One of the things I love most about the Mindful Academy International (MAI) is the global nature of our Teacher Trainings. This group is not an exception. Our tribe of fourteen, hails from Poland, Australia (via England), Spain (via Finland) and Finland (via Spain). Slovakia, Ireland, Singapore, Spain (via England), Amsterdam (via the U.S.), Florida and of course Milwaukee! The amount of travel experience and life experience in the room is impressive. But even more than the global nature of the MAI groups, I am impressed by the lack of ego and the vulnerability and humility of each participant. No one claims to be an expert or know-it-all or waves their checkbook to show how successful they have been in their lives. Instead, we share stories over tea, and listen to each other - a lot. We practice together each morning for an hour, and often throughout the day, and I believe that the time we spend together in silence is just as important as the time we spend together in conversation.
And for the past 10 days we have made the commitment to study the teachings of Mindfulness together, with Kathy as our guide and fearless leader. There have been tears of laughter and tears of joy. Moments of frustration and moments of insight. And best of all we are all on this journey… together.
The thing about Mindfulness is that it’s all about Humility and above all, Kindness, which to me means living with an open mind and open heart. There’s really no place for being the BEST at Mindfulness. No gold stars or badges. The best Mindfulness teachers have been through the struggles and know the territory…. well. When we agree to be mindful, we also agree to be vulnerable.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness. (Naomi Shihab Nye)
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a pity party in any way. It’s is about clear seeing. A willingness to see and to change our Automatic Pilot patterns of reacting from ways that add to our suffering, to new ways of being and responding that offer us the freedom to choose a new way.
Awareness = Choice = Freedom
Neuroscience has proven this to be a viable option. Our brains have the ability to change in response to what we ask of them – but new neural pathways don’t develop overnight. Much of the difficulty arises when the brain sniffs change in the air and says “Whoa! What’s going on here? We’ve been doing just fine with rumination and misery for the past 30 years. Now you want to choose a new way? Like curiosity, or acceptance, or self kindness? Do be so easy on yourself!” But that’s just what Mindfulness asks us to do. Challenge the brain.
Mindfulness Practice invites us to shine the light of awareness on unhealthy patterns of thinking and being that keep us stuck in the desolate landscapes between the regions of kindness. Places like self pity, victimization, and self righteousness.
So we set an intention and we practice. And practice. And practice. The fact that the brain is neuroplastic is both the good news and the bad news. The brain is an organ of habit. Let me say that again. The brain is an organ of habit. Whatever it does often, it gets good at. So if you are judgmental a lot, the brain gets good at being judgmental. if you are angry a lot, the brain gets good at being angry. Or distracted. Or depressed. Or kind. Or patient. Or open minded…..
It takes real courage to sit in meditation and tune into our thoughts and feelings. To care about what we think about and worry about and dream about. It takes humility and willingness to notice our unhealthy patterns of thinking and doing. Mindfulness encourages us to live a life that is in line with our values, hopes and dreams – and perhaps less in line with the messages we receive through the news, or advertisements, or even our peer group.
I’ve learned a lot this week, but mostly it’s been about remembering just how vital this practice is for our Well Being.
Mindfulness is a commitment and a lifestyle. Mindfulness is more than just “being mindful” from time to time, with our partner, or our yoga practice or life in general. It’s a process of inquiry and intention that takes commitment and patience and hard work. Because that’s what Mindfulness is – a way of living in the fullness of each moment. Hour by hour. Day by day. And last but certainly not least, Mindfulness and Kindness go hand and hand. You really can’t practice one without the other.
The two wings of Awareness, Mindfulness and Kindness, open the Heart to more connection with the World. Tara Brach
I know my Global Heart has certainly been cracked wide open this week.
Then it is only kindness that make any sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend. (Naomi Shihab Nye)