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Mindfulness and Meditation

I've been toying with the idea of attending a mindfulness and meditation retreat for some time, but have shied away because I worry that I won't be able to tolerate sitting still for long periods of time. Additionally, I worry that I won't like it. So I started reading a pamphlet that dispels the myths surrounding mindfulness and meditation. All of the points are good, but here are just a few that I found particularly poignant:

Practicing mindfulness isn’t about zoning out. It’s about zoning in. You train yourself to pay closer attention than you might normally be used to, and this kind of focus rubs off on the rest of your life. It can actually help you to get into “the zone” and stay there longer.
Meditation practice need not be tied to any belief system. The only necessary belief is not a dogmatic one, but one that says each of us has the capacity to understand ourselves more fully, and to care more deeply both for ourselves and for others. Its methods work to free us of habitual reactions that cause us great unhappiness, such as harsh self-judgment, and to develop wisdom and love. Meditation gives anybody who pursues it an opportunity to look within for a sense of abundance, depth, and connection to life.
When we hear phrases commonly used to describe mindfulness, like “just be with what is,” “accept the present moment,” “don’t get lost in judgment,” it can sound pretty inert. But the actual experience of mindfulness is of vibrant, alive, open space where creative responses to situations have room to arise, precisely because we’re not stuck in the well-worn grooves of the same old habitual reactions. In mindfulness, we don’t lose discernment and intelligence. These qualities, in fact, become more acute as stale preconceptions and automatic, rigid responses no longer rule the day.

All this sounds pretty wonderful right? Add to the aforementioned, this remarkable story as shared by the great mindfulness educator Sharon Salzberg:

A few years ago I was on my way to Tucson, but my plans were challenged when I found myself in an airplane sitting on a runway for four and a half hours at La Guardia Airport. Looking back on it, I sometimes refer jokingly to those hours as “the breakdown of civilization.” It was hot, and it grew hotter. After a point, people starting yelling, “Let me off this plane!” The pilot resorted to getting on the PA system and saying sternly, “No one is getting off this plane.” I wasn’t feeling all that chipper myself. I couldn’t get in touch with the people in Tucson who were supposed to pick me up at the airport, and I was concerned about them. I had an apartment to go to in New York City and kept thinking, to no avail, “I can just go back there and try again tomorrow.” I was hot. I felt pummeled by the people shouting around me. Then I recalled an image that a good friend of mine, Bob Thurman, author of Infinite Life: Seven Virtues for Living Well, often uses to describe the flow of kindness and compassion that comes from seeing the world more truthfully. He says, “Imagine you are on the New York City subway, and these Martians come and zap the subway car so that those of you in the car are going to be together…forever.” What do we do? If someone is hungry, we feed them. If someone is freaking out, we try to calm them down. We might not like everybody or approve of them, but we are going to be together forever. So we need to respond with the wisdom of how interrelated our lives are—and will remain. Sitting on that airplane, I recalled my friend’s story. I looked around the cabin and thought, “Maybe these are my people.” I saw my worldview shift from “me” and “them” to “we.” The claustrophobia eased.

Sharon's story reminded me that everyone in my life has been strategically placed to serve as my teacher. Each has taught me something(s) about myself--especially those that aren't quite like me--or don't quite like me. Challenging people are my greatest teachers who provide me with the necessary curriculum and lessons I still need to learn.

Sharon's story reminds me to see others as characters cast together with me in a play. We all have important roles to play, and each, whether antagonist or protagonist, moves the plot forward in remarkably, rewarding ways. And what play bereft of climaxes, twists, turns, disappointments, joys, and uncertain endings, would really be worth attending anyway?

So, with all that being said, I think I'm going to give my mindfulness and meditation retreat a go! For in the final analysis:
We practice meditation in the end not to become great meditators but to have a different life. As we deepen the skills of concentration, mindfulness, and compassion, we find we have less stress, more fulfillment, more insight, and vastly more happiness. We transform our lives.


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