One of my three resolutions for 2013 was being more fully present. With so many changes I’ve been taking on lately, I knew my mind would (and had been) going a million miles an hour. I’ll say it, I’m restless, a busybody, a doer. It comes with an ability to get a lot of great work done, but a potential for high levels of burnout.
In the fall I stumbled upon a meditation class offered by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. In the middle of a crazy semester both at work and in my doc program, I pushed the idea out of my mind. Over the holidays, I was cleaning up my endless bookmarks in Google Chrome and was reminded about the classes. Here was my sign and I registered that day.
This center defines mindful awareness as
Paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience. There are many ways to bring mindfulness into one’s life, such as meditation, yoga, art, or time in nature. Mindfulness can be trained systematically, and can be implemented in daily life, by people of any age, profession or background.
The six-week class was called Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPs) I for Daily Living. The instructors are faculty from UCLA, so I felt reassured I wouldn’t be stepping into any circle chants or faith conversion. Check out their various classes, retreats and drop ins here. They also offer online classes, for those not in the Los Angeles area.
At my first class, I quickly made note to wear cuter socks, as you were required to take off our shoes. Getting over my exposed worn-out running socks, I tuned into the message of the instructor Dr. Marvin Belzer, who stated
Be gentle to yourself in introducing this new habit.
I also learned that the basics of mindful meditation practice
- Find a neutral home base (breathe, feet, hands, sounds, etc).
- As the mind wanders acknowledge it, don’t judge it. After acknowledgement go back to home base.
- Welcome moments of reflections (ie What am I greatful for?)
- The location and method of meditation should vary for each person, such as sitting, standing, length, time of day, etc.
Week two provided a priceless resource for those always on the go, but attempting mindfulness. This was called STOP. This particular practice has been very helpful to me.
- S: Stop what you are doing
- T: Take one breath
- O: Observe your emotions
- P: Proceed
We met weekly for six weeks, which have flown by. We learned how meditation can help with sleep, decreasing pain, increasing positive emotions and working through negative thoughts. Outside of class, the goal was to meditate on our own at least five minutes per day, as daily practice is where real results will be seen. That being said, we were also warned that meditation is not a magic pill or an excuse to escape reality.
Another message I appreciated was to keep your meditation practice simple and create a method that fits your lifestyle and preference. For example, music can be incorporated or even taking a walk.
Also, because I have deep roots in education and research, I was interested in the studies Dr. Belzer would discuss around mindfulness. For example, neuroscience research shows that adult brains can be changed through meditation, releasing us from old habits and in the end experiencing life-changing results.
I’ve got a long way to go in cultivating my mindfulness practice. Just like professional development for work, one needs to seek out continual opportunities for growth. So, along with a close friend, next weekend I am headed to an all day retreat on UCLA’s campus.
I am hoping, little by little, I can infuse meditation into my daily to-do’s. That I will come to require it and notice if I didn’t do it that day, just like I do with exercise.
I also hope to uncover what Henry David Thoreau describes below:
“Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be expert in home-cosmography” -Henry David Thoreau