Recently I attended a mindfulness-based stress reduction retreat. It was open to everyone who had taken the ten-week class (which I took about two years ago) so there were 22 people. It was a silent retreat from 8am-2pm and I was amazed at how quickly the time went. The instructor has studied with Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the main authorities in this field.
Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as:
“Paying attention … on purpose … to the present moment … without judgment.”
While this may sound so simple, it is not easy to practice as our mind is often rehashing the past and/or rehearsing for the future. I often say mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness or not paying attention and not even realizing that we are not paying attention!
During the day, we practiced mindful walking, mindful sitting, and mindful eating. The goal of mindful walking is to walk with the goal of not going anywhere. We had access to a labyrinth which I find helpful. For me, mindful walking is more effective in being present than mindful sitting during which I often get restless. Even though I was not supposed to be thinking, I was thinking how most workplaces should have a labyrinth to facilitate mindful walking during breaks as a way to calm down and get centered–and get your daily steps.
As with any mindful activity, the goal is to slow down and notice what you are doing. So mindful eating is tasting with intention and noticing what we are eating. How many times have you eaten a meal–particularly lunch if you are in a hurry–and not really remembered what you ate? In France, I would say they focus more on mindful eating because food is a big deal–how it is prepared, how it looks, and especially how it tastes. In France, you probably know they take their coffee and coffee shops seriously. When we were in France, we did not see “to go” cups. You are expected to sit down and drink your coffee. The French are not walking around with their coffee unless it is at a truck stop. Meeting someone for coffee is an experience not to be rushed and I like that thought.
Being silent for the day is a way to unplug and it was interesting to do this retreat at this busy time of year. Since I have been going to the New Melleray Abbey once a year since 2004 for a personal silent retreat, I am accustomed to being silent (or almost silent because I like to talk with Father Jonah) for three days. It is freeing not to have to make conversation, not to please others, or not to worry about what others are thinking. The goal is to listen to your inner voice without the many distractions that we encounter constantly. When we do this, we can more easily ground ourselves and make good decisions rather than react and just respond.
They call mindfulness a practice because similar to other skills and talents in sports or music or anything in which we want to excel, it takes practice. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell is known for his 10,000 rule and the effort it takes to improve and succeed:
“an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields … you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”
With the focus of mindfulness on learning to be calm, present, and grounded, you can see how leaders–people in the position to influence the lives of others–would benefit. Meditation and self-awareness is helpful in the practical issues of working and living such as effective communication, strategic planning, listening, working and living well with others. Basically, these skills can help improve interpersonal skills with whomever you are interacting. As families come together for the holidays, take time to center yourself and not just react. Take time to be thoughtful and there is nothing wrong with an “adult timeout” if you need time to get grounded.
We can all benefit from being mindful about the decisions we make, the conversations we have, and in all of our interactions with others. I will be sharing more on this topic since it is one of the themes that emerged from the sages I interviewed for Leading With Wisdom.
And holiday time can be a crazy time—a perfect time to practice mindfulness.