Brief-Moments: Reflections on Living Mindfulness

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #1

Living Life, Not Busyness
by Paul Galvin, MBSR Teacher

I claim to seek a life of balance, however, I seem to prefer a life of busyness. When I step back and examine my life, I can see myself pursuing tasks and making commitments that exceed my available time and resources. This truism about my life is both surprising and yet fully supported by the environment and culture I have chosen. This choice is killing me.

I am surprised by my choices because I have espoused a life of non-doing full of afternoon naps and walks in the woods for no particular reason except to walk in the woods. In truth, I do not nap very often and I spend more time walking in a parking lot from my car to my office. A walk that I extend by parking a distance from my building to “add” steps to my day. On these walks, I used to see a bumper sticker on the car of a dear colleague. It contained the word “busy” circled with a slash through it. I loved this bumper sticker and would say “yeah” to myself when I would walk by her car. When she bought a new car, the bumper sticker disappeared from the parking lot, and my brief revelry as I walked into work was over.

The truth, it feels good to be busy. I love the rush and excitement of being fully engaged to the point of being overwhelmed. Committing and overcommitting to others and tasks seem to be my norm. I am lucky enough to choose my area of work and I have derived much of my identity from what I do as teacher, organizer, and leader. In the short-term, the busy approach has had benefits serving me well in the eyes of others with praise, promotion, and more work. The long-term effects of the busy approach are not so beneficial. I busy myself to the point of a doing machine, blocking me from being a human being. Each moment of only doing and not being present is a moment of my life lost to me.

Knowing and continuing to explore this once secret striving for busyness is liberating. It is like knowing that cookies are in the cupboard and then choosing not to replace them once they are gone or only eating them on special occasions instead of being a staple of my diet. I now realize I can be with others without doing something for them. I can be present to my life without covering it up or distracting myself. I realize that living a life of balance is not saying “no” to others or tasks as much as it is saying “yes” to my life. A life of good work is not the same thing as a life of busyness. Good work comes from the inside and is measured in quality, not quantity, as it aligns with who I am. My life is already important; I do not have to create busyness to make it important.

(Originally posted for the [Sounds True MBSR Blog][1], November 2013)

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #2

(Tim Burnett) #4

Although it is true that we’ll all benefit from slowing down a little and engaging more fully with each thing I’m starting to doubt the “mindfulness narrative” that working hard and being engaged is bad. Engagement and hard work for the benefit of all beings is a wonderful thing. My current thinking is so long as we have regular times of renewal and recharge it’s okay to go for it.

I wrote a reflection on this after a super busy time myself:

On the topic of stress-is-bad vs. stress-engages-us I highly recommend Kelly McGonigal’s new book The Upside of Stress

(Rick Smith) #5

I love this line. So much insight is shared; thank you.

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #6

You are welcome! Glad you enjoyed the post. There will be a new one each
month going forward.

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #7

by Elana Rosenbaum

I checked the weather this morning and learned that up north the leaves are filled with color. I am in the southern part of New England and still surrounded by green. I know this is temporary and will change. I resist this change, as did my Dad after my mother had a stroke shortly before she died. It was October, the same time of year as now. She was no longer cognitively alert but he hoped to wake her up and cheer her so he’d bring her leaves, only the most colorful and perfectly formed, and pin them to the bulletin board across from her bed. I feel the sadness of her loss each autumn but at this moment all feels still and timeless. I am on a retreat in the southern part of Massachusetts and have given myself the treasure of silence and reflection. I sit snug in a crevasse between the remnants of two rocks deposited by a glacier thousands of years ago being kind to the sadness I carry and observe my surroundings. My sleeveless shirts have been exchanged for sweaters and I now carry a jacket but I do not need to put it on just yet. A bird is chirping and the sun is warming my face. There is a crisp freshness to the air that brings to mind the taste of an apple I recently plucked from its tree in a local orchard. It was organic and mottled with spots but crisp, sweet and tart–like life.

It is a golden day and I am surrounded by beauty. Just as the leaves follow the seasons responding to the changing warmth and light so must I. I know this but resist it. I think of moving to California but instead am here learning to relax and go with the flow–be one with impermanence. I lean against the rock and soak in its warmth, solidity and endurance.

(Originally posted for the Sounds True MBSR Blog October 2013)

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #8

Neither Pleasant Nor Unpleasant
by Lynn Koerbel

Some things I like: The first taste of my morning fruit and cereal—followed by the first drink of hot green tea or coffee. There is a particular pleasure of sweet followed by bitter warmth that is delicious. The second and third bites and sips are fine, but without that primary, initial sharpness. Then there is the feeling of lying down at night, feeling my body sink into the flannel sheets, the cloud of pillows and comforter offering a nest that makes sleep a healing respite. Some things I don’t like: The sharp cold that first hits my face and any exposed body parts in the morning when I open the door to let the dog out. Our days have been frigid, literally taking my breath away, and even before I open the door, I shiver. Or the slight but annoying rib pain that intermittently arises during the day from a yoga pose I did several weeks ago. Each time it makes itself known, it comes with a sense of frailty and defeat that I push against.

I have been conditioned to attend mostly to what I like or don’t like—and to do everything I can to make life be the way I like and avoid what I don’t like. As you might surmise, or as you might know from your own life, this means there’s a whole lot of “life wrangling” going on. But between these swings of liking and not liking—there are a million other moments neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Over time, as I’ve tired of the life wrangling, I’ve focused on these “neutral” moments more and more. There are new adventures here, and the discoveries are endless.

While brushing my teeth, I notice the vibration from the toothbrush and the vigor of my arm’s effort, the way my thumb automatically finds its resting spot on the brush. I notice the blue tiles, the warm air, the wet water. In this simplicity, something inside me opens up. It’s not like the moment suddenly becomes something I “like,” but more—that I become part of a bigger landscape, held by some force field that is magnanimous, gentle, spacious, offering itself. I might even call it life itself. But whatever I might call it, it calls to me, inviting me, more and more into these spaces of neither pleasant nor unpleasant… these zones of transition and being where I’ve typically paid little attention. Opening to these spaces, I make more contact with everything: the way a puzzle piece, when correctly situated, nestles against its neighbors—belonging. This “neutrality” feels shot through with light, purpose, and grace. And as this exploration continues, the pleasant and liking or unpleasant and not-liking lose their pressures and their promises. Loosening these bonds is the freedom I thought could only come through getting it all my way. In that spaciousness, I appreciate the irony. It’s a good laugh… and I smile as I spit into the sink.

(Originally posted for the Sounds True MBSR Blog March 2014)

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #9

By Elana Rosenbaum

I met my friend for lunch today. It is a tradition we have maintained for many years. The two of us met at a mental health clinic over thirty years ago (hard to believe). It was before I knew of mindfulness-based stress reduction and we were both clinicians, young, idealistic, and eager to help people. Both of us had recently lost our mothers to cancer and we connected over this shared grief. My mother, a non-smoker, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and died within six months of this diagnosis. I watched her suffer through chemotherapy and her fear of dying. I missed her presence in my life and was sad that she died before meeting my husband-to-be. My friend had two young children and grieved that her mother would never be there to see them grow up. My memories of this period were of unhappiness. I think I complained a lot. …and my friend listened.

During this period, I remember getting up early and going to the meditation center to cope with my grief. My mind was filled with negativity, regrets, loss and disappointment. It was hard to believe that this would pass. Sitting with others was comforting but practice was difficult and required enduring the states of loss and grief that arose in my mind. I remember being impatient and wanting these feelings to go away—quickly. I longed to achieve happiness but couldn’t force it to happen. My teacher seemed happy, could I? The meditation talks fed my mind with new perceptions and were inspiring. Misery and hope kept me on the cushion.

In time, my life and my perceptions about how things “should” be began shifting. I started teaching MBSR and working with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli. The clinic was still in its infancy but the work was inspiring. It astounded me how much transformation could occur within people during the MBSR eight week program.

After teaching MBSR for twelve years, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was then that I came to truly believe the words we expressed in class, “there is more right with you than wrong…it is possible not to suffer.” Through eight rounds of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant and a close encounter with death, I was often happy, at peace and …survived. I am now as old as my mother was when she died. My friend’s children have grown and they have children. We have experienced some tragedies and many joys. I have had recurrences of cancer and I live with uncertainty but that too is a gift. It helps me appreciate what I have. I know I will die and I know today I am alive. Every day is a gift, things go wrong, things go right. Being able to return to this breath, this moment and be able to meet what arises is a blessing. I breathe in and note my nose is stuffed, it will pass, it is winter and the air is dry. I breath out and feel the flow of air and this happens without thought or effort. My house is warm, I am in bed, and the blanket on the bed, a pale green, is warm and comforting. The dog sleeps, the electricity is working illuminating the night, and I have the ability to write. Amazing. I savour the ordinary–how miraculous.

(Originally Posted for the Sounds True MBSR Blog February 6, 2014)

(delia calixtro) #10

What I get from this article is that being means I stay in the present with the pleasant and the unpleasant without pushing or clinging to anything. It is hard, but. keeping busy to distract myself it does rob me of this life, this moment. I want to appreciate the extraordinary action of doing the dishes, it is as important as eating the food. I want my doing to come from being. I think when I allow life to show up in its own terms I am showing up for my life and I am showing for others. The biggest question I ask myself, sometimes when I am in the present is what motivates me to do something?
I invite a discussion
I am showing up curious
I am not an expert
I am grateful for the honesty

(Ted Meissner) #11

Wonderful insights, Delia, thank you for sharing. Interestingly I was just reflecting on this very thing last night and this morning, journaling about being present for my cat when he comes for attention as I sip coffee. Rather than a few mindless scritches and then shooing him away, I’ve been setting aside busyness in favor of a vastly more rewarding experience of being with him, listening deeply, and responding to his guidance about attending to the moment.

It’s not just inhabiting the space of love, it’s also inclusive of claws in my leg and knocking over pictures on my desk! And that, too, is a practice opportunity of presence.

Ah, yes, that’s a great question about motivation. Where does it come from? Sometimes heart, sometimes mind, sometimes body? Or perhaps a very nuanced mix, ever changing with each new moment? Will have to explore that question, thank you for the insight!

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #12

Coming Together Now
by Paul Galvin

The question “where are you from?” has always been a little complicated for me to answer. I moved a fair amount as a child and young adult, living on the West Coast, South, Mid-West, South-West, and East Coast. (All this moving, and I am not from a military family.) I know that I am a product both of these locations and cultures as well as the moving itself. I have transplanted my “roots” so often that I have not always valued the connections to the land and the people. In the not too distant past, I lived the belief of “why bother getting to know others since I will only move away in a year or two.” I just kept moving and living in the future, unaware of any connections.

It is only recently that I have begun to appreciate the reality of life as interconnected. I see the connections as I work and play with family and friends. I feel the connections as I fail and disappoint others and yet choose to maintain the relationships instead of running away. I know the connections as I walk through the autumn woods and see rock walls built by hands long gone. Connections are revealed to me as former students share how a story or an experience with me has influenced their lives and those that they touch. This opening to interconnections has been promoted through my mindfulness practice.

Being grounded in the now, has made me aware of the connections to the past, future, and all those around me, known and unknown. Knowing these connections offers the gift of giving and receiving the support of others. I wish to continue to wake up to the connections of all living beings.

If you share this same sense of connectedness, this week I invite you to join me in attempting to reflect upon and live more fully in this life of interconnectedness.

(Originally posted on the Sounds True MBSR Blog, October 21, 2013)

(Eowyn Ahlstrom) #13

Meeting a Hiccup
by Paul Galvin

In the language of mindfulness practice, we often talk about “meeting” this moment as it is. While the past and future frame this moment, meeting is being present to now, the only moment we have. I have encouraged others and myself to meet this moment in the form of a person, situation, or object with a sense of freshness and newness. By meeting, I have found curiosity and joy in the simplest aspects of my life, even a hiccup.

I believe that I am like most people and would not choose to have hiccups. I find them to be inconvenient, uncomfortable, frustrating, and even embarrassing. This past weekend I was able to practice with how to meet a hiccup. After a pleasant dinner with my wife and visiting parents, I met my first hiccup of the evening. I met it with a sense of surprise. I met my second hiccup with disappointment as I thought they were here to stay. I met the upcoming hiccups with a desire to control and stop. I pulled out my usual “remedies” and met with failure after failure. Eventually, a slice of cold watermelon and yet another glass of water seemed to yield a victory over the hiccups.

hiccupThe victory would not last, or should I say that it lasted long enough that I met my next hiccup at 2am with surprise, disappointment, and frustration all at once. In the middle of the night…that was just not fair. I met the next hiccups with force and tried to repeat my earlier “cure” without success. I walked around the house so as not to disturb my resting wife. I looked at the stars in the clear Vermont night sky. The hiccups persisted.

I thought about the “what” and “why “of hiccups and remembered facts about hiccups. As a young boy I was fascinated with the Guinness Book of World Records. I recalled a record about the longest case of hiccups by a young girl in Austria or was it for sneezing and she lived in Germany? Either way, the hiccups continued, even after a half a dozen slices of cold watermelon and too many glasses of water. I chose to lie on the couch and to truly meet a hiccup for the first time, or better yet to meet this moment where hiccups were happening. I watched my body respond. I found the automatic process quite interesting as my diaphragm contracted again and again. I am not sure how many hiccups I met this way, as my mind calmed. At some point, my body softened, and the hiccups were gone again.

I never thought I could learn anything from a hiccup and yet I did by simply meeting this moment. For me, meeting this moment is an ongoing life lesson.

(Originally Posted on the Sounds True MBSR Blog, September 20, 2013)

(linda pountney) #14

Checking in with my body is helping me ease out of having to be busy to feel that I am being productive and motivated. My type of “busyness” is actually not very productive, and can hurt interpersonal communication. I am exploring this lately because my choice to be busy is almost an excuse not to be mindful. I am devoting time to a business, but it does not have to be at the expense of my mindfulness practice or moments of being “present”. Thank you Ted for mentioning how motivation can come from the heart, or the mind, and sometimes even the body. In a restorative yoga class today, I saw my mind jump into my recent addictive mode of “busyness”. Then I witnessed emotions surface that were not comfortable ones - certainly not emotions I wanted “to be with”. Of course my body had to get a piece of the action, and an ache and restless leg came into my awareness… simply by letting myself be with one part of the body, my legs, I was able to set busyness aside. Sounds took on new meaning and I slowed down to the speed of life in the moment.

The restorative yoga instructor had said “checking in with your feet”. This brought my attention to the body - a connection that was much needed! I tend to avoid connecting to the body when experiencing challenging emotional times, and by the grace of a yoga class, I saw this in a very real way.