It’s what the student hears.
It was a short mindfulness session. About 20 people showed up for one hour of instruction. What is mindfulness? Why would I want to practice this? How do I do this?
So we started with a simple breath meditation. Not long, maybe 8 or 10 minutes. Allowing eyes to close if you’re comfortable with that. Or just gazing downward a bit, relaxed focus. The bell rings softly.
Sitting with intention. Paying attention to the body breathing. Not changing anything. Just letting the body breathe the way it does on its own.
Breathes in. Breathes out. Notice how the body pauses, takes a short rest.
Mind wanders; that’s what minds do. That’s OK. Just notice it. If it helps, say in your mind’s voice “that’s OK, that’s OK. It’s just what minds do.”
Notice how your body feels sitting like this. Feeling supported by this chair. By this floor. By this earth. Letting the chair and the floor and the earth do the work. And breathing. No effort.
Just being present. No task to accomplish. No “good mindfulness” or “bad mindfulness.” Just noticing, accepting.
The bell rings again. Attention returns to the room. What was it like to use your mind that way?
Nobody speaks at first. Encouragement is offered. Maybe that was pleasant, maybe unpleasant. Doesn’t matter. What was it like for you?
A young woman speaks first. Very unpleasant. My leg itched. I think a hair caused it. And you said “don’t move” so I couldn’t move, and it bothered me.
Except for one thing: I never said “don’t move.”
I smiled before I responded. She clearly heard “don’t move” yet it wasn’t my voice she heard, it was her own. The voice that tells a story that explains the events unfolding. Perhaps she heard “this is meditation. It is very important, very sacred. You must behave properly. Don’t move!”
Or maybe she heard “there must be perfect silence and stillness in the room for this to work. If I move then I might disturb someone and they won’t get the great results you get from meditation. Don’t move!”
Many moments of our lives bring events and people that place demands on us, and these demands can be very stressful. Sometimes we have stories that explain these events, these people, these demands. These stories make it easier for us to react quickly, and most of the time the story is true, or at least true enough, to get us through any situation. The problem with these stories is that they’re all preconceived, based on past experiences, and never capture what is actually happening with complete accuracy. These stories are a kind of conditioned response and they are often ways to keep us safe, to keep us from being hurt.
Being mindful helps us to notice our stories as they arise. We have a chance, when we’re mindful, to avoid going into our personal story-land and instead work with what actually is happening, instead of our story about it. But we can’t make this correction if we don’t know there is a story that needs correcting. By working with out minds in the way that we do when we sit and collect our breath and direct our minds with acceptance, we come to know the stories that we tell, the stories that are typical for each one of us. And then, with acceptance, we can laugh a bit at our own folly and just live in the moment, live in truth, live in peace.
I never said “don’t move,” and in hearing her own story, perhaps my student for that hour learned a little bit more about the voice she actually heard, the voice of her conditioned learning. Maybe hearing her story as “just a story” will help her to recognize other stories and live in authenticity and acceptance. And, really, this is the only way to really live: knowing that each moment of our lives, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant, is worthy of our attention and presence. Our commitment to live with this level of authenticity allows us to have life, and have it abundantly.