What do mindful awareness, Velveeta cheese, and saltines have in common? Other than the fact that I like both meditating and eating Velveeta cheese on saltine crackers, the three don't have much in common. At least not yet.
But as mindfulness meditation moves beyond the realm of academics and adepts (those who have developed an impressive degree of aptitude in the practice of Buddhist meditation) into popular culture there's growing pressure to distill mindfulness down to programs that can be articulated in sound-bites -- or what is called in Hollywood an "elevator pitch." Programs that can be described in one or two lines, the amount of time it takes to ride between floors on an elevator. Sometimes I joke about what seems to be a race to create the "Velveeta Cheese" of mindfulness programs--where wide dissemination, sustainability and replication are paramount, even at the expense of the wisdom upon which the classical traditions (and the programs) are based.
This mindless race to the middle is what I refer to in the title of this post and is not unique to the popularization of classical meditation training. Native American elders have long shared a similar view about the popularization of native American culture, as have those who teach Yoga as a spiritual path. These concerns are not limited to people engaged in wisdom traditions but are shared by many in the business world. Seth Godin writes extensively in his new book Linchpin about the lack of wisdom inherent in the race to the middle that pervades corporate America as well as academia.
Is it possible to translate mindfulness into something that can be of benefit to everybody regardless of religion, ethnicity, education, or age without dumbing it down and forfeiting authenticity? I think so. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sylvia Boorstein, Jeffrey Schwartz, Dan Siegel, Richie Davidson, Sharon Salzberg and others have done a pretty good job of beginning to chart that course for us. How? They never forget that there is a "M" in the practice of mindfulness and it stands for meditation. Now there's a strong elevator pitch!
By cultivating, protecting, and prioritizing your own personal meditation practice, your inner compass can act as a reliable guide to bringing authentic mindful awareness into your life and the lives of your kids, families, and friends. If you haven't yet established your own meditation practice I encourage you to give it a try. With a bit of practice meditation can become a pleasure, a comfort, and not a bad stress-reduction technique. For those new to the practice, here's a time-tested place to begin:
Find a relatively quiet and comfortable place where you can relax for awhile with a minimum of disturbance. Maybe at the kitchen table before you wake your kids up and start to get ready for school, or in your bedroom after putting them to sleep. Lie down flat on your back, or sit upright in a chair, and begin the simple process of relaxing your body and calming your mind. Breathe in through your nose and follow the sensation of your breath as it moves from the tip of your nostrils and through your chest. Breathe out and let go of any stress or strain you may be feeling. Repeat and breathe in as you relax your body, then breathe out and let go of any stress or strain you feel right now. Repeat this until your breath awareness is stable and steady - then let your mind and body rest in the feeling of what it's like to be alive right now, in this place, at this time.
Susan Kaiser Greenland is the Author of The Mindful Child: How to Help your Kid Manage Stress and Become Kinder, Happier and More Compassionate. Published by Free Press in May, 2010