I have to say, I was pretty excited about the idea of meditating with Sharon Salzberg at the Omega Institute‘s Being Yoga conference. One of my dear friends, who just happens to be a serious meditation retreat enthusiast, recommended her to me. I had listened to some of her meditations on iTunes so I already knew her voice and the soothing power of her words.
The word “mindfulness” is thrown around a lot these days. Mindful eating, mindful living, mindful consuming, etc. What does it really feel like to be mindful, anyway? It can mean paying attention, not numbing yourself out, not getting distracted, and lots of other things. But in my experience, it’s kind of hard to remember to focus on being mindful all the time.
As I sat down on a backjack chair in the Omega meditation sanctuary, though, I learned an entirely new way to practice mindfulness – one that I’ve actually been using, and one that actually seems to be working for me.
Sharon took her seat and said to us:
“Often our perceptions of our own experiences are distorted by fear, past experiences, other people’s opinions. When you’re experiencing something, what stories are you adding to it? Your own stories or other people’s stories? How often do you add something to an experience that keeps you from fully experiencing it? Look for the add-ons.”
Whoa. Simple but profound, right? She went on to give the example that if you’re at an office party, and your friend tells you the new co-worker seems boring, you might approach the conversation with that co-worker and not really engage the way you would if you had no preconceived notions about them. I think that’s so true. When you allow yourself to experience what’s really happening in the moment without the stories, perceptions and future projections, you’re able to see more clearly, and as Sharon said, really feel the “texture and flavor” of the experience. I like that. So good.
The thing that’s really been working for me, though, was what she instructed us to do while meditating. She told us to label every single thought that was taking us out of the moment. So when we’re sitting and focusing on our inhale and exhale, we notice other thoughts coming in. We can label them. Label them with things like “planning,” “reliving the past,” “judging,” “worrying,” “fantasizing,” etc. As soon as we do that, it’s like oh, reality check, I’m not being mindful, I’m in la-la land, or control freak future-tripping land or something similar. Then we can snap back and pay attention to what’s really happening.
I found myself doing this a lot while I was at Omega. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, in my opinion, and while I was walking around by the lake I noticed myself not purely enjoying the surroundings, but thinking about stuff from the past and stuff I was planning to do when I was done w/ my retreat weekend. I quickly was able to label those thoughts, as Sharon suggested, and get back to really enjoying the sparkling enchantment of the present moment.
Here’s the thing. None of us are gonna walk around being mindful and living in the present moment without distractions ALL THE TIME. Of course not. There’s a time for planning, and reminiscing, and all that. But this little tool is really simple and can help you calm your mind during meditation, or in daily life, especially if you have the same thoughts over and over and over throughout the day.
Thanks, Sharon! You’re awesome.