I began my personal mindfulness practice by carving out time during my day, usually first thing in the morning, for mindful meditation. From there, I discovered the added benefits of moving meditation such as mindful walking (or more specifically, “forest bathing,” which is like a mindful hike in nature). From the get-go, these activities positively impacted my stressful workdays and family life. The result was a calmer, more relaxed reaction to the things that would normally rattle me.
Reading further about the benefits of mindfulness in education (hence my “mindful library”) and in everyday life, I recognized the potential for a substantially better way of living with even more freedom from worry, stress, regret, and so on. The result is that now I try my best to apply mindful attention to every situation and interaction. Although I’m not able to perform a brain scan or any other sort of testing on myself, I can attest to favorable physical and mental change based solely on experience. I’m sleeping better. I’m thinking more clearly. I have more energy overall… What I hadn’t considered though, was the intense level of emotional benefit of living with mindful attention.
Now, what is often our first thought when everyday stresses begin to wreak havoc on our emotional well-being?? The answer particularly applies to educators, who drag their weary bodies through the muck of end-of-school-year chaos, counting the days until summer break with an intensity rivaling that of their students…
I NEED A VACATION!
This was my thinking several months ago when I booked a trip with my friend to Anna Maria Island, off the gulf coast of Florida. I had been there once before, a few years ago, when running off to a beautiful, quiet, tropical island seemed like the only real remedy for an emotional pitfall. At that time, it was pure escapism. And I will admit that while laying on the picturesque white sand, watching the sunset like something out of a dream,I did in fact feel calm, relaxed, connected, peaceful and free. I sensed a shift. BUT ALAS… there was the fateful flight a few days later, back to JFK airport. Like the flick of a switch, the ache in my stomach and general sense of heaviness was back. Heading home those years ago (pre-mindfulness), the bliss wore off.
This time, however, the trip was different. I discovered the truest perk of mindful living. While strolling along the familiar white sand to the backdrop of what I daresay was an even more ethereal sunset, my friend leaned toward me and asked, “How do you feel now?” A fellow teacher, he booked the trip with the same escapist, “get me out of here,” and “I need a vacation from it all” mentality that I had had years prior. I could see his relaxed posture, soft smile, and easy gait and knew he was experiencing that zenful shift. Then I paused to check in with myself.
I came to the awesome realization that I didn’t feel much different than when I left the “longer island” I call home. For some time now, I had been appreciating the beauty in my own backyard. It may not be a sight that people would pay for a vacation home to see, but there is real beauty there: a pond with chirping frogs, lush trees with chirping birds, a resident family of geese that I have watched mature from hatch-lings, and some perennials that I lovingly (albeit awkwardly) planted outside my door. When the school year ended, I simply let the stress of it all simply go. Nothing more could be done until September, and I didn’t allow nervous thoughts of that time to intrude. My heart was grateful for all of the blessings in my life, from the simplest little things (my patio view), to the largest (my beautiful sons). Being in a tropical paradise was wonderful, but honestly, not much better than home, from my newfound perspective. Now, is my home life perfect? Uh, no… Certainly not. However, I didn’t feel like a huge weight had been lifted, because there wasn’t one to begin with. Mindful living was enriching my everyday experience to a point where no “escape” was necessary.
Keep the following question in mind the next time you book a trip or a “mindfulness retreat.” Which would provide the more enduring mindful living exercise? Immersing yourself in unfamiliar surroundings that beg the attention of the senses for a limited period of time? Or learning to focus mindful, grateful attention to the simple beauties we perceive every day? Which experience would avoid the back-to-the-grind dread of the flight home?