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Mindfulness in 2016: A Silver Bullet Resolution?

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On this New Year’s Eve morning I spent some time reading the blog entry I wrote exactly one year ago today, “Mindfulness in 2015: A Silver Bullet Resolution.”  I liked what I read.  That’s a nice blog post, I said to myself.  I was proud of it, proud of the writing and of the sentiment expressed but very disappointed in myself. In the assessment of the previous year in light of this particular resolution, I had clearly failed. You can follow the link above, if you like, to read the entry in full, but for now, let me just quote the passage here where the actual resolution is made:

I resolve in 2015 to be more mindful and to find opportunities daily for meditation practice.  And to conclude, I want to make a short list of areas in my life where mindfulness may become particularly handy.

Simple enough, yes. And the short list of areas wherein mindfulness may come in handy? Last year I listed these: mindful drinking, mindful working, mindful parenting, and mindful creativity. Now, I’ve said that in the year 2015 I failed in my resolve.  That’s how I felt at first–on a gut level. Perhaps, that is not the best approach to take here.  Perhaps, it would be safe to say that I was more mindful in 2015 than I was in 2014. Let’s say it’s true, and that, by itself, is something, isn’t it? But I did not meditate daily or even find opportunities to meditate daily. My drinking was not nearly as mindful as I hoped it would be. My school year was as stressful if not more so than the previous year, and this school year is shaping up to be a stressful one as well. Take a look at “Against the Wall: A Teacher’s Manifesto” for an assessment of how things are going in this particular arena. It is possible, but not verifiable, that I had fewer struggles with my son this year than I have had in previous years. So there may be some gains in that area, and maybe mindful parenting resulted in fewer gaskets blown overall. As for creativity, my fiction writing has stalled and sputtered quite a bit, which is really the writing I want to be doing most, while my poetry and my blogging was quite successful in terms of words written and posts published.  Musically, it’s been a bad year.  The monthly songwriting has suffered. As part of a songwriting circle we’ve been writing six songs a month since 2004; this year, we were successful less than half the time at producing anything at all. But I guess that part of the practice of mindfulness around creativity would be about accepting what comes as a gift and not beating oneself up when nothing comes at all. It’s not a personal failure. It is what it is. Right?

To me, mindfulness has to do with being right with the world and being right inside the head, to simply be conscious and intentional about what it is we do, why we do it, and how we respond to the world, to our experiences, and in our relationships . It has to do with our relationship with and understanding of The Four Noble Truths: life is suffering; suffering has causes, those causes can be discovered, and through practice of the eightfold path there is a way to minimize suffering or at best transcend it. That’s the key, isn’t it, to understand what causes us to suffer and to take steps to minimize such suffering.  This is, at least, the way I understand it, and I envision a meditative practice as being helpful toward feeling more balanced, feeling unhinged less often, reducing stress, finding clarity about issues that bug me, and ultimately, suffering less.

So I just stole this blog post title from last year’s, changed 2015 to 2016, and then I added a question mark at the end. Mindfulness was not a silver bullet for me in 2015.  Perhaps, my expectations were too high. Maybe I was not thoroughly committed. When I was most successful, during a single week in July, I had companions, a sangha, if you will. And this might be a key element in finding more success with this resolution, which, I think, is worth trying again–even if I fail again.  I need to take a class. Go to a temple. Find a community.  Try yoga. It’s too hard, nearly impossible, I think, to go it completely alone. Let’s try a new and improved resolution for 2016:

I resolve in 2016 to be more mindful, to find opportunities daily for meditation practice, and to seek out a community, some companionship on the journey.

That can’t be so hard.  Happy New Year friends, readers, and strangers.

 

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Mindfulness in 2015: A Silver Bullet Resolution

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For Christmas this year, we bought our nine year old son the latest kid’s  book from Thich Nhat Hanh, Is Nothing Something? Kids’ Questions and Zen Answers about Life, Death, Family, Friendship, and Everything in Between.  While the boy has expressed not even a little bit of interest in diving into The Biggest Questions answered by arguably the most important Buddhist on the planet, I have read it all the way through several times. It’s not my first experience with Thich Nhat Hanh, I have a healthy collection of his work, but it is my first Thich Nhat Hanh experience with children as a target audience, ironically, because it has engaged me significantly more than it has my son.

I woke up today at 4:00 in the morning and my new year’s resolution came to me, in part, I think, because of my interaction over the last few days with this particular book for children.  It struck me that, as I understand it, the Zen practice of Mindfulness is the silver bullet of resolutions because everything I would hope to accomplish this year in terms of productivity, health, sanity, relationships, improvement of any sort, could be accomplished through a more intentional, deliberate mindfulness practice.

I resolve in 2015 to be more mindful.

It is alarmingly straight forward and simple.  But I’d like to reflect here about a few key areas where I think mindfulness practice would impact my life–and what it might look like in actuality.

But first, from Thich Nhat Hanh, here is the answer to the central question, what is mindfulness:

Mindfulness is energy.  This energy helps us enjoy what is happening right now.  Mindful energy can bring us a lot of joy.  It helps us suffer less and learn from our suffering.  A good way to get some mindful energy is to close your eyes and breathe easily.  Just pay attention to your breath.  If you can enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, you are creating mindful energy.

This whole breathing advice sounds like what people do when they meditate, and clearly, mindfulness can be practiced through meditation–and I have for a long time been engaged in a tentative and awkward dance with meditation. Introduced to me for the first time perhaps fifteen years ago, I have often flirted with it, but never become a regular practitioner. I find this strange; it has for all of this time had an enormous appeal to me, in part, I think, because whenever I have had an experience of it, I have felt afterwards the incredible gift of it, almost a new man, rejuvenated, refreshed, calm. Perhaps, and stupidly (because my experience tells me something different), I and others resist meditation practice because it seems on the surface like a whole bunch of work.  Let’s hear from Thich Nhat Hanh one more time, in response to the question, what is meditation and why do people do it:

To meditate is to concentrate and look inward.  You can sit down to meditate but you can also meditate while walking to school, lying in the grass, or resting on your bed at night.  If you are quiet and enjoying your in-breath and out-breath, you’re practicing meditation.  If you know how to smile beautifully and without effort, then you know how to meditate. It’s not difficult.

If I ask you why you eat ice cream, you say, “Because I like it.” Meditation is the same.  I do it because I like it.  To meditate is to have fun.

I can think of not a single argument against this, against the various and absolutely easy way it is to find opportunities to meditate, or even against this bold and seemingly counter-intuitive comparison between meditating and eating ice cream. Okay, here’s a resolution revision:

I resolve in 2015 to be more mindful and to find opportunities daily for meditation practice.  And to conclude, I want to make a short list of areas in my life where mindfulness may become particularly handy.

To begin with, here on New Year’s Eve day, I hope to engage this evening in some mindful drinking.  Even though I made myself laugh out loud there a little bit, that’s not a joke.  I believe the central problem that myself and a billion others have with alcohol is that we do not imbibe mindfully.  What does mindful drinking look like? It means, perhaps, being more intentional and purposeful, more conscious about why we drink and about how much we drink.  My mindfulness drinking goal for the year would be to drink better booze and less of it. And never to find myself muddled to the extent that I cannot appreciate and be thankful for the art and craft of a fine brew, whatever that brew might be. I use the term brew loosely: Tonight, it’s brandy, by the way.

With more seriousness, mindfulness practice will help me with stress, professionally and personally.  This year at the school house has been more difficult than very many other years in memory, and the resident nine year old never ceases to come up with new ways to exasperate his parents at home. Mindful breathing will help me deal with the stress and the anger that often occurs when things are not going well in the classroom, or when my dear, beloved son’s behavior goes spiraling southward.

Finally, mindfulness practice will help me do less handwringing about the creative work I feel I should be doing, or the kind and volume of the reading and writing I want to get done, or the better human being I aspire to be, or the more effective super teacher I feel so much pressure to become, through a kind of acceptance and celebration of where I am and who I am in the moment, a concept called sankalpa introduced to me by fellow blogger Yoga Mom.  She writes:

in this relaxed state,
we listen,
and discover
our heartfelt desires
A sankalpa
proclaims this:
I am that 
which I am seeking.
I can relax
as I awaken
to my true nature.

Mindfulness practice and daily meditation might help us finally realize that whatever it is that we desire and hope for the new year, we are already there. Amen, sister. Or Namaste. Or Happy Mindful New Year to you and yours.

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