Months and years pass like clouds, so so easily. While drinking beer and eating barbecue with friends in a darkly-lit, Mexican restaurant, a thought flashes amidst the talk and the laughter. It’s 2016 and I don’t remember how I got here. That feels horrible and disturbing. We’ve done a variety of adventurous activities and experienced them like it’s our last day on Earth, we met the most interesting and creative people from different nations, we achieved a mountain of goals and desires. But what happened? How come I don’t remember? How come I crave for more? It’s an excruciating thought, to feel like we traipse here and there yet arrive nowhere. No wonder many of us feel like we’re wasting our life. Time is not to blame, nor the quantity of activities we explore and the circumstances that unexpectedly occur, and not even the people around us – these are external, for the most part we can’t control. But something that we can is our relationship with the situation – this is internal. The quality of life wholly depends on our being. A thought flashes again. Mindfulness.
So how do we dance to our 24 hours while letting our mind act of its own accord? How do we give back to the gift of life?
Five days ago, my friend and I attended Brewed Awakening: A Mindfulness Summit.
But what is mindfulness exactly?
Mindfulness, as discussed during the summit, is paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgment. In the words of John Cage, “once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.” For me, it’s simply letting everything breathe.
That afternoon, we were taught of the numerous ways on how we can become mindful beings, both formal and informal.
THE MINDFULNESS SUMMIT
The teachers introduced three formal meditation exercises namely the Body Scan, Focused Awareness, and Open Monitoring. Practicing the combination of the three brought out a unique energy in each one of us.
Body Scan seemed to be the most difficult. Probably because it was the beginning and beginnings are almost always the hardest. Or maybe I have issues with how I connect with my body. It might be that. I had opened this up to friends before: I believe I am more connected with my soul than my body. But it shouldn’t be like that as the two are interconnected. Am I judging here? Not sure, but I clearly know what is good for me. So I am becoming friends with this occurrence. Let me give myself time and experiment and discover along the journey. Going back to the practice, I mentioned it was difficult. We were to scan the sensations happening or not happening in our body – from our feet, to the knees and legs, then our buttocks and its weight on our seats, coming up to our spine, the chest, shoulders, arms, the feel of our palms upon the fabric covering our knees, then the neck, our face and finally the space above our heads. And all the while while doing this, we are not to judge whatever sensation, or the lack of it, we encounter. We merely observe. Halfway through the practice, I felt a tightening in my shoulders as well as my shoulder blades. I was also palpitating, but this maybe due to drinking black coffee. Note that I had chicken pox and it was the first time I drank coffee in two weeks. That I have yet to discover too. But then towards the end of the exercise as we slowly opened our eyes, there was also the feeling of being lifted up from heaviness, like this heaviness I didn’t know contained in my body was being transferred to the soil (in this case, the cold, concrete floor). I haven’t exactly felt lighter but I became in touch with my body. This transpired in a span of 15 minutes.
Focused Awareness, on the other hand, felt more comfortable. We were to observe our breaths – sniffing of air through our noses, pausing the breath, and exhaling it slowly. Again no judgment, just observation. Within 5 minutes, I definitely felt more at ease and peaceful, and just quite different. Perhaps because we had the opportunity to have the 15-minute warm up of observing body sensations. Analyzing again? Let’s leave that to discovery. Becoming aware of the breath is somehow becoming aware of the one true source of life. I like how one of the speakers acknowledged the breath, that it was our connection to the present moment. Our precious, simple breath. Spiritually and biologically speaking, when we breathe, we are one with the here and now. Do we breathe in the next three days? Hopefully yes, but we don’t know yet. Nothing will tell. We just breathe now. Yes, we also have breathed in the past few decades of our existence, but those inhalations and exhalations left us already. They are part of something that is not even here. We just breathe now.
Finally, I found practicing the Open Monitoring to be the easiest and most accessible. It felt good to hear and observe sounds from my surroundings. It’s quite ironic, sometimes I get irritated with loud voices and vehicles, but then I learned on an experiential level how everything really changes when I merely observe. It doesn’t get to you, it doesn’t get the best of you and your beautiful day. Listening to the remix of voices, cars, cutlery, cups, water, wood, refrigerator became a melody to my ears.
Aside from the formal meditation exercises, we were also introduced to the informal ways. Eating meals, drinking coffee, washing the dishes, driving the car, doing laundry, walking, taking a bath – what consists our daily routine are doors that invite us to choose and integrate mindfulness in what we do: paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgment.
The people gathered in the coffee shop that day became one step awakened, and I know they agree with me without asking each one them. We were lucky to listen to the lovely and vibrant ladies from White Space Mind and Body Wellness Studio. Their wisdom accumulated over the years and strengthened by their experiences, their heart of compassion for everything – from simply answering the audience’s many questions, passing activity sheets, looking into your eyes while they talk, making you laugh and calm at the same time, to being introduced to their work, oh their work that promotes goodness like that free cupcake served – circulated blissfully inside the room. It was the air we breathed. Our smiles and many thanks with one another came out naturally. It extended as we walked out the glass doors and continued on our night. I call it the natural high.
Was it the benefit of meditation and mindfulness already manifesting into our experience?
MY ATTEMPTS, FAILURES, AND DISCOVERIES INTO A MINDFUL LIFE
This kind of bliss wasn’t new to my senses. It emanated in past experiences such as when I returned home from a backpacking trip in Thailand. We landed from the plane, I walked to the path leading to our house, I prepared going to work, I took a jeepney, I walked again along the avenue leading to my workplace. Everything along the way just glowed:
Physical elements are of the utmost familiarity yet something is inexplicably new inside. I can’t translate it into sentences but fittingly it must be that the world radiates wonder and l felt wonderful.
Have you ever felt that? I hope you did countless times, and I hope you are feeling it right now wherever you may be. Another was during my first yoga class back in 2013. It was a Tuesday. We were only five in the studio then, the bad weather outside gave a soothing quality. We settled to our chosen spaces. The teacher asked if there were any first-timers. I raised my hand. She smiled and spoke in a confident and friendly manner. We were going to have to tone down the practice a bit since one of the group was a beginner. Little did I know I would come to sit for my first meditation practice and experience that elevating state afterwards. The yoga class ended and I stepped into the outside world feeling amazed for all the things I saw (which were cars and trees and people crossing the street). I swear the greens became greener. The good energy was brimming. Yes, the natural high.
The rest of the pursuit to a mindful life followed. It was fate when I found a cheap copy of Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle in a secondhand bookstore. It changed me. This, I can say, if not the most, is one of the many influential books in my life. My curiosity grew larger and I continued my learning by devouring more related books and articles. But it wasn’t enough. So I searched for centers and communities, for people who will guide and teach me on a deeper level. I wanted it to be real-time. I began attending Buddhist teachings and meditation practices in Manila Kadampa Buddhist Center located in Makati City. The atmosphere of the place and the people felt closer to my spirit. It was a huge step in the exploration of my interest in Buddhism. However I wasn’t able to stick going to their events due to conflict of schedule, and sadly caused by the chains of laziness too. Since I couldn’t commit, I turned to somewhere more accessible and intimate. I began incorporating meditation in my evenings before sleeping with the help of the wonderful apps called Headspace (mentioned in my trip inSiquijor), Sattva, and Calm. As of now, I am contentedly guided by Sattva. I also discovered the Vipassana retreat held in many locations in Asia for a period of 10 days. I can’t help but think from time to time of finally immersing myself. Yet it also comes with a thought, “I should be prepared.” A retreat for a few days will undoubtedly change me, but my everyday practice will powerfully enable me to commit long-term. But then again, it is always a dilemma to keep going, to be consistent in my practice. I notice myself returning to the ritual during the times that I am feeling down, confused, or overwhelmed. And then I stop. The happy days stride like a child. Then I go back again. The inconsistency makes me uneasy. But hey, one breath at a time, I am learning to unite with “unconditional friendliness” in my thoughts and moods, attempts that don’t go well, situations that hold back, and in all of my being. Day by day, I am consciously choosing to step into that space, free my mind, and breathe.
Now will you join me?