Adventures in Mindful Living
Whether you’re applying mindfulness to your relationships, career, health, or as a spiritual practice, you’ll find helpful stories, tips, and articles that will enrich your understanding of topics such as psychology, meditation, neuroscience, and personal development.
“Be Burma!” my teacher lovingly exclaimed.
I knew exactly what he meant by this foreign phrase because I had been living in Burma for the past four months on a meditation retreat. Living among the lizards living outside the front door of my small wooden shack (kuti) underneath a forest of flowering rubber trees, life seemed so simple.
In this setting every activity, eating, walking, even sleeping and sitting was an organized ritual of mindful activity for me. It wasn’t just me who lived this way because I was on a meditation retreat. This way of life had been steadily suffused into the Burmese culture for over two thousand years. Assimilating to this way of life is what my teacher, U Revata, meant when he instructed me to “be Burma.”
“But it is so boring just to focus on the breath hour after hour,” I replied.
“Yes, it…your mind… is boring,” he said with a patient, loving twinkle in his eyes.
U Revata then instructed me, with so much love and kindness that I cannot even attempt to express in words, to return to my kuti (small forest hut) and go back to my breath.
What is Mindfulness?
When I meet with my therapy clients and meditation groups now as a clinical psychologist and meditation instructor, I describe mindfulness as a moment of awakening. In that moment of awareness we have the agency to choose how we respond to our feelings, thoughts, and ultimately choose who we want to be. This moment often serves as a reset to our morning, our day, our month, or even season of our life where we can feel empowered to choose a new path, away from habits of mind and action that no longer serve us, and plow a new road instead towards a new mind, and the person we WANT to become, who we already are, deep in our hearts.
Each day that I practiced meditation in my initial months of retreat brought me closer to integrating mindfulness. Those short moments of mindfulness, no matter how brief or long, felt like glimpses of what it would be like to live completely awakened. In these “eureka” realizations, each and every time, I felt whole, as I was unencumbered by the expectations I had for myself or others had for me, and free to choose how I responded to my environment and especially my own feelings in any given moment. The sense of freedom I felt in these moments was often a huge relief; like a reset for my day with a newfound sense of possibility.
Mindfulness is a moment of awakening. In that moment of awareness we have the agency to choose how we respond to our feelings, thoughts and ultimately choose who we want to be.
Be Compassionate with Yourself
In Burma it was easy to integrate mindfulness into every facet of my life. However, on my plane ride back to the United States, I encountered the stark contrast of our western way of life.
As I turned on my personal TV, Transformers was playing on the screen right in front of my face. I remember feeling my personal awareness slip away within minutes. My clear awareness of feelings and thoughts dissolving into action packed explosions.
I had not mastered this new skill of “mindfulness” to a degree where I would not fall into the same old habits of mind while back at home, watching tv, cooking, attending class, or hanging with friends. This is where I had to learn to be more compassionate towards myself as I learned how to integrate mindfulness into my day in a way that worked for me.
That first time coming back from retreat I observed myself making all the old mistakes, not yet strong enough to hold onto the skills I had just learned. I got irritated by all the same old relationship dynamics. I did not realize at that time the importance of watching myself make all the same mistakes and that these were no mistakes, only learning experiences helping me remember to come back to the present moment.
This really was the beginning of what would become a life-long journey of integrating what I had learned in Burma into my life in America, and being compassionate towards my learning process was vital to finding a sustainable way to integrate mindfulness into my life, in each and every setting.
How to “Be Burma” Wherever You Are
Our way of life is, of course, very different here in the United States. Yet, there are many ways we can find these moments of mindfulness in our day.
What I’ve learned, decades later, is that there are really three different stages to applying mindfulness to one’s daily life no matter who you are or where you live.
Here is how I break down these three stages of integrating mindfulness into your daily life.
- A Daily Practice: This includes finding a specific time of the day to sit for 15, 30 or 60 minutes of meditation to cultivate a present, focused, compassionate, loving state of mind.
- Mindfulness Minis: Doing mindfulness in daily life exercises where your object of meditation is changed from a form object like feeling the breath to sensation while doing an activity or focusing on the activity itself. This includes informal practices like walking mindfully (feeling your footsteps), doing dishes mindfully (feeling water on your hands), cleaning mindfully (mind contained to cleaning).
- Integrating Mindfulness Into Important Life Domains: As mindfulness brings your attention back to the present moment, our feelings, thoughts and relationship dynamics become ever clearer. It becomes easier to see what physical or mental actions bring one closer to suffering or closer to greater personal well-being. This insight can inform important changes in physical or mental behavior. This can be a natural and gradual change or can be intentionally and systematically integrated into your most important life domains.
All three aspects of applying meditation to your life are essential and the foundation of your practice. The foundation of a house is not more important than the roof. These are all necessary in a healthy and thriving meditation practice.
At SkillfulMeans we help you break down these areas of life. Here is a simple exercise you can do using mindfulness to gain insight into an important area of your life right now.
A 5 Min Mindfulness for Insight Exercise:
- Bring to mind an area of your life that needs some attention or insight. As an example this could be any of the following:
a) A recent intense social interaction that needs personal debriefing
b) A relationship dynamic you keep finding yourself in
c) A habit of behavior you don’t like, or, a good one you want to keep going
- Allow the content. Using your mindfulness muscle to be non-judgmental of the feelings and thoughts that arise, bring this area of your life or event to mind. Allow thoughts and feelings to come to the surface, while maintaining compassionate curiosity.
In the same way you do not get mad at your nose for smelling stinky things. You don’t need to beat yourself up for feeling or thinking negative things or even beat yourself up for beating yourself up.
- Comeback to the area. When your mind gets caught up reacting to a thought, playing out scenarios about how you are going to get revenge by saying something clever to your spouse or floating off somewhere else, come back to this interaction, relationship dynamic or habit and notice what comes up.
- Take action. You have just learned something about yourself and about your personal needs. If something made you feel helpless, you have a need to feel capable and can express that to someone. If you notice anger you may have felt unsafe and may need to validate the felt sense of feeling unsafe in a particular situation, conversation, or even in your own thinking patterns. What do you need to say or do to feel safe in this moment or in the future? If you feel you need to say something that did not get said, express a need or take action on something that is important to you do it now.
🌱 Mindfulness is a moment of awakening. In that moment of awareness we have the agency to choose how we respond to our feelings, thoughts and ultimately choose who we want to be.
🌱 Be compassionate towards yourself. Remember the importance of watching yourself make all the same mistakes and that these are not mistakes, only learning experiences helping you remember to come back to the present moment.
🌱 Following the 3 steps: Daily Practice, Daily Minis, and Integrating into Life Domains, can help you feel freer to live your life in a more authentic way.
🌱 These practices are universal and each person, regardless of their differing value sets and ways of life can integrate these practices into their lives in a way that feels natural and good to them.
William Jackson, Psy.D.
Founder and CEO of SkillfulMeans LLC