Mindfulness, Raisins, and Contentment

This post was originally distributed as the January 2018 (1) Newsletter from GIFT, a non-profit dedicated to providing Mindfulness training to underserved populations, and supporting efforts to create a more Mindful world.  More information about GIFT can be found at More Mindful World.

In my work with people who are suffering from the disease of addiction I have learned that willpower will only get you so far.  An addicted person may use willpower to begin the recovery period, frequently energized by very bad experiences (e.g. “hitting bottom”) and the desire to get back into right relations with friends, family, and loved ones.  But I have also learned that recovery is rarely maintained over a long period of time without the suffering soul finding contentment, some measure of serenity in life that provides a new platform from which to see the world and choose one’s course.  In his play King Henry VI, Part 3, Shakespeare has his title character state that “My crown is in my heart, not on my head; not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, nor to be seen: my crown is called contentment, a crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.”

I met with the residents at Limen House (Limen House) in Wilmington again this week, something I get to do two or three times every month.  Limen House serves people who have experienced addiction and, frequently, homelessness.  Limen House gives its residents a long-term safe and healthy recovery environment.   Sitting in the men’s house a conversation about the nature of contentment arose, and we all came to realize that gratitude, compassion, and healthy pride all contribute to this “crown…that seldom kings enjoy.”  Then we did a favorite meditation: “Raisin Mind.”  If you are unfamiliar the Raisin Mind meditation is often used to introduce mindfulness.  It involves laying a raisin or two in your palm, feeling its wrinkles and texture with your fingertips, allowing its subtle but sweet aroma to touch your sense of smell, and finally resting a raisin gently on your tongue, noticing the sensations in your mouth and how the desire to chew builds.  Finally the raisin is chewed slowly and mindfully, and you remain aware of all of these sensations and witness the exquisite coordination between your tongue and your teeth, leading to a swallow and a final residue of taste and aroma.

When we completed this meditation there were many comments about the process and surprise about the magnitude of flavor in one little raisin.  Our group members noted how peaceful it felt to keep their minds focused in such a simple way, and how pleasant the process of eating could be.  All seemed persuaded to eat mindfully, certainly a sound and healthy practice.  But one response to this exercise in particular caught my attention.  One meditator, stating his general distaste for raisins, told us that the raisin in his palm seemed very large to him as he felt it gently in his fingertips with his eyes closed.  Then when he gazed downward at the raisin in his palm he was surprised to see how small it actually was, compared to his anticipation of what he would find.  He stated that in his life he has struggled with anticipation, always dreading outcomes, leading to debilitating anxiety and addiction.  “Most of the time,” he said, “it turns out that what I am most afraid will happen never does, or it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  It turns out that our worst fears are really just raisins, and that’s what I’ve learned today.”

As we enter this new year of 2018 let us remember that our commitment to practicing mindfulness is not just about stress reduction. Each time I sit and bring my attention to my breath, my body, and the activities of my mind I once again open the door to wisdom, finding the insights that my body/mind/breath have for me.  This week, this recoverer needed to find the insight that his fears turn out to be metaphorical raisins.  And by turning his mind attentively and gently to his own inner experience his wisdom was waiting for him.

So if you make no other New Years’ Resolutions perhaps you can make this one: bring mindfulness to your life every day this year.  Take a few minutes to sit, lay, walk, and/or do yoga mindfully in a formal way.  Stop and check in frequently every day, noticing body/mind/breath and smile to yourself, practicing acceptance, finding wisdom and compassion in such simple moments as well.

Peace,

Jim

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