and there to check in with my body and myself, feel what I am feeling, and engage my senses. It is actually pretty astounding that I wasn’t doing this before. I had it in my head that I was, but now I see that I didn’t know “how”. The body movement exercises showed me how to feel sensations and observe my experience.
I shared my newfound revelations with someone during the week and he noted something had changed, I had gotten my innocence back.
Featured and header image taken from source.
Read my first post about MBSR here.