I used to think that a mindfulness meditation had something to do with turning off my constant mind loop and just being “present.” Whatever that means. But a friend who happens to be a trained mindfulness coach and therapist taught me what a mindfulness meditation really is. There’s a whole lot to it, but in a nutshell, here’s what I learned and how I apply it.
I spill my coffee, and then I feel annoyed. A story begins, “I can’t believe I spilled my coffee. I’m so busy today, and now I have to clean up this giant mess.”
Three things happened.
A trigger: the spilled coffee.
A feeling: I was annoyed.
A story: “I can’t believe I spilled my coffee…”
This is where I now begin my mindfulness meditation. I notice that I’m annoyed and a story is forming. Noticing is the first step. Then I stop and listen to the story, “I can’t believe I spilled my coffee…”
That story is my conditioned response according to Pablo. He tells me not to judge it, which is hard. My mind has thoughts about my thoughts, but he is right. When I judge the story, it stays longer. When I simply watch it, it passes faster, and I move on naturally. Other times I think, “I’m ready to move on. I don’t like this story.”
If you’ve ever taken a world religions class, you might remember that the Buddha said we all suffer. Well, there you have it. The negative story is the suffering. We all spill coffee and sit in traffic. We have feelings and emotions. Sad, annoyed, frustrated, stressed. Again, that’s not the suffering. It’s the attachment to the story. I spilled the coffee and cleaned it up, but I’m still holding on to that story. It does not serve me anymore, yet I stay attached to it.
Seated meditation versus mindfulness meditation
Which leads me to how I’m becoming more “mindful” or consciously aware of my feelings and stories. First, let me explain the difference between a mindfulness meditation and a seated meditation. When you hear meditation, you might picture a seated meditation. At least that’s what I picture, and it’s what I practice. I sit, I watch my thoughts, I bring my attention back to my body. I repeat. But this is where the practice used to end for me until my chat with Pablo.
Pablo explained it like this. The seated meditation is the equivalent of physical exercise. The purpose of working out is not to be strong at the gym. The purpose is to be strong when you need to lift your nine-year-old son without throwing your back out, or when you need to chase your five-year-old daughter as she rides her bike. The same goes for a seated meditation. The purpose is not only to be conscious of my thoughts when I’m sitting in a seated meditation. The purpose is to be conscious of my thoughts when I spill my coffee, crave a piece of chocolate, or feel annoyed when my kids fight.
Now, when I notice a feeling or start to hear a story forming, “What a bad day…” I catch myself, feel the feeling and watch the story. Mindfulness meditation is one of those fancy words that really just means, “Notice your feelings and thoughts. Bring them into your conscious awareness.” When I do that, I start to see my own thought patterns. Bringing those thought patterns into my consciousness helps me pause when my stories start to spiral and cause me pain. The pause is often the cure for me, but not always.
I still crave chocolate when I feel tired despite being consciously aware of the feeling and the thought that says, “chocolate will make you feel better.” I want that sugar rush and simply being aware of it does not make it go away. But noticing gives me the space to react a little slower, and sometimes even allows me to change my mind. And that is what my mindfulness meditation looks like.
How mindfulness shows up in my life
You might be wondering what mindfulness has to do with being earthy. The truth is, it's helped me be more conscious about what I buy, eat, and how I react. It's a simple and free practice I can do any time, and yet, it brings me more peace than anything else I've tried. Don't get me wrong, I'm still far from zen, but I'm a little closer than I used to be.
Pablo Ferrer offers mindfulness meditation training in Menlo Park, California. Please contact him if you're in the Bay Area and interested in learning more about mindfulness and meditation.