Mindfulness: Identifying our thoughts, images and automatic reactivity to them. Seeing our thoughts instead of being our thoughts.
For many years as I ate a meal I noticed that often the last bite of whatever I was eating tasted so good. Better than all the other bites, in fact. I have to admit that this did catch my attention each time it happened. I had the urge to ponder this curious little experience. But soon my mind, like the young woman in the picture, was on to some other tidbit of life, racing on. Dragging my awareness with it into my virtual reality of thinking. I like to talk while at a meal. I enjoy planning, analyzing and just having fun thinking with friends and family while eating. It was not until I had practiced mindfulness meditation for a while that this last bite thing began to seem more interesting to me, interesting enough for me to learn to slow down a bit and really look at it.
Why was the last bite the best, no big deal but what’s up with that? Well, it began to dawn on me that while eating the last bite of food I also became more interested in it, more focused on it. I mean I thought, oh this is the last bite and then I paid much more attention to what I was eating. So, it was not so much about the last bite that was making the difference in my enjoyment but more what I was doing with my attention during the last bite.
I started paying attention to my experience. After all I was about to finish my food and I like food…I moved my attention to the food on purpose and without judgement and in reality started savoring what I was eating. (Not rocket science, right?) I started using other senses naturally to experience my food and found a much richer experience. I moved my awareness effortlessly, and didn’t even realize that I was doing it, to the taste, texture, color, and smell of the food. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to enjoy my entire meal like this.
Thinking and experience
You don’t have to wonder much about where his awareness is now do you? Remember how you enjoyed things as a child when they were good?Thinking isn’t the problem
I don’t mean to rag on thinking. There really is nothing wrong with it, analyzing being creative or enjoying genius with your ability to think. The real issue is not so much about thinking good or bad. All thinking is normal. Problems occur when we focus almost exclusively on thinking as reality while excluding our experience. Thinking is a magnificent asset but it is a poor master left on its own.
Slowing down and being with direct experience
Take a moment right now, close your eyes and make a mental image of your right hand, don’t feel it, just think an image…see the palm, the top of the hand, the fingers and thumb. Now hold your right hand out from your body and sense your hand. Feel the air moving across the hand if it is…is there tingling…perhaps your hand is cool, cold or warm…just notice. What did you experience that was different between thinking about your hand and experiencing your hand?
Because of our busy pace we have stopped practicing focusing on one thing at a time and often use our mind to make a virtual reality. We invent or remember what was sensed by thinking it. We try and figure everything out from what to do about something to who we are as people, good, bad or lovable, unlovable. It seems vital to keep our minds going full tilt on as many things as we can until we get ahead. We seem almost afraid of letting go of using our thinking for all matters human. We become stuck on autopilot.
The more things that we focus on in our minds that run us the more we become lost to our other senses and overall knowing through experience. The problem is that we are out of balance with our whole experience of living. The busy mind tells us what to do to succeed and insists on moving forward at all costs. Recognizing the signals of an overly tired body and empty spirit or even a broken heart are good signals for building a mindfulness practice.
Starting a mindfulness practice
Getting your balance back includes relearning to slow down and beginning to notice your full experience instead of just using your minds virtual reality as your only guide. Mindful meditation practice is an avenue or path to enhance your ability to pay attention to this moment just as it is. Please visit the guided meditation section of this website by clicking here. Also take a look at the mindfulness resources section of this website. You may also visit Tara Brach’s or Jack Kornfield’s websites for more information on mindfulness. MSAM also does a six week mindfulness training group.