If you had it within your power to transform your life into what you wish it would be, would you have the courage to do it?
One sermon my pastor delivered begged the question, "What would you do differently if fear was no factor?" I wanted to believe I live my life without fear controlling it; yet when she posed that question, I realized that I do operate in a world of fear – of failing, succeeding, being perceived as aggressive or selfish, of living into my best self or not being my best self. I fear wanting something badly and being disappointed when it doesn't come to fruition. I didn't want to believe it, but being honest with myself, it was true.
This summer during yoga teacher training, I spent a lot of time learning how neuroplasticity works and how I can leverage that knowledge to change my reality. (The Athlete's Way by Christopher Bergland delves into this topic more deeply. You can read an excerpt here.) It's actually pretty simple. If you consciously change your thoughts, you can actually retire your brain!
Mindfulness is about how we pay attention with kindness towards ourselves and others. It allows us to view the parts of ourselves that bring about shame and dissatisfaction that seem to be unforgivable and to forgive those parts of ourselves. To accept ourselves as we are even as we are evolving into better people through our work.
Through mindfulness we can teach our brain to be kinder to ourselves. On top of that, there's a pretty large body of research that validates the idea that mindfulness strengthens immune system, helps with sleep, decreases stress, and literally rewires the brain.
The trick: whatever you practice is what grows stronger. So, if while you are meditating you are being harsh with yourself – worrying you "aren't doing it right" or frustrated that your mind is wandering (it will) – you are actually getting better at being judgemental and irritable. I prefer to get better at being kind to myself, so I work really hard to disrupt the narrative that has become my brain's habit. Several times a day I pause to focus on the sensations of the bristles on my face as I exfoliate or the feel of the water on my hands as I wash dishes. I'll sit with the uncomfortable stress of a living room paint job requiring many more hours than I anticipated. Mindfulness sounds easy, right?
I want kindness to grow stronger in me – towards myself and towards others. One way I can easily cultivate that is to have the courage to notice my sensations throughout the day. I've found that if I stop for just a minute and breathe in stressful or frustrating situations, really sit with the uncomfortableness, just like I easily relish joy, it passes much faster than when I resist. And, when I allow my observer self to relish and focus on the positive aspects of life, that's what my brain sees in the world.
What do you want to grow stronger in yourself? How will you practice it every day? Your answer is your path to mindfulness!