A chance to breathe, while sitting at a red light.  You look around, reflecting on your life…
Jonny Lang

I registered for meditation class in Junior College. I thought it would be a blow off course, an easy A.  Although the majority of my fellow students snored, farted or snickered through the course, I found it fascinating. Naturally, my mind wandered, I fidgeted, I dozed off and I giggled with my peers.

Eventually, sitting quietly with myself, I felt a profound calm and acute awareness that over rode the chatter of my monkey mind.  I sometimes had the sensation that I was hovering above my body,  yet profoundly connected. I felt better overall and experienced less stress.  I received an “A” in the course but more importantly, a glimpse into the beauty of the breath.

Outside the context of class, it proved a challenge to practice the sitting, eyes closed version of meditation.  It fell of my radar.  My anxiety increased, I avoided more and wallowed in self-­?doubt.  I racked my meditation course as, great while it lasted, but non-­?sustainable in the “real world.”

Interestingly, when I listened…REALLY listened, to the wonderful simplicity of Cat Stevens vocals in Hard Headed Woman, The crazy, fast guitar riffs in Alien Chase on an Arabian Desert, courtesy of Al DiMeolia, or excellent bass line in That’s the Way of the World by EWF, my breathing slowed, I felt calm and engaged in life. I decided to end my day caught up in the wonder a song.  This was do-­?able (and pretty cool.)

Decades later, while studying Marsha Linehan’s, Dialectic Behavior Therapy, I learned this type of listening was one version of mindfulness. I think of mindfulness as an “eyes open, real life” version of meditation.  Essentially it is giving your complete attention to any task at hand.  It can be as simple as taking three deep breaths while sitting at a red light, becoming more aware of our body sensations or even slowly savoring a single piece of chocolate.

The subtle shifts of mindfulness can lead to amazing change.  Here are just a few:

  1. A regular practice of body scans (noticing the way our body responds to emotions and situations) can lead to a 50% decrease in depressive relapse by creating alternative neural pathways in our brain.
  2. The majority of our anxiety comes from worrying about the future. Mindfulness anchor’s us in the here and now, which reduces stress.
  3. Mindful practice helps us shift our thinking about ourselves away from identifying our self-­?worth by what we do and toward valuing ourselves for WHO we are.
  4. It also allows us to better sit with strong emotions and avoid the tendency to attempt to fix everything about us, thus improving our psychological resilience.
  5. A practice of mindfulness helps us view the everyday aspects of our lives through new eyes, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

These days, I practice everyday mindfulness. I am most consistently mindful when in counseling sessions and engaged with those I love.  I continue to mindfully connect with music through conscious listening and more recently, dance.  Two years ago at the Great Barrier Reef, I mindfully swam with six black fin sharks, even though I had nightmares for months after watching Jaws. While travelling in Peru and Ecuador, last week, I was able to hike to Sun Gate at Manchu Piccu, elevation 9,000 feet  (despite a paralyzing fear of heights) by focusing mindfully, one step at a time.

Red Light, Practicing Everyday Mindfulness 2

Mindfulness has enhanced my strength, clarity and perspective along with an increased awareness and appreciation of all things beautiful. Why not give it a try?  The next time you are sitting at a red light, take three deep belly breaths.  Consider the wisdom of Jonny Lang:

Too slow to roll, put your life on hold, an open path with nowhere to go. You start to wonder, while sitting at a red light.  A chance to breath wile sitting at a red light.