September 2015 archive

Mindfully Making the Best of an Uncontrollable Situation

This morning, my astronomy professor sent my class an email informing us about the lunar eclipse estimated to occur after the sun was to set.

He made sure to mention that an event like this is not going to happen again until January 2018. I thought such an uncommon opportunity would be cool to check out, plus, I would be able to put real-life application into action.

At about Mindful Meditation10:40 PM, my roommate and I walked outside of our building to witness the couple-of-times-in-our-lifetime event. I was feeling excited; the anticipation of seeing something on a universal scale that I had recently learned about in class was fairly high. The two of us stood in the middle of the parking lot, our necks bent so we could take in a fuller view of the vast sky. Unfortunately, my hopes of seeing the eclipse were left unfulfilled, as the Philadelphia skies had not cleared of clouds that had been lingering for most of the day.

“I had no control over the forces of nature that decided whether or not to allow me to see the lunar eclipse.”

Initially, I was a bit disappointed — a potentially beautiful sight was right above my head and I was missing it. On all nights of the year, why does tonight have to be the cloudiest? Why do the weather conditions have to be nasty tonight instead of tomorrow night, or the night after that? If I could, I would trade a full week of clear skies in order to have a perfect night tonight!

Alas, neither I nor my roommate have special ties to Mother Nature. I was missing the lunar eclipse, and there was nothing I could do to change my situation.

I continued to gaze at the sky with a feigned hope that a blood moon would reveal itself to me. In searching for a sight I knew, deep down, I wasn’t going to see, I got a good look at what the sky above me had to offer. The clouds were full and fluffy; Their centers were a dull orange, but the color grew brighter as it reached the edges of the clouds. Behind the randomly strewn, thick chunks of clouds lay the sky, a light shade of indigo that had a noticeably purple hue. The clouds, constantly manipulated by the wind, created a dusty effect that made the sky seem, truthfully, a touch dirty. No stars were to be seen, but the city sky looked unique compared to any other time I had seen it.

Although I was not taking in the sight of a lunar eclipse, I was taking in the sight of a beautiful sky. In my time living in the city, I have noticed the particular colors and characteristics that the Philadelphia sky possesses, and I realize that no two nights ever look quite the same. Tonight was no exception, and I experienced yet another captivating variation the sky has to offer.

I had no control over the forces of nature that decided whether or not to allow me to see the lunar eclipse. I did, however, embrace the situation I was dealt with, and in a state of mindfulness, I was able to appreciate the sky that took shape before me. I forgot about the what could be or what should be, and focused instead on what purely was. As a result, I was reminded to be aware of the present beauty of nature. After taking a last good look at the sky, I walked back into my apartment for the night with another mental image of the ever-changing Philadelphia sky in my head.

Using Mindfulness to Make Memories

If you’ve been meditating with your eyes closed this whole weekend, the Pope spent this past Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia.

I was in the area as His Holiness Pope Francis made his final drive down the normally busy City Avenue. I pulled out my iPhone in preparation to document my last look at the Pope. To my dismay, the battery had died, and I was without a camera to capture the nearing moment. A pang of disappointment rang through my chest; I had grabbed an ideal spot close to the street, and now I would never be able to share this moment in the future with friends and family who were not present.

I had no other option than to slip the glass and plastic object into my back pocket and direct my focus on what was unfolding in front of me. I readied my awareness for the black SUVs decorated with flags on their mirrors and the Pope’s Fiat wedged in the middle of the Secret Service fleet. To have this sight vividly embedded in my brain forever, I directed all of my senses toward becoming fully conscious of the sounds of engines running and people cheering excitedly, seeing black vehicles drive by at about twenty miles per hour, feeling the cool autumn breeze poke through my flannel, and feeling the anticipation of witnessing a historic event race through my bloodstream.

As voices to my left grew louder, I knew the Pope was about to pass. I spotted his right arm, covered by the sleeve of his white robe, waving out of the passenger-side window. I impulsively raised my arm, unattached to a smart phone, to return his greeting. Then, almost as quickly as he came, he was gone again, on his way to lead mass in Center City.

After seeing Pope Francis in the flesh, I was astounded. Having the opportunity to experience one of the world’s most powerful people is a memory capable of withstanding not just a technological lifetime, but a human lifetime. Becoming fully aware of the event was far from difficult, and I fell easily into a state of mindfulness. I am endlessly grateful for the chance I had to see Pope Francis — I will never forget the memory, and I am completely confident that I can use my mind just as well as any picture or video to describe my perspective of the incredible event.

Free Guided Meditations

I just discovered that UCLA has its own Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).

From scanning over the site, I gather that it is run by UCLA Health. MARC assists in research on mindfulness, is cited in notable publications (The New York TimesTime Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, to name a few), and lists countless professional resources for extensive information on mindful topics.

Additionally, MARC offers a range of Mindful Awareness Practices classes, workshops, retreats, mindful opportunities for youth and Spanish-speakers, and even online meditation classes.

As if all of this and more wasn’t impressive enough, MARC offers over 60 minutes worth of free guided meditations.

The guided meditations that are offered range from as short as 3 minutes to as long as 19 minutes. Some meditations are basic and focus simply on breathing and awareness of the senses. Other meditations dive a little deeper to focus the senses more intensely in preparation for a state of mindfulness involving sleep, loving relationships, and working out difficulties.

Led by a female’s steady voice occasionally accompanied by an instrument played in the background to set a tranquil mood, the instructions are given in a soothing manner. They are announced slowly so the listener can participate in the meditation at a comfortable pace.

Aside from giving the basic instructions, the speaker will remind the listener that it is okay for the mind to occasionally wander. She acknowledges that when using, for example, the sense of hearing, one may get distracted and pair a sound with a scenario in their own head. If a truck honks its horn on the street outside the window, it could be caused by a pedestrian crossing when she does not have the right of way, a car cutting the truck driver off, or a signal to get somebody’s attention to prevent a disaster from occurring. The mind’s imagination can easily be distracted by such a sound, and that is absolutely acceptable. The important thing is for the listener to return focus on breathing, and the use of the senses in the present moment.

What I found surprising about the guided meditations was the idea of breathing at one’s own pace. In my experiences meditating, I always found breathing deeply to a count of five to seven seconds was more helpful than following my breath at a natural pace. When I first began practicing basic meditation, especially, I would sometimes feel anxious or uneasy. Such feelings were accompanied by fast, unsteady breathing that was hard to transform into a more relaxed pattern. I find that beginning a meditation exercise with a structured breath makes for an easier transition into a state of mindfulness.

If right now you have a spare five minutes, below is a basic, guided breathing meditation from MARC. If you have a little extra time, you can download the full selection of guided meditations on iTunes for free here.

I will be adding the MARC website to my blogroll in the very near future.

Happy meditating!

To Clarify: The Meanings of “Mindful Meditation” and “Mindfulness”

I would like to take a quick moment to talk about some words that are important to this blog.

Meditation is a practice; it is the foundation on which one begins his or her path to a calm state. The act of meditating, in most cases, uses breath as an anchor to bring one’s focus on the present moment. Paying attention to the senses (seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling) one at a time while breathing deeply focuses concentration to where one currently is in his or her surroundings. When one is finished meditation, the hope is that he or she has reached a state of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the state one experiences after completing a meditation practice. Mindfulness is being aware of oneself in a physical surrounding, and being more conscious of that surrounding. It is realizing oneself existing purely in the present moment.

To meditate one must be mindful. One must be mindful (fully aware) of breath and the senses to be immersed in the practice of meditation. To be purely focused on the movement of air in and out of one’s body, and to be purely focused on noticing what each sense can interpret is the act of mindful meditation.

So to participate in meditation, it is a given that one must be mindful. When I say meditation in my writing, it is implied that one needs to be mindful while practicing meditation. Meditation is not always easy, especially when the mind feels super cluttered and busy with different thoughts flying around aimlessly. Specifying meditation as “mindful meditation” provides that nice little reminder of why one is meditating in the first place: to reach the state of mindfulness, where thoughts are settled down in the mind so focus can be dedicated on the present moment.

In short, [mindful] meditation is the the cause, and the state of mindfulness is the effect. Mindful meditation is the action, and the state of mindfulness is the result.

Why Bother with Mindful Meditation?

What this blog is about

This blog discusses meditation as a key to mindfulness.

There are many types of simple meditation to satisfy different people for best results, such as breathing attentively, eating a meal, going for a walk, or practicing yoga. All have the ability to create a feeling of calmness; relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression; and, most importantly, become mindful. Being mindful means

  • being more attuned to surroundings
  • appreciating the presence of all things in surroundings
  • building thanks for any situation one may come to face

With a dedication to practice, meditation can become daily habit. The habit will result in a positive mindfulness capable of calming and brightening one’s life.

Why I’m Interested

Meditation, for me, is an escape from a cluttered, stressful mindset. During a time not so long ago, I held onto an impossibly negative view of life. I believed there was no purpose for attempting to live a meaningful life before an inevitable death; life was simply a hard number of years to go through. I thought the struggles and tough times outweighed achieving success and experiencing good times.

Too dark? Just a bit.

My way of thinking had me feeling miserable, and I became sick of it. In turning to a workbook aimed at finding joy through wellness, I found meditation. Repeating basic meditation practices brought my focus to positivity in the present moment. Meditating in different ways calmed my mind’s busy thought process, which was responsible for causing unnecessary amounts of debilitating stress and sorrow. Thanks to meditation, I now have a pleasantly mindful outlook on life, which translates to my overall improved mental health and well-being.

Who Else May Be Interested?

The public for this blog on meditation includes a range of people interested in a basic introduction to the benefits of mindful meditation practices. For whatever reason you are here, your are welcome to learn about foundational aspects of mindfulness and meditation, and consider giving some simple meditation practices a shot.

Online Community of the Mindful

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. — Goldstein is a licensed psychologist who focuses on “mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional healing.” His blog offers resources for support in achieving mindful state.

BrainCurves — BrainCurves is a blog run by Jennifer Wolkin, Ph D., a licensed psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist. It focuses on the link between wellness of mind and body in women.

Susan Albers, Psy. D. — Albers is a clinical psychologist and New York Times best-selling author. She has written multiple books on mindful eating. Her blog illustrates her knowledge on the link between psychology and eating, and how one can put the two together mindfully.

Mindful.org — Mindful.org is the website for the bi-monthly magazine, Mindful. Its mission is to provide information and insight, personal and professional, to succeed in mindful living (Both Goldstein and Wolkin can be found writing for the site).

Zen Habits — Leo Babauta is a blogger and best-selling author of multiple ebooks. On one of his many blogs, Zen Habits, he writes about “finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives… so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.”

Each source mentioned has different insights on different mindful meditation practices. Such diversity is beneficial for different individuals searching for the method of mindful meditation that is right for them.

What this Blog Aims to Achieve

  • Discuss the benefits of mindful meditation
  • Introduce a variety of mindful meditation practices
  • Inspire readers to give mindful meditation a try
  • Create a desire in readers to turn basic mindful meditation practices that are right for them into daily habits.

I find simple ways of meditation to be a driving factor behind a mindful lifestyle, and I will promote this idea with reputable resources, my own experiences, and a passion for contributing to a mindful community of people.

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