I recently spent a day in a mindfulness, meditation and nutrition workshop. We walked for thirty minutes mindfully. We were instructed to step out with our left foot and place it on the floor ever so slowly, so that we could notice each part of our foot hitting the floor and feel our weight shift from one foot and leg to the other. Breathing is also a big part of being mindful. We were to breathe in as we put our left foot down and breathe out as we put our right foot down. Our instructor explained that by walking this way we would find joy in the action.
It took a few minutes to get the hang of it, and I hate to admit this, but after about ten minutes I started to feel annoyed. I have never walked so slowly in my entire life and the person in front of me, I thought, was taking this mindfulness thing way too far! He was taking so long between steps that I couldn’t get my breathing right, I just couldn’t seem to hold my breath that long! I was becoming impatient! A snail could have out walked me! What was wrong with this guy? I wanted to pass him but I thought everyone in the room would be appalled, and then when I looked around, I realized they were all walking just as slowly!
Suddenly it dawned on me … I wasn’t being mindful! I was thinking of the person in front of me, and how slow he was walking. I was thinking about how long this was taking and how I was feeling. I took a couple of deep breaths and started once again to concentrate on how my foot felt when it touched the floor and how shifting my weight felt. I started to pay more attention to my breath and tried to find joy in the experience. Afterward we had a buffet style macrobiotic lunch of rice, squash, carrots, cucumber, pickled watermelon radish, hummus, seeds and salad, and hot organic apple cider.
I’m sure you’ve heard it said a thousand times that we should eat mindfully and maybe you eat slowly, but I can pretty much guarantee you don’t eat mindfully! Next time you eat, I want you to give this a try. First make sure everyone eating with you has food on their plate before you start. Then say a few words of thanks before eating. So far so good! Do not talk, watch TV, read, stand or be on your phone or tablet. Pay attention only to your food. Piece of cake!
Put a fork full of food in your mouth and try to chew your food at least 50 times, more often is even better. Pause between bites and make sure the first bite has been completely chewed and swallowed before putting the next bite in our mouth. As you chew pay attention to the flavors and texture of your food, and even the chewing process and swallowing. Every once in awhile have everyone stop eating and pause for about thirty seconds or so, then after about thirty minutes you can start talking. You can do this!
As I waited for everyone to get their food, which seemed to take forever, but was probably only fifteen or twenty minutes, I started to become impatient. Obviously I have no self-discipline! I was hungry and thirsty, and concerned that my food was getting cold.
When we finally were allowed to eat, my food had gotten cold, but it was still actually quite delicious and the fact that it was cold didn’t seem to make a difference. I was self-conscious eating my carrots, the sound of the crunch was deafening in that quiet room and it seemed impossible to chew my rice fifty times and yes I really did count!
I didn’t miss the TV, phone or my tablet, but I desperately wanted to talk to my friend while we ate! Have you ever tried to not talk when someone tells you not to? It’s similar to having a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine sitting in front of you and being told not to eat or drink it. The more I thought about not talking the more I wanted to. I felt like a monk who had taken a vow of silence, except that I hadn’t!
Drat! I was not being mindful…again! I took several deep breaths and concentrated on eating mindfully. Even after we were allowed to talk, my friend and I kept our chatter to a minimum. We were both still trying to be mindful and maybe feeling a little self-conscious about talking.
At the end of the day my friend and I talked about the day and realized that we both had a similar experience. As we were driving home, the car in front of me was doing about 25 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone. I told my friend that the driver must be driving mindfully and we both laughed, but to my surprise I was neither angry nor impatient, I just went with it.
That night as I thought about the day, I realized what a wonderful day it really was! I remembered the joy, serenity and calmness that I saw on the faces of the people who practiced mindfulness on a regular basis. I realized how slowing down to that level actually made me feel calmer and more appreciative, and helped to put life somehow into perspective.
What I discovered is that being mindful isn’t just paying attention to what you’re doing and being in the present moment. It’s paying so much attention to what you’re doing that you have to slow down the process to be able to fully appreciate the minutiae and find joy in the experience.
Our lives today are so busy that we often don't take the time to appreciate the little things, but in order to stay calm and keep our sanity we really do need to slow down from time to time.
You can practice mindfulness doing anything. When you do be patient with yourself. If you notice you’re mind wandering or you’re becoming impatient then you’re no longer being mindful. Take some deep breaths and try again. It’s worth it!