I sat in a circle with nine other people, all here for our own reasons... looking for relief from physical, emotional or psychological pain and just stress, all hoping something called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) meditation will be the answer to our ailments.
I had asked a friend about MBSR when I considered signing up. She laughed and said, "Breathe in, breathe out, repeat." For her, Mindfulness Meditation transports her from the frenzy of multi-tasking to the calmness of single focus. That sounded pretty good.
Another friend said mindfulness teaches you how to listen fully to others when they are talking. "Well," he said, "Now that I've learned to listen to people I forget what I was going to say."
If I thought too much about it, though, I would not have signed up for the classes. Meditation was never something I practiced. Too deep for me. I could never sit still that long without jumping up to do something. There is always something.
However, at the orientation, the practice, as they call it, sounded as though it could help me to focus better as a writer. I wanted to see if I can slow down the chatter in my head and think more clearly of the task at hand.
The formal definition, as described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, said mindfulness is a way of bringing meditation into the medical mainstream. He describes it as a basic human quality, a way of learning to pay attention to whatever is happening in your life that allows you a greater sense of connection to your life inwardly and outwardly.
Kabat-Zinn earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology in 1971 from MIT and also studied with the Insight Meditation Society and eventually also taught there. In 1979 he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he adapted the Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and developed a stress reduction practice or MBSR.
The formal course is set up for eight weekly sessions of two and half hours. Between the sixth and eighth meeting there is an all-day retreat that includes several hours of "noble silence" and guided meditation.
My apprehension doubled. In the first class I struggled with meditating for 30 minutes. A whole day of silence seemed impossible. I'm a writer, a journalist and a talker.
After week six, on a rainy Sunday in November, we gathered at a large cabin-like home in the Redwoods. Couldn't have been a more perfect day for a meditation retreat; Dark clouds overhead and a steady rain with short periods of pounding thunder. We were warmed by a wood stove, cozy in our cushioned chairs and blankets.
The mood started out with a fair amount of anxiety admitted by each of the attendees. None of us was practiced in long-term silent treatment... at least not outside of our various personal relationships.
While I was feeling insecure about my ability to embrace five hours of not talking, I was unaware of my vulnerability at the same time.
We started our session with a practice called "Standing Yoga Meditation." As we were in a personal home, there were family mementos around the room. While in a pose, I turned to face a different direction and there on an end table were two bronzed baby shoes.
A bolt of lightning pierced my chest. Tears suddenly dripped down my face. I held the yoga pose longer than called for. I couldn't turn away. The shoes brought me back to my childhood, my mother and father both dead now, and playing with my brother. I was back on the front yard of the small, WW II built house in North Hollywood, CA. I can see the rose trees my mother planted. My older brother with silver caps on his two front teeth and me with my skinny braids and cowboy boots. It was profoundly sweet and sad at the same time.
Was this sentimental response part of the mindfulness training? Emotional nostalgia run rampant? Would I have been so sensitized to the bronze baby shoes had I not been so anxious about a day of silence?
I can't answer that question. Mindfulness teaches us to live in the moment. I'm just being mindful about the beautiful moment. And thankful.