Starting a mindfulness practice – especially the informal kind where you weave present-moment awareness into your daily activities – is simple. At any given moment, notice this breath, notice layers of sound filtering into your ears, observe sensations in the body, and rest against the support beneath you. Simple, right? For some, it seems ludicrous to pay attention to the present. The mind has so many more interesting ideas about what to superimpose on this moment. To the mind, the act of simply being is boring. The mind will do its utmost to distract you from the simple task at hand, so be prepared for constant hijacking at the outset. This can be frustrating, especially for dedicated or recovering perfectionists.
While the instructions are simple, they are not easy to master, especially if you are practicing with an attachment to a desired outcome. Some mistakenly assume effective practice occurs when thoughts are absent. Thoughts are not the enemies. They arise. Exercising the choice to follow a thought or let it go gives you the power to enhance or diminish its strength.
I love that people like Dan Harris, CBS news anchor, once a skeptic, are bringing mindfulness more into the mainstream. With his book, 10% Happier, he shares his take on the benefits of mindfulness practices. Mindfulness practice does not deliver guarantees, even though the scientific evidence from studying the effects of repeated practice is encouraging: increased focus, decreased distress, increased resilience, decreased subjective pain, increased emotional intelligence, decreased fight or flight triggering, etc.
What I notice when clients begin to take up the practice, is that they become more aware of all the times they are UNmindful. They become keenly aware of their negative assessments of themselves or the current situation. Mindfulness practice simply heightens awareness of whatever you are paying attention to. Until you decide to pay attention to less judgmental narratives of yourself, others or the present moment, you can feel at least 10% crappier – initially. So be prepared, because if you press eject before you have a chance to begin experiencing the benefits, you’ll likely prejudge the practice as worthless, or even making things worse.
It’s akin to going on safari in a jungle that seems dark, scary and overwhelming. Your machete blade is beginning to get dull the more you hack your way in. You are sweating and working hard, worrying about the dangers lurking around the next bend. Until you settle into your new surroundings, confront uncertainty with acceptance, and lean in to the unknown with an attitude of openness, curiosity and courage, you’ll likely turn tail and run, or just stop from sheer exhaustion.
So I invite you to leave your expectations behind. Be open to THIS journey, unfolding in whatever way is organic to you and your life experience. Drop your expectations of feeling happier, more relaxed or being free from thoughts. Start your practice with a clear intention to befriend yourself and your experience in this moment. With repetition and willingness, you will discover the hidden gems, the inner spaciousness that exists beneath all the doing, thinking and reacting. Just.Be.Open. Trust will evolve and you will be guided deeper into the unexplored, magical jungle with an adventurous heart.
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Keep an eye out for my book: Soul Safari: Discover Your True Nature, due out on Amazon Kindle in April, 2016.Share