So, I love Jim Henson and always have. He was such a creative genius and I truly believe the world is a better place because of him; I came across this quote the other day and wanted to take a closer look-see at it because it resonated with me so much:
“Most people, and particularly kids, don’t realize that they are in control of their lives, and they’re the ones that are going to make the decisions, and they they’re the ones that are going to make it one way or the other. Usually, adolescence is a time when kids feel that the world is doing it to them and that they are the victim in all of this. Somewhere in here, you have to learn that you’re not the victim. But instead you’re the one who’s doing it. That moment is sometimes a long, slow realization, or sometimes, it’s turning on a light switch. All of a sudden you realize that you are the person who has control of your life.”
See, I started a class a couple weeks ago on mindfulness and meditation. These are things I’ve heard of before but to be honest here’s what I pictured: a balding man wearing robes and beads and chanting to himself. Yes, I know how cliche that is, but I truly didn’t know anything about this subject. Anyhoo, even after a couple of weeks I’m learning so much about how to stay calm and see things that are happening in a much different way.
I figured that mindfulness and meditation are used to only stay calm and feel good but oh boy…I was wrong (as usual 🙄). The book we are using in our class is “Good Morning, I Love You” by Shauna Shapiro and I take pages and pages of notes while reading each chapter…I may need more paper by the end of the class. Here’s what she says that resonates with me so much (paraphrased): We hold ourselves to unrealistic standards of perfection and judge ourselves harshly when we fall short. When we do this, we are assuming that perfection is possible and logically, we know it’s not. But, Dr. Shapiro makes it very clear that TRANSFORMATION is possible…that we can learn and change and grow throughout our lives.
So mindfulness, according to Dr. Shapiro, is paying attention in the moment (and meditation is one avenue we can use to do that). IN THE MOMENT. According to studies, our minds wander 47% of the time which means…get ready for it…we’re not in the present for 1/2 of our lives. HALF of our lives. That’s seemed crazy high to me, but as I’ve really been consciously focusing on the present, I know this statistic is right.
I can’t believe how much I berate myself for things I’ve done or said in the past, or I’m worrying about what I’m going to say or do in the future. While we are in the past, Dr. Shapiro says that we are often practicing 3 things: judgment, impatience, and frustration. As I think back, I do this all of the time and hold myself up to higher standards (perfection!) than any other person in my life. I forgive people for what they do or say…but forgiving myself is a completely different story. Why can we treat others with kindness and mercy, but not ourselves?
Also, Dr. Shapiro talks about how we all feel bad about ourselves. Maybe the degrees of this differ but most of us beat ourselves up and feel shame about who we are. The problem? She teaches us that shame literally shuts down parts of the brain that promote growth and learning…it robs the brain of energy that’s needed for the growth and change we’re seeking. So, instead of growing, I’m robbing myself of any chance of transforming my life in a positive way.
Dr. Shapiro goes on to say how she really struggled with practicing mindfulness while at a retreat in Thailand until a monk said this to her: “What you practice grows stronger.”
Wow. You know how some things hit you when you read them? This gobsmacked me. Think about it: if we’re always worrying or ruminating or judging ourselves or berating ourselves, those ‘habits’ are going to grow stronger to where we actually create pathways in the brain. Pathways that we walk down again and again.
Luckily, Dr. Shapiro reminds us about the neuroplasticity of the brain and how we can grow GREAT things and create new pathways with practice. Remember, what you practice grows stronger. The key? To practice ‘us’ with kindness. Kindness towards ourselves which is the essential part of mindfulness.
Finally, she talks about a block we have in terms of growth: “I don’t deserve to get better” and also reminds of this: “You are not just your past actions.” Read this again if you need too because it’s the end of the punishment we put ourselves through for things we can’t change. Isn’t that a relief?
I’ve been so much more conscious about my thoughts these past couple of weeks and am really trying to focus on the present instead of the past. Last night I let the dogs out and they were playing around in the yard. Bill’s house is a couple away and I get a bit upset when I see it and think back on our relationship. But, when I felt myself doing that, I stopped the thoughts and watched my dogs play in the yard. I felt the cool breeze against my skin, and listened to the sound of the night crickets, and smiling at the fun Ed and Mally were having, and how lucky I am to have this little piece of the earth. I wasn’t stressed about getting them inside and getting ready for bed or drying the dishes that were draining in the sink, etc. I was in the here and the now and took so much pleasure in what was going on around me.
Another example was after school today. I went to the grocery store and my normal mode of operandi is to rush as quickly as I can through it and get the hell out. Today? I started wandering around the produce and saw some strawberries that looked yummy. I took time to look at all the flower bouquets and smelled the roses (literally 😐). I saw one of my students and she said: “Professor K! It’s you!” And we hugged and laughed because I had just taught her class. I decided to buy a bouquet and after I checked out, I found her in an aisle and gave it to her…the look on her face was priceless and made my heart swell. Here’s the thing: I usually see grocery shopping as a chore to get through while I’m planning on the next thing to do. Today I saw it as what I AM doing and actually taking in what was happening in every moment. I came out of the store happy and content. That, my sweetie peeps, is a first.
Finally, I’m also learning from Dr. Shapiro and my Professor that mindfulness creates a space between what’s coming at you and how you respond. To take advantage of that space, you need to be in the present and cognitive of what’s happening. You aren’t simply REACTING but are consciously choosing a response.
Example? Today an older woman (she was about 1000 years old but no, it wasn’t ma 🤨) swung around the corner of my block so widely that she was thisclose to hitting me and I was thisclose to yelling and getting really upset, But, I stopped myself. I took a deep breath, told myself that I wasn’t hit, and went back to listening to my audio book as I was watching the sun come up higher in the sky. The drive to school was peaceful…I wasn’t all riled up.
The moral of the story to all of this? Mindfulness won’t change what happens in your life…but what it will do is change our relationship to what is happening. We go from reactors to responders and from slogging through life in the past to appreciating and finding joy in the present. Signing up for this class was one of the best things I’ve done lately and I can’t wait to keep learning and growing in this practice.