I often hear people share about challenges in their mindfulness practice. Challenges tend to fall into these categories:
Actually, I see these as opportunities. I don’t see them as obstacles to mindfulness practice, rather as supports.
Mindfulness means the ability to:
1. Observe or witness whatever arises in our mind and body and what is going on around us.
2. Pay attention on purpose and stay with our experience, whether that is the breath, a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating.
3. Stay in the present moment. We are aware of what arises in the moment. It is OK to think about the past and the future but when we do so, we do it mindfully and try to come back to now.
4. Recognize all of the above without judgment. If we judge, we simply notice it and let it go. We see things as they are.
Mindfulness, then, is an activity we can practice all day long. Our ability to be aware of our mind and body can make it happens with us all the time unless we are sleeping. We just need to be aware and awake by training our mind to come back in any particular action or non-action. With training, we can notice that our mind is becoming distracted and that we simply need to bring it back to the body again and again. Without regard to what we are doing at the moment, it is the best way to live in the present.
We can do not only formal practice like sitting meditation, 20 breaths, body scan, counting the breaths, etc. but informal practice like paying attention to what we are doing and bringing the mind to follow body movement and sensations such as watching, listening, eating, tasting, touching and so forth.
So, the more challenges we encounter in life, if we are not aware, the more stress we have because our mind tends to focus on the future and possible negative results. But if we are mindful, we can turn each challenge into an opportunity. We can let such situations support us in slowing down our life to bring us back to our practice.
Yesterday, I was riding in Uber with two others and the car had to pass through a very narrow street to take some of us back home. The right side of the street was full of parked cars. The other people in the car all complained about how the road was so narrow. The driver had to slow down to walking speed. I looked up and said, “Wow!” and the driver said that it was challenging and crazy. The woman who lived on that road agreed. She said, “It’s interesting. I’ve never seen any cars here lose their mirrors.”
It occurred to me that, just like the driver in the narrow street, when we are faced with physical difficulty — perhaps we have only one leg or back pain — we are forced to slow down. Rather than see this as a limitation, we can see it as beneficial. We are given a natural opportunity to be mindful.
I shared my insight with the people in the car and they agreed. The woman who lived on the street said, “Yes, it is interesting … I totally agree.”