I first learned how to cultivate a sitting meditation practice during a time in my personal and professional lives when I was in serious doubt that I'd be able to make it through another day of grinding misery. Mindlessly having made decisions based on what others wanted me to do, I was left holding the bag. And it was a nasty bag of stuff, let me tell you.
I felt so desperately backed into such a very tight corner by a hideous (metaphorical) monster that I signed up for a weekend beginning meditation workshop, with the Tibetan Buddhist scholar and teacher Reginald Ray in Boulder, Colo., several years ago.
What to say? It changed my life. Today, clients and students of mine reap the rewards of not only the body-based practices I learned then, but also the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training I later completed, along with the daily practices I use, every time I am aware enough to do so, all day long.
Dorothy was pretty mindless in the beginning, too, wasn't she? Abandoned, lost, hanging out with a gang of losers lacking in hearts, brains and courage, none of them with enough awareness to find what they thought they needed. Self-awareness -- mindfulness -- was the true gift of their treasure hunt through the land of Oz.
Simply put, MBSR is learning to pay attention. It's a treasure hunt, first inward into ourselves and then back out, intimately connecting with the world. Les Hixon, in his classic exploration, Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions, speaks of how contemplative awareness -- mindfulness -- isn't achieved through any special trance or altered state of consciousness.
Rather, we all have a quiet, wise mind inside. We just need to get rid of some less-than-helpful thinking to hear it, as Dorothy and the guys needed to do in order to achieve their goals. Simple.
Grounded in contemplative awareness, MBSR teaches us how to be awake and aware of our right-this-minute reality. Given that most of us spend tremendous amounts of time, energy and money attempting to be anywhere other than where we are, developing a sensitivity to the landscapes of our lives can seem just too hard. We don't know how to do it. It's still a bit weird, too, isn't it?
One of the treasures of MBSR is that we begin to learn that our thoughts are usually nothing more than thoughts. "It's too hard," or, "I don't know how," or, "It/she/he is weird." Our thoughts most decidedly are not reality, most of the time. We can begin to wonder how hard it really is. "It" can be enjoying good relationships, working in a career sector that sustains you, experiencing peace while you're rested enough to enjoy it.
Five Hot Treasure-Hunting Tips
1. Use the Lusciousness of Your Desires. They'll help get you home. MBSR is about living large. Deep passion, felt sensuousness, true intimacy. Every minute. Being alive -- right here, right now -- is the good stuff. Everyone in Oz wanted the good stuff, which begins with desire. Cultivate awareness of the lusciousness of your own desires, and you're on your way.
2. Find Your Own Yellow Brick Road. MBSR begins with learning how to do sitting meditation. But other forms of meditation can also be helpful when we're getting started. That's how I did it. Any kind of meditation will begin unlocking more treasure, even if it's how much you think you hate it. Try an easy meditation class at the gym. Find a couple of super-simple guided meditations that feel good to you on YouTube; download a free app; get a CD from Amazon.
3. Come to Your Senses. Use your five senses to teleport into the actual present moment, no matter what you're doing. What colors do you see? Is there a smell? What can you feel touching your skin? Anything you're tasting? Sounds you're noticing? Treasures lay all around us.
4. Shock Yourself Into Silence. Turn off your car radio or keep those earbuds tucked away. The initial shock of not having the radio or iPod on is, for many, quite surprising. Watch how many times in the space of two minutes your hand involuntarily moves toward the "on" button.
5. That Over-the-Rainbow Thing. "Someplace where there isn't any trouble... Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be." Nope. I stay busy with clients who are still looking for the place without any trouble. No such place. We take our power back as soon as we get real, and settle into ourselves right now, as Dorothy ultimately did. Which, paradoxically, brings us to the interior rooms brimming over with lustrous treasures.
These simple tools can help us get started on the ultimate treasure hunt, where self-awareness and self-acceptance reign, and conscious choices begin rocking our world, rather than the more common suffering-is-all mindset. My intense suffering back in Boulder, and my desire to feel differently, brought me to meditation. Dorothy's suffering was the tornado that landed her in the wizard's inner chamber, and ultimately back to Kansas. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, co-founder of MBSR, said in a recent interview, "All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for."
Dorothy and her gang had the guts to keep on keepin' on, through their fears and self-defeating ideas based on those fears. Thereby attaining all they had ever wanted, forever and ever. MBSR? It's a happy ending, too. I promise.
Next time, we'll talk about more about noticing what you notice, and what you're telling yourself about it -- another of the treasures in the mindfulness-based stress reduction journey.
For more by Melanie Harth, Ph.D., LMHC, click here.
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