Mindfulness has gone mainstream. You will find it in schools, corporations and pain clinics. It is proclaimed to help with stress relief, with pain relief, with focus, creativity and accomplishment. It is said that being mindful will make you happier.
So what is mindfulness, and how can it possibly offer such wide-ranging results? Being mindful is nothing more than bringing your full attention into the moment that's happening right now. It's nothing more than showing up.
The thing is, this isn't so easy to do. As a society, as a culture, we have developed a great habit of splitting our attention into many pieces. Some situations demand that we multitask just to get through the day. And, speaking for myself, I believe in multitasking; that is, I have carried a belief since I was a child that, the more stuff I do, the happier I will be. I was one of those kids who never wanted to go to bed for fear of missing out on something, and that fear has been a driving force through my life. But even if it was all great, fun stuff, at some point I realized that I was getting less return on all the busyness; that slowing way down and doing just one thing at a time actually gives me a big dollop of that satisfaction and happiness I have been chasing.
I have been doing my best to turn my mind and body to mindfulness practice for the past 16 years. My primary teacher is the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who can bring you to a state of mindfulness just by watching him walk across a room. But you can't develop mindfulness by watching or reading about it. You need to try it out for yourself, consistently. It might be the best habit you can develop because it enhances your experience of everything you do.
Mindfulness can be cultivated within the course of your day, no matter how busy you are. The reality is that we are always giving our attention to something, so when we choose to give it to mindfulness, a door of awareness opens and life in that moment becomes more full.
Turning your attention toward mindfulness, you'll likely discover times you are already approaching life this way: stopping for that first sip of morning tea or coffee; stepping outside to smell the fresh air and noticing the hills that surround us.
My teacher wrote a book, "Our Appointment with Life." Mindfulness is a way to not miss the depth and richness of our precious lives because we are too distracted or too busy, to cultivate how to be fully present for our appointment with this life we have been gifted.
Wise teachers recommend that, because the habits of activity, of multitasking, of distracting ourselves are so endemic, we need friends for help and support to develop our mindfulness. So we come together for an hour or a day and take the radical step of committing to being present together, to opening ourselves to whatever is at hand.
We are offering a day of mindfulness from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Ashland Community Center. All are welcome. For more information, go to peacefulrefugesangha.org, and then to the Upcoming Events page. Preregistration is encouraged but not necessary. We also meet weekly, Tuesdays from 5:20 to 7 p.m., at the UCC church. All are welcome here too, no experience necessary. See the Current Events page of the website for details.
The effects of developing an ability to bring an open, loving attention to whatever is happening in the moment, and thus to direct our lives toward more fulfillment, more joy and a deeper ability to love, cannot be overstated. If you show up, you will see for yourself.
Barbara Casey was ordained as a teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh four years ago. The guiding teacher for the Peaceful Refuge Sangha, she offers classes, consultations and leads special events for all those interested in mindfulness meditation.
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